Benito Mussolini was a journalist before he became dictator and gagged his country's press. Photograph:( Reuters )
President Donald Trump has given it back: this time to members of the media. The Fake News “awards” announced by the unstoppable US President have now gone viral. The shoe is on the other foot. But were things between the media and mighty leaders always hunky-dory? Who messed with the press?
From 1933 onwards and right up to the end of World War II, criminal Adolf Hitler succeeded in ending one-party democracy and turning Germany into a one-man dictatorship. And dictators and editors are not exactly a match made in heaven. Hitler’s Nazi propaganda ministry took control of all newspapers, magazines, art exhibits, music, movies and radio stations. No public rally or meeting could be held without permission. Disagreeing with Nazi beliefs was verboten.
There is no greater irony that before he turned a fascist, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was a journalist himself. Yet, Mussolini imposed censorship and ruled with an iron fist.
It has happened even in India. In light of her growing unpopularity due to inflation, unemployment and corruption in her government, former prime minister Indira Gandhi pushed the then president to impose an Emergency. Mrs Gandhi assumed draconian powers. The opposition was arrested, civil liberties suspended, the constitution almost tampered with and – the media gagged. Newspapers left editorial spaces blank in protests, foreign correspondents were thrown out of the country. Many others were detained for organising protests and 7,000 persons were arrested for distributing print matter opposing the emergency. It was lifted in 1977 – upon Mrs Gandhi’s astrologer’s advice. There were fresh elections which Mrs Gandhi lost. The Emergency was one of the darkest periods in the history of independent India.
So which are the world’s most repressive nations as far as the media is concerned?
According to the 2015 list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the 10 countries where the media continues to be censored by the political leadership are Eritrea, North Korea, China, Ethiopia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran and Myanmar.
Leaders and the lead, rajas and reporters: most rulers cannot resign themselves to the fact that the minute they become public figures and act in the name of those whom they govern, they can and will be attacked. But the media, too, has to learn that without solid research, no story ought to ever make it to the headlines. There’s a term for that tendency: yellow journalism.