Senior journalist Shastri Ramachandaran has worked with leading newspapers in India and abroad, his last major innings was as senior editor and writer with Global Times and China Daily in Beijing. He, of course, prefers to be known as just an independent political and foreign affairs commentator based in New Delhi.
Shastri was invited to the Global Media Freedoms Conference 2015 in Copenhagen in April. Hosted by
Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the two-day discussion was on key issues such as: threats to and the future of independent journalism; securing a future for news in the face of technological, commercial and security challenges; the critical role of media in the development of societies; and, how to deal with risks to independent journalism and journalists. The growing worldwide concern over increased threats to the functioning of a free and independent press found expression at the conference. The role of the media is obviously a point of discussion in several countries.
Shastri refers to Eric Chinje, chief executive of the Nairobi-based African Media Initiative, talking about the African Experience, but with “lessons that are universal and relevant to all societies that look to media to help make sense (of) and master the changing realities of daily existence”. Chinje, he adds, touched on the strategies, initiatives and collective actions taken to ensure respect for ethics, strengthen technological adaptation, put media at the centre of national and regional development and agree on media’s role in governance. The last two, Chinje said, had “sparked a defining debate on the role of media in Africa today”.
Shastri also mentions a seven-point agenda spelled out by Chinje on what should be done to engage and implicate the media to make Africa’s economic emergence sustainable and achieve lasting peace and social cohesion. The agenda identifies the greatest, self-induced, challenges to media freedom as: putting out content that has little regard for what audiences and readers want; disregarding the ethics of the profession; not maintaining high professional standards; and, not paying adequate attention to the business dimension of the news business.
Shastri then branches off to another insightful presentation (and of greater relevance to South Asia) by Shirazuddin Siddiqi, BBC Media Action country director for Afghanistan. In his paper on the role of media (in the development of society) in developing and fragile states, Siddiqi points out that Afghanistan is not only a fragile state but also has a fractured society. His focus is on how investment in media in fragile states falls short of ensuring plurality in social dialogue, promoting tolerance, enabling dialogue across fracture lines for people to negotiate differences and agree on principles towards building a shared culture and identity. What is missing, Shastri points out, is the institutional resolve and resources to bring people together and create conditions to make them accommodate differences within a shared national identity.
Despite all the criticisms we level at the media here in India, there is no doubt that we have a fairly vibrant Fourth Estate; journalists by and large have a lot of freedom and we are a fairly tolerant society. It’s at conferences such as this that you tend to see the good side of Indian journalism. Am sure this thought crossed Shastri’s mind too at some point while he was in Copenhagen.