The Maharashtra government’s new culture policy has sounded a dangerous note for the media in the state: the threat of backdoor entry of censorship.
Buried in the policy document is one long paragraph wherein the government proposes to set up committees comprising elected representatives, judges and media personalities to monitor the publication or telecast of news that might create communal tensions or otherwise threaten to rend the fabric of society.
But before that the government favours self-regulation. The policy document suggests that media outfits set up their own ombudsman to regulate the publication of both news and advertisements.
“In case they are unable to do so, the government will step in to set up such committees along with readers’ and government’s representatives,” it says. These committees will bring to the notice of the editors and publishers the wrongful reportage of news and will even financially aid the institutions in their efforts to maintain the cultural fabric of the state.
When editors present at the unveiling of the culture policy here on Monday raised objections to this attempt at censorship, Congress MLC Ulhas Pawar, a member of the committee that wrote the policy document, said, “This is not censorship in any form. We are sure there will be no need for the government to regulate the newspapers. And the committee will be only advisory in nature.'”
“Self-regulation is the best regulation and this is only in case of extreme situations,'” Chief Minister Ashok Chavan hastened to add. So is the government looking at newspapers like the Shiv Sena mouth piece Saamna, which have in the past shown little restraint while reporting on communal conflagrations, or television channels, which have often been accused of overstating the case?
The move is unprecedented, the only other measure of the kind came in the mid-1980s, which had to be hastily withdrawn after protests.
For the rest, the policy document has set about systematically appropriating to itself every agenda of the Shiv Sena and its offshoot, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
After deciding to erect a Shivaji statue in the middle of the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai, it has now decided to set up a separate department for the promotion of Marathi in the state and a Marathi academy in Mumbai to join others like the already existing Urdu, Hindi and Sindhi academies.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times , Chavan said, “No, of course not. We are not influenced by those parties. We have been debating this issue for the past six months. And there are other language academies, too. There is nothing exceptional about the policy.”