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The Role Of Freelance Writing In Upholding Democracy

09/12/2016 3:49 PM IST | Updated 14/12/2016 1:48 PM IST

Freedom of press is a marker of freedom of speech and expression across societies. It denotes how free a society is. Political leaders, social elites and governments in power often try to paint a "rosy picture" of reality and indeed of the freedoms the people as a whole enjoy. Authoritarian governments are particularly prone to doing so as a "face-saving" device before the international community.

Independent writers are the need of the hour because they are not usually enmeshed in a nexus with politicians, governments or corporate houses.

Every government wants to show the international community that they rule with morality and that they are on the "right side" of the history. They try to show that their people wholeheartedly back their decisions, which may seem clearly wrong in the eyes of other States and their people. They try to project that everything they do is for the "greater good" of their own people. Using this reasoning, governments and leaders across the world have put restrictions on freedom of speech, expression and dissent—including in the press.

Freedom is not a static entity; it evolves gradually and has different layers. This is represented in the kind of "information flow" that takes place in the public domain without any intervention or opposition from the authorities in power. The information flow I'm talking of must go two ways if it is to signify "freedom of expression." It cannot just be a top-down flow wherein the State is controlling as well as disseminating information. A free information flow is both from top to bottom and vice-versa.

Only mature democracies allow this kind of discourse. This is because people in these societies are more aware about their rights as citizens of the country. Another important factor is that these societies are politically stable in nature and therefore conditions are such that the State can "afford" harsh critiques of itself by media and civil society. Note that the word "afford" should not be seen as a contradiction of what has discussed above; it hasn't been used to give an allowance to governments in power to use it as an excuse to curb freedom of expression.

The point is that secure and stable democracies when in turmoil use exceptions to take extraordinary power in their own hands for a limited time and lift it away as soon as the situation becomes normal. This is because foreign actors are always looking for opportunities of imbalance, instabilities and turmoil in other States to exploit those situations for their own vested interests. Freedom of press is a great parameter to judge a society as well the political system of the State.

Media and politics act as complementary and supplementary to each other. They go hand in hand for the betterment of a society. The job of the media is to put "checks and balances" to the authorities in power and to act like a constructive opposition. Where these things don't happen, one can conclude that firstly, freedom of press has been curtailed and secondly those societies are not mature democracies and democratic political structures have not been evolved yet.

The crony capitalist structures in a democracy like India can't be challenged by media houses today since they too are part of the setup.

Many times in these circumstances, media houses do not write or publish certain news or opinions which are against a particular political party, government of the day or big corporates. In such a situation, the voices and opinions of independent writers become very important because mainstream media fails to report objectively.

Actually, freelance writing in a country can also be seen as a barometer of the freedom of press in the country. Usually full democracies have a large number of freelance writers who have the power to affect public opinion. Independent writers are the need of the hour because they are not usually enmeshed in a nexus with politicians, governments or corporate houses. The crony capitalist structures in a democracy like India can't be challenged by media houses today since they too are part of the setup.

Therefore, there is a correlation between the freedom of speech and freelance writing, where mainstream media provides a link between the two. In my opinion, freelance writing is the future for upholding the freedom of speech and democracy because more independent voices will challenge the status quo represented by media and crony capitalists who are hand in glove with corrupt bureaucrats and politicians. They are the ones who will be more instrumental in creating a culture of debate and dissent—both of which a democracy needs to be really called that.

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