Threats to Freedom of Press
According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a record number of journalists were imprisoned during 2020.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.
- It defends journalists' right to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal.
➤ Highlights of the Report:
- The overall number of jailed journalists in 2020 is at record high of 272.
- Turkey remains the world's worst offender against press freedom with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges. At least 25 journalists are in prison in Egypt.
- There are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa, including several held by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
- Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, authoritarian leaders tried to control reporting by arresting journalists.
➤ Importance of Free Media:
- Free Media promotes open discussion of ideas that allow individuals to fully participate in political life, make informed decisions, and strengthen society as a result, especially in a large democracy such as India.
- A free exchange of ideas, free exchange of information and knowledge, debating and expression of different viewpoints is important for smooth functioning of democracy.
- As the free media by virtue of being the voice of masses, empowers them to express opinions. Thus, free media is critical in a democracy.
- With Free Media, people will be able to exercise their rights as government questioning decisions. Such an environment can be created only when freedom of press is achieved.
- Hence, Media can be rightly considered as the fourth pillar of democracy, the other three being legislature, executive and judiciary.
➤ Threats to Freedom of Press:
- The hostility towards the media which is openly encouraged by political leaders poses a great threat to democracy.
- Government's pressure in the name of regulations, bombardment of fake news and over influence of social media is dangerous for the occupation. Corruption-paid news, advertorials and fake news are threats to free and unbiased media.
- Security of journalists is the biggest issue, killings and assaults on the Journalists covering sensitive issues are very common.
- Hate speech targeting journalists shared and amplified on social networks are targeted against journalists using social media. o Corporate and political power has overwhelmed large sections of the media, both print and visual, which lead to vested interests and destroy freedom.
➤ Press Freedom in India:
- In 1950, the Supreme Court in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras observed that freedom of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations.
- The Constitution, the supreme law of the land, guarantees freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, which deals with 'Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.
Strengthen Safeguards for Whistleblowers
Recently, experts have highlighted the need to strengthen safeguards for corporate whistleblowers and extend a vigil mechanism to large private companies in India.
- The Delhi High Court (HC) is currently hearing a writ petition, which has challenged the constitutional validity of the existing provisions of the Companies Act 2013.
- Current provisions only require listed companies to have a vigil mechanism to address whistleblower complaints.
- These companies accept public deposits and companies that have loans from banks or public financial institutions of over '50 crore.
➤ Concerns Highlighted:
- Absence of any specific guidelines on the functioning of a vigil mechanism has led to companies not ensuring that whistleblower complaints are addressed promptly.
- Companies were able to retaliate against employees raising whistleblower complaints and even terminated their employment as any civil suit for such actions could be too expensive and time-consuming.
- Parties filing civil suits are required to first pay court fees, typically amounting to around 1% of damages claimed.
- Private sector companies above a certain threshold of turnover or employees should set up a vigil mechanism.
- Large private sector companies, including subsidiaries of large multinational corporations, should be regulated differently from small private sector companies and should be required to have vigil mechanisms.
- The law should require a permanent internal committee and specify directions on the committee's functioning.
- For that, the government should consider issuing guiding principles on such as internal reporting to and review by the audit committee, timelines for addressing grievances and consideration by the board on nature and number of open matters and outcomes of resolved matters, etc.
- However, regulating the functioning of vigil mechanisms pose a risk of over-regulation and micro-management.
- The mechanism should provide for "adequate safeguards against victimisation of persons who use such mechanisms and make provision for direct access to the chairperson of the audit committee in appropriate or exceptional cases.
- There was a need for a deterrent against frivolous complaints.
- According to the Companies Act, whistleblowing
- is an action aimed at drawing stakeholders' attention to instances of unethical practices in an organization.
- A whistleblower can be anyone who chooses to expose wrong practices and has evidence to support the allegations.
- They can be either from within or outside the organization, such as current and former employees, shareholders, external auditors, and lawyers.
- In India, whistleblowers are protected by the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014.
- It provides for the protection of their identity and also has strict norms to prevent their victimization.
- In January 2020, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) came out with a new mechanism to reward whistleblowers and other informants for sharing information about insider trading cases.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (Southern Region) has recently announced a competition on social entrepreneurship.
- The competition is for existing early stage social enterprises and students with entrepreneurial ideas that are socially focused and with significant social impact.
- The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) works to create and sustain an environment conducive to India's development, partnering industry, Government and civil society, through advisory and consultative processes. It is a non-government, not- for-profit, industry-led and industry-managed organization.
➤ Social Entrepreneurship (Meaning):
- It is a construct that blends the idea of a commercial enterprise with the tenets of a charitable nonprofit organization.
- It is about creating business models revolving around low-cost products and services to resolve social inequities.
- It helps to succeed in economic initiatives, and all the investment focuses on the social and environmental mission.
- Social entrepreneurs are also called social innovators. They are the agents of change and create significant change using innovative ideas. They identify the problems and build the difference by their plan.
- Social entrepreneurship is a growing trend alongside socially responsible (SRI) and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing.
- Examples of social entrepreneurship include educational programs, providing banking services in underserved areas and helping children orphaned by epidemic disease.
➤ Need in India:
- India needs numerous social entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to society's most pressing social problems in sanitation, education, water conservation, gender bias, primary health, female foeticide, carbon emissions and other environmental problems. These problems are persistent in nature and need urgent resolutions.
➤ Examples in India:
- Pravah and ComMutiny: The two organizations that train the youth for leadership roles, Pravah and ComMutiny, have won the Year's Social Entrepreneur (SEOY) 2020 award instituted by the Schwab Foundation and Jubilant Bhartia Foundation.
- Established in 1993, Pravah has been facilitating the development of a generation of empathetic, sensitive youth change-makers in India through psycho-social interventions, helping them build more inclusive identities and societies.
- Commutiny which was formed in 2008, works on making collectives out of organizations like Pravah.
- Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy's Aravind Eye Hospitals: Its business model is highly social, yet sustainable. It runs on its own revenue. The founder's mission was to eradicate blindness amongst India's poor, especially in rural India living with a minimum daily wage and who can't afford medical treatment.
- Business Plan: The rigor of building and following a plan that is based on market realities and customer insight is critical; social entrepreneurs need support of lawyers, chartered accountants, senior entrepreneurs to help them develop a good business plan.
- Limited to Specific Geographies: Due to lack of funds or the founders' limited bandwidth.
- The 2013 Companies Act in India that mandates companies to donate 2% of their average net profits to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) has catalyzed investment in social ventures. To truly achieve benefits of scale, it needs to be done in a much more coordinated manner.
- A big service that a venture philanthropy firm or an ecosystem player can provide social entrepreneurs is organizing the world of investors - by the size of the cheque they write, by the areas they focus on, their specific preferences and then most importantly by facilitating introductions to them.
- An organization that has to scale effectively needs to have a deep bench of talent at all levels.
- Further, there is a need for 'impact-measurement'.
- All investors want to see outcomes but how does one measure them when cycle times of one's intervention is much longer.
- It can be objectively measured how many mid-day meals are provided to children in their school but it's harder to determine the efficacy of a sports program instituted to build confidence amongst students.
➤ Related Initiatives:
- The Securities and Exchange Board of India's initiative to create a Social Stock Exchange (SSE) will boost social and & environmental impact investing in India by creating a new platform to fund social-sector organizations, and establish a standardized framework for measuring and reporting social impact for both donors and investors.
- Gramin Vikas Trust (GVT) is a National Level Organization established in 1999 by Krishak Bharati Cooperative Limited (KRIBHCO) for bringing about a sustainable improvement in livelihood of the poor and marginalized communities, especially, the tribal population including women.
- GVT sees social entrepreneurship as the process of bringing about social change on a major scale.
Parliamentary Committee on Management of Covid-19
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on managing the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, has recently submitted its report.
➤ The Committee has made a detailed assessment of four aspects:
- Augmentation of Health Infrastructure,
- Social Impact, and
- Economic Impact.
- Issues: Migrant labourers, factory workers, daily wage earners were the worst affected due to lack of timely dissemination of the information in the district areas about the arrangements being made for food, shelter and other facilities exodus.
- Draw up a national plan and guidelines under National Disaster Management Act 2005 and Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
- A separate wing shall be formed in the NDMA that will specialise in handling pandemics like Covid-19 and take a leading role in building a government partnership with the public sector, corporates, NGOs and other stakeholders.
