1. Yearning For An End to Impunity
GS 2- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability
- In this article, we are going to analyse the corrosive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on journalism and the challenges therein.
- A sobering report by Taylor Mulcahey of IJNet talked about some of the changes that have taken place within journalism since the spread of the pandemic.
- She wrote, “Whether it’s burnout from working extra hours, layoffs at a local news publication, or misinformation spreading in WhatsApp groups, the health crisis has placed extra pressure on an industry already facing an uncertain future.”
- Health crisis has led to remote reporting and news gathering and has hit one of the fundamental tenets of journalism — bearing witness.
- The recent incidents in our country are chipping away at our democratic spaces and shrinking elbow room for dissent, difference and dialogue.
- This shift in the pattern of behaviour in the public sphere is nearly a decade old and clearly predates the pandemic.
- Many media scholars have pointed out that digital empowerment reached its peak around the Arab Spring.
- Irish writer Colum McCann described the moment: “The light from the Arab Spring rose from the ground up; the hope is now that the darkness doesn’t fall”. But, as Jessi Hempel of Wired points out, “the darkness has fallen”.
- It is no longer about digital empowerment — our concern has shifted to digital disruption and the rapid consolidation by Silicon Valley conglomerates.
- The new laws are as restrictive, or indeed in many instances, more restrictive than colonial judicial orders. In the constant friction between citizens and the state, the die is firmly cast in favour of the latter.
- Citizens are trying in vain to find ways to restore the balance in which their dignity will not be trampled upon with impunity.
Five Main Scourges of the Indian Media
➢ Paid news
- Origins of the unethical practice of paid news can be traced back to the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991.
- With market forces at play and public investment in private companies, journalists found it sometimes lucrative to write only partially true stories of companies waiting to list on the stock exchanges.
➢ Opaque private treaties
- In October 2008, in the midst of stiff opposition to the government granting permission to trial runs of genetically-modified crops The Times of India ran a story about how no farmer suicides were reported from two villages that had switched to GM seeds.
- The same story was later republished in August 2011 followed by a barrage of advertisement by GM giant Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech India.
- The 2011 reprint was a frantic lobbying response to the government’s failure to table the GM bill in parliament, says the report.
➢ Blatant blackmail
- In 2012 senior editors of the television channel Zee News were arrested for allegedly demanding Rs 100 crore from Jindal Power and Steel Ltd.
- In return for this pay-off they offered to dilute their network’s campaign against the company in the coal scam.
- The blackmail was exposed when JSPL chairman and Congress MP Naveen Jindal conducted a reverse sting on the network’s executives.
➢ Widening legal regulatory gap
- The Press Council of India has dragged its feet on addressing paid news and other unethical practices, according to the EJN report.
- In April 2003, a photojournalist tipped the Council off on the practice of advertisements being published as news for a fee.
- Instead of investigating the matter, the Council merely asked media companies to consider their how their credibility is affected, and issued guidelines they should follow to distinguish news from advertisements.
- The PCI also failed to act on a damning report produced by journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K Sreenivas Reddy on the immunity of the media using paid news.
➢ Flawed measurements of audience reach and readership
- The EJN report cites the example of the Indian Readership Survey of 2013, which claims that the readership of English newspapers fell by a whopping 20% without attributing any reasons to the fall.
- Television ratings also fail to tell the real picture. Ratings consultants are paid off by TV channels to tamper with the system and they do so in ingenious ways.
- New TVs are gifted to homes in which the supposedly-secret meters are located and residents are told that they can watch anything on it as long as they are tuned into certain channels on the TV connected to the meter.
Free Speech Collective
- Free Speech Collective is an initiative by journalists, activists and lawyers to protect the right to freedom of expression and vigorously promote free speech and the right to dissent.
- Its “Impunity Indicator” tracks excesses against journalists and other democratic actors and documents the failures of various institutions — the executive, police and the judiciary — in protecting fundamental rights.
- Any reader who goes through the details put out by the collective will agree with its assertion that these details are indeed “a grim reminder of the tortuous, but dogged, resistance to the silencing of free speech, put up by families, friends and colleagues”.
- Their latest report, ‘Behind Bars’, that records the arrests and detentions of journalists in India in the decade 2010-2020, should galvanise everyone to act.
- The study points out how various laws — the Indian Penal Code, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, sections of the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Diseases Act, and Section 144 of the CrPC — were used to silence critical voices.
- The report reads, “Seventy-three of the 154 cases documented in this study have been reported from BJP-ruled states. Another 30 cases were reported from states ruled by BJP and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Of the cases in BJP-ruled states, Uttar Pradesh led the pack with 29 cases.”
- The protection of media freedom takes a special position due to the media’s role as a “public watchdog” as well as its function to disseminate information and ideas, thus guaranteeing the right of the public to receive this information.
- Freedom of expression and media freedom are essential foundations for open and democratic societies.
- At a national level, freedom of expression is necessary for good government and, therefore, for economic and social progress. At an individual level, freedom of expression is vital to the development, dignity and fulfillment of every person.
- India is at the cusp of both economic and social change and it is vital that we, as citizens, remain informed and aware of the happenings in the country.
- We can begin by paying attention to the source of the information we are consuming. When we consume independent media, we are broadening their circulation and giving them a platform. A platform, that is vital towards sustainable, good governance.
