Isaac Gomes, gives his perspective on the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) Convention at Indore. Kudos to the organisers for keeping the flag flying high in spite of numerous odds.
Given below is a report pubished in the Herald Kolkata in its 16-22 March 2018 issue. The report was written by Jose Vincent who is Secretary of Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA). The report as published in the Herald is reproduced below:
Indore: “Indian Constitution is the backbone of Indian democracy and it is under attack today”, said Dr. Ram Puniayani, author and writer and the keynote speaker at the 23rd National Convention of Christian Journalists organised by the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) and held at the Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) of Value Education for Peace, here on March 9. He was speaking on the theme "Print Media and Indian Democracy."
The politics being done today in the name of Hinduism has nothing to do with Hinduism, he said and added today religion is being used to attack democracy. Bishop Salvadore Lobo, the bishop of Baruipur diocese and chairman of the CBCI Office for Social Communications, in his inaugural address recalled the appeal made in the statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India meeting held recently in Bangalore calling upon the members of the Church “to make the Constitution of India more widely known in all sectors of Church and society."
He also said that we need a journalism that stands for peace, trust, harmony being the voice of the voiceless.
ICPA President Fr Alfonso Elengikal Welcomed the dignitaries and members at the inaugural session and the secretary Jose Vincent proposed a vote of thanks.
At the first session moderated by ICPA Vice-president Ignatius Gonsalves in the morning, prominent journalist A J Philip from Delhi said :"Even though social media is getting prominence today, the print media is playing a crucial role in the life of the people of India." Today democracy has become the autocracy of the majority. The role of the media is to bring out truth, he said.
Editor of Indian Currents, Delhi, Dr. Suresh Mathew contented that the Media in India today are controlled by the government through harassment and threats. The purpose of the media is to communicate to the rulers the aspirations and agonies of the ruled, he said.
At an afternoon session moderated by Dr Jacob Kani, Editor of Youth Action, Indore, Senior journalist Shravan Garg lamented that the print media is not informing the people what is happening in the society.
According to his analysis, after the September 11 terrorist attack in the USA, a lot of things are happening all over the world in the name of National security. In the name of protecting citizens the rights of the citizens are being taken away.
Director of USM, Fr. Varghese Alengaden said both democracy and print media have become hallow. Today the whole lot of MLAs and even the governments are purchased. Indian Current received ICPA’s prestigious annual “Louis Careno Award for Excellence in journalism” at a colourful function in the evening.
The award was given to Indian Currents for its bold stand against communalism and fundamentalism and was received by its Editor, Dr Suresh Mathew.
Dr Fr M D Thomas from Delhi received the Swami Devanand Chakkungal Award for Best Hindi writer for his exceptional contribution to Hindi Christian literature . Chinmay Mishra from Indore, a writer, thinker and social activist was also honoured by ICPA for his contribution to the promotion of art and literature.
ICPA Vice-president Ignatius Gonsalves and senior members Fr Varghese Paul and Babychen Aerthayil were honoured for their achievements during the year.
The award function was presided over by Bishop Salvadore Lobo. Renowned painter, writer and film Director Prabhu Joshi was the Chief Guest.
Isaac Gomes, who is a member of the ICPA but could not attend the convention, dwells on some salient points mentioned in the above Report.
Imperative Need to Study our Constitution
At the above convention, Bishop Salvadore Lobo, National Chairman of Social Communications, rightly stressed on the need to study the Constitution of India:
(1) to know our fundamental rights and duties
(2) to protect ourselves
(3) to safeguard our democracy and liberty.
We must recall the adage:"Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty."
In fact Bishop Stephen Lepcha had emphasised on the need to study our Constitution during the Regional Laity Commission Convention on 28th February 2018, at Krishnagar, Nadia District, West Bengal. For this, our Missionary institutes which have 25% controlling stake in the Education Sector in India, along with the Health Sector, must show the way, by disseminating the Constitution regularly, in easy instalments, over a period of time. Even our Sunday School teachers can be given modules of our Constitution, in phases to teach Sunday School children for say 15 minutes in each class. After all, it is the Bible of our Nation.
The study of India's Constitution can be made interesting through slide shows, quizzes and debates. Debates will make sure the salient points are ingrained in one's mind. The Catholic Teachers’ Guild housed at Archbishop's House, Kolkata can set the ball rolling, in keeping with Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s remark: "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow" and in deference to the two senior Bishops both of whom represent the Bengal Region. On their part, the two Bishops would do well to see to it, that their recommendations do not remain on paper or the Print Media, just for the sake of record. Especially Bishop Salvadore Lobo, being the National Chairman of Social Communications, can certainly take a panoramic view of the implementation of his recommendations from a national level, in the local vernacular.
The Laity which according to Bishop Stephen constitutes 99% of the Church must be particularly vigilant to shake itself off the tag “Sleeping Giants.” It must be particularly wary of the Amendments which are brought up at the Parliament. Since its first enactment in 1950, till date there have been 101 (latest by GST Act) amendments to the Constitution by invoking Article 368 which deals with the powers of the Parliament to amend the Constitution and specifies the procedure for this. The Parliament however CANNOT amend those provisions which form the ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution e.g. Secularism, Fundamental Rights, Independence of Judiciary, Parliamentary System of Government, the Sovereign, Democratic, Republican structure of India, the balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, Free and Fair Election, etc.
It must be remembered that the Constitution is superior to all other laws of the country. Every law enacted by the government has to be in conformity with the Constitution. Several Catholic Lay Associations, like the Catholic Association of Bengal (which calls itself CAB and the oldest lay association in India), have enacted rules and regulations which are in direct contravention with the Indian Constitution. In one of the letters dated 17th December 2015, the three member CAB Election Tribunal proudly stated that "The Representation of Peoples Act 1951 is not at all applicable on the conduct of of Elections in CAB." This reply was given in response to the demand to hold election based on the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 of one person, one vote. In line wit this Act, CAB Members had demanded One Life Member, One Vote. They also wanted a stop to the arbitrary right of some moneyed members (Patrons and Benefactors, who paid one-time Rs 50, 000/- and Rs 25,000/- respectively), to exercise Double Voting! One of the Tribunal Members was for many years, Principal of a reputed school and is now on its governing body! To do away with all the gaping loopholes in CAB's Articles and Memorandum of Association, a 5-member Constitutional Review Committee was set up by the Archbishop of Calcutta at the end of September 2016 AGM. But it has turned out to be a farce as the Executive Committee took it upon itself to accept or reject the recommendations for amendment/fresh inclusion. Even a school child would understand that the CAB Executive Committee had no locus standi to decide on the recommendations made by the Committee, as it itself, along with all office bearers, was under the scope of the review. Therefore for the Executive Committee to accept or reject recommendations for change, was a case of clear conflict of interest. On 20th August 2017 an Extra Ordinary General Meeting (EGM) to adopt or defeat the members' recommendation for change in CAB's constitution was called. The turnout was pathetic – only 55 out of 850+ Life Members. The reason for the low turnout was selective sending the EGM letters through parishes, and not by Speed or Registered Post. Out of 55, most were Executive Committee Members, who understandably, were against all changes for transparency and accountability. On top of it, no fