The terrain of struggle is much more complex and we as a nation are facing bigger challenges by fascist forces in the contemporary political atmosphere, Prabir Purkayastha, Newclick Founder & Editor said in a webinar conducted on Sunday.
The journalist also said that the attacks on free media and the general democratic spirit of the country must be resisted by raising questions to those who are in power.
A webinar titled ‘Democracy Under Attack: Populism, surveillance and the media” was organised by the Gauri Memorial Trust and the Center for Justice and Peace on August 22.
The webinar was organised as part of a series of panel discussions on issues concerning the institution of democracy in India to commemorate the legacy of Journalist and human rights defender Gauri Lankesh who was assassinated by right-wing Hindu groups.
Talking about the question of alternate media, Purkayastha said that the central point is not mainstream as opposed to alternate media but a media that looks at news and carefully considers what should be given to the people in a democracy rather than giving preference to the demands of advertisers.
He also explained that ownership of the media houses matters and that most of them which fall under the category of mainstream media show their class character as they look upon democratic expression through protest as a disturbance.
Previously an international media consortium had reported that more than 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using the Israeli Pegasus spyware. The list included journalists, activists, opposition politicians among others.
On the question of the Pegasus matter, Siddharth Vardarajan, Co-Founder and Editor, Wire said that the question of privacy breach is not about an individual but about corrosion of democratic process and principles and went on to give the example of Prashant Kishor who was managing the election campaign of TMC in West Bengal election held earlier this year. Kishor’s phone was also targeted by the Pegasus software.
The Wire editor said that the move undermined the entire democratic electoral process in the state giving a party undue advantage that was gained by suing public tax money which he alleged was used to buy the Israeli software by the Modi government.
“Instead of being a communication device, it has now become a spy,” Purkayastha said explaining the dangerous nature of Pegasus spyware. He further added that a class of software can be called a cyber weapon.
The panel also emphasised the need for digital literacy not only among the masses but in the judiciary for issues like privacy breaches and their implications to be taken seriously
Furthermore, the complacency of social media platforms that have a reach among the masses in hate speech transmission and the closeness between the representatives of platforms like Facebook with the leaders of the ruling party BJP is evidence of whose interests social media platforms prioritise, Teesta Setalvad, Founder and Editor of SabrangIndia. Their response has been next to nothing towards complaints of hate speech, she added.
Taking about the news channels which only deal in propagating the propaganda of the ruling regime and inciting hate, Vardarajan said that ” these are not mainstream because mainstream implies some fidelity” to the ethical and moral responsibility that comes with being a journalist. He called these channels “big media” supported by govt and corporates.
There is no aspect of the socio-political-economic structure of the country that the BJP government is not attacking through abuse of its parliamentary powers by bringing in legislation that supports their communal agenda without any opposition, observed Setalvad who also moderated the entire discussion.
The attack by the BJP regime aimed at dismantling the promise of Indian democracy needs to be resisted by forming larger alliances at different levels around different issues and mass mobilisation, the Editor of Newsclick said however, he added that the current pandemic has undermined the efforts at mass mobilisation and physical meetings.