- We fervently hope 2021 ushers in a better environment for free speech and democracy.
2. Towards An Effective Vaccination Distribution Policy
GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors
India plans to vaccinate 300 million people against COVID-19 over the next 6-7 months. This will mean that roughly 20% of the population will be vaccinated by July or August 2021.
- Principle underlying the triage scheme adopted by the government.
- Inclusion of private players still remains a contentious issue - Aspect of rich and poor will dive in due to affordability.
- The government’s strategy of giving priority to front-line workers and elderly people is in line with the practice being followed in the U.K. and the U.S. drive.
- The priority given to healthcare professionals satisfies both objectives: these are individuals who have high levels of exposure and they also act as active disease vectors since they interact with large numbers of people.
What Should Be the Aim of Any Vaccination Drive?
- Provide protection to those vaccinated.
- Minimise or at least slow down the speed and spread of the viral transmission.
Who Should Get Priority?
- A younger person is more social more likely to be infected and subsequently infect others. This suggests that densely populated areas — for instance, the Dharavi slum — should receive far more attention.
- The elderly are less mobile and are hence less likely to spread the virus.
Involving Private Hospitals
- Procurement: The government’s procurement strategy seems to depend entirely on domestic sources.
- Distribution: It also plans to rely entirely on public resources for distribution without involving private hospitals.
- Vaccination costs: The government plans to bear the entire cost of vaccination.
- Distribution channel: To help the poor who cannot afford the vaccine, the government will and should continue to procure all available domestically produced vaccines and supply them through its own distribution channel.
- Vaccine availability: Govt. has to ensure that there is no reduction in the availability of the vaccine for the poor.
➢ Private suppliers need government permission to import and distribute the vaccine in India?
- Regulatory authorities have authorised the emergency use of the Moderna vaccine across the U.S. Several other vaccines are already conducting Phase 3 trials and there is a strong possibility that there will be a significant boost in the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
- A Belgian Minister has revealed very sensitive price information by tweeting the prices that the European Union has agreed to pay for leading COVID-19 vaccines.
India too provides a large market even if the cost of vaccination is around ?5,000. Of course, some centralized purchasing will be essential in order to exploit the bargaining power associated with the size of the market.
3. Notes From a Year of Unease
GS 2- Issues relating to the development and management of the social sector
The year 2020 was with many problems. Here we will discuss the situation during the year of 2020 and required works or suggestions for 2021.
Issues During 2020
- Covid 19 pandemic: It affected every segment of Indian society and due to its effects 1.5 lakh of people died. There is much news where availability of more than one vaccine to cure covid 19 spreadings but it has not changed the spread of death.
- Conflict with China: In the eastern Ladakh area of India became a major conflict area due to china's aggression. Till now there is no end in sight.
- Naxalite violence: It was a major issue for internal security.
- J&K situation: the problem caused by the altered status of the J&K and incarceration of political leaders.
- West Bengal situation: there are many issues by whom state and centre relations are become concerning. In 2021 there will be assembly elections in the state so the situation may be more troublesome. The main reason for their conflict is different parties at the centre and state level. There are unprecedented levels of political polarisation.
- Role and utility of parliament: The Parliament is a platform for an honest exchange of views. In the year of 2020, the sanctity of parliament undermined because the sessions being dispensed with under various excuses.
- Economy and Indexes: In 2020 the economy is in recession. India slipped down the scale in the Human Development Index and the Global Economic Freedom Index.
- Social and Farmers issues: A new law against forced conversion by marriage tend to unrest in polity. The official intransigence in the farmers’ agitation is led to a situation in which the Supreme Court had sought to intervene.
Suggestions For 2021
- As the ruling party is with more popularity due to certain reasons so it has a relative degree of freedom to undertake major changes. There is a need to deliver on promises and understand the seriousness of newer challenges the nation faces.
- The tendency of some in authority to indulge in rhetorical flourishes must be avoided; they must aim instead of achieving tangible outcomes.
- Foreign policy: First of all India must not remain satisfied with the current standoff with China in the Ladakh sector. It should think of what better options are available to it to resolve this conflict. The resolving of conflict is enabling many of its neighbours to play China against India.
- Economy: The reforms in the economy should be next. India must enhance its competitive advantage like other nations. As in various global indices, many countries appear to be performing better than India.
- We should reject the concepts that an export-oriented economic strategy is damaging India's economy.
- As well as India should enhance its export capacity. As we know that India is a diverse country, it is giving strength to the country.
- Technology: There is a need to avoid all attempts to tamper with technological and academic excellence which prompted in some quarters during 2020.
- Job creation: India should focus on job creation. The government must take urgent steps to enhance the labour market which disturbed by the pandemic. Increasing demand for goods and services would ensure growth in job opportunities.
- Restore confidence: There is need to take serious attempt by the government and Delhi to restore confidence in constitutional properties, practices and principles. It is because there is a crisis of confidence which is affecting the body politic.
- By restoring confidence between the centre and Delhi, an improvement in Centre State relations will happen. It will make the federal structure more strong.
- To instil confidence in the country's democratic future there is a need for effective cooperation between the Centre and the States must be restored.
As the economic, social and political phenomenon of the country is disturbed by various reasons, there is a need to implement constructive laws and policies to restore the previous situation.