- An effective functional institutional mechanism is needed for coordination between the Centre, states, and Union Territories to respond to such a crisis in the future.
➤ Augmentation Health Infrastructure:
- Disproportionate availability of ICU beds in private and public sector hospitals.
- Private hospitals are either inaccessible or not affordable for everyone.
- Overcharging by hospitals, denial of the cashless facility, variation in levying charges towards consumables such as PPE kits, gloves, and masks, etc., or on other non-medical expenditure.
- Comprehensive Public health Act at the national level:
(i) To support the Government in keeping checks and controls over the private hospitals.
(ii) Keep a check on the black marketing of medicines and ensure product standardization.
(iii) Regulatory oversight on all hospitals working in the country to prevent refusal to accept insurance claims.
(iv) The target should be to make Covid-19 treatment cashless for all people with insurance coverage.
➤ Social Impact:
- Ineffective implementation of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1979.
- The task of identifying the location and disbursing relief measures to the migrant workers became very difficult as the Central Government did not have any data of the migrant workers and had to seek it from the States.
- A national database on migrant workers be launched at the earliest helping in identification and delivering rations and other benefits.
- The database may also include "records of returning migrant labourers including details about their source and destination, earlier employment details and the nature of their skills.
- This would "help in skill development and planning for the transit of migrant workers" in a similar emergency in the future.
- It recommended that until the One Nation, One Ration Card is implemented in all states/ UTs, inter-state operability of ration cards should be allowed.
- Continuation of Mid-Day Meal Scheme.
- Ensure that the local administrations deliver the rations/ allowances in time, which should be continued until the schools reopen.
➤ Parliamentary Committees
Broadly, parliamentary committees are of two kinds: Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees.
- Standing Committees : Permanent (constituted every year or periodically) and work continuously. They can be categorized into following broad groups:
- Financial Committees
- Departmental Standing Committees (24)
- Committees to Inquire
- Committees to Scrutinise and Control
- Committees Relating to the Day-to-Day Business of the House
- House-Keeping Committees or Service Committees
- Ad Hoc Committees: Ad hoc committees are temporary and cease to exist to complete the task assigned to them.
➤ Economic Impact:
- Poor Implementation of Government Schemes.
- Delay in Loan Disbursal.
- Consumption had been severely curtailed due to huge job losses and fall in income due to the lockdown.
More interventions and schemes are required to support the recovery and sustain this economic revival, especially for the MSME (Micro,Small and Medium Enterprises).
Recently, an e-Sewa Kendra has been inaugurated by India's Chief Justice (CJI) at the High Court of Tripura.
➤ e-Seva Kendra:
- e-Seva Kendras have been created in the High Courts and in one District Court in each State on a pilot basis.
- They are dedicated to serving as a one-stop centre for all legal aid and assistance for common litigants and advocates.
- It enables litigants to obtain information concerning case status and to obtain copies of judgments and orders.
- These centres also extend assistance in e-filing of cases.
- These Kendras represent a significant step for the common man and his right to access to justice.
➤ Other Technological Initiatives to Provide Legal Services:
- About: the Ministry of Law and Justice launched Tele-Law programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in 2017 to address cases at the pre-litigation stage.
- Connect Lawyers to Litigants: It is a service that uses video conferencing facilities and telephone services to connect lawyers to litigants who need legal advice. This service aims to reach out to the needy especially the marginalized and disadvantaged.
- Common Service Centres: Under this programme, smart technology of video conferencing, telephone/instant calling facilities available at the vast network of Common Service Centres at the Panchayat level is used to connect the indigent, downtrodden, vulnerable, unreached groups and communities with the Panel Lawyers for seeking timely and valuable legal advice.
- e-Courts Project:
- The e-Courts project was conceptualized on the basis of the National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary - 2005. It is a pan-India Project, monitored and funded by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice.
- Objectives of the Project:
- To provide efficient & time-bound citizen centric services delivery as detailed in e-Court Project Litigant's Charter.
- To develop, install & implement decision support systems in courts.
- To automate the processes to provide transparency and accessibility of information to its stakeholders.
- To enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to make the justice delivery system affordable, accessible, cost-effective, predictable, reliable and transparent.