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Press Freedom: From What, to Do What?

Press Freedom: From What, to Do What?

As StoriesAsia celebrates its second anniversary on the World Press Freedom Day 2020, here are some thoughts on what journalism means to us.

By Our Editors | May 03, 2020

Since we launched StoriesAsia two years ago, repression of press freedom has escalated and the quality of journalism has gone down in Asia. What’s more disturbing, though, is that the media’s failure to offer good journalism to its audiences cannot be blamed on this repression.

In India, where our editorial offices are currently based, there’s no explicit provision for freedom of press, which is merely implied from the freedom of speech and expression for all, as recognised in the Constitution of India. The charter’s architect , Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, resisted a special mention of press freedom. He believed that the press and an individual were equally entitled to the freedom of expression.

However, journalists and media workers in India and elsewhere in Asia have carved a special status for themselves, so special that they have distanced themselves from common people and moved closer to the political and commercial elite. They look up to the elite as the source and the centre of their stories.

It’s not that newspapers are not doing “ground reporting.” Journalists go to common people to ask whether they approve or disapprove of political figures. Questions asked from people are mostly based on agendas set by politicians.

The media’s disdain for common people is also visible in editors’ insistence on verifying common people’s statements before using them in stories while allowing assertions and quotes from the elite to dominate coverage.

The media looks like a communication vehicle for the elite to reach the masses rather than help common people make informed decisions about their individual and collective lives and their governments – which is the purpose of the press.

The press has gradually drifted away from common people perhaps because its pretence of objectivity or neutrality has rendered it anchorless.

While journalists need to abstain from promoting political, sectarian or commercial interests, the universally upheld values of justice, peace, equality, inclusivity and human rights and dignity as well as the belief in giving the benefit of the doubt to vulnerable sections of society could serve as a reliable anchor.

Good journalism cannot be practised in a vacuum.

As our fight against repression of press freedom by governments continues on this World Press Freedom Day 2020, let’s also seek freedom from our elitist tendencies and put common people back at the centre of our journalism.

At StoriesAsia, which works through one of the world’s largest collectives of freelance journalists, that’s what our effort has been and will remain in the years to come. Hence our tagline “People First.”

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StoriesAsia, a collective of independent journalists from 16 South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, seeks to replace the present-day parade of faceless numbers with humanising narrative nonfiction – a largely ignored journalistic genre in the region.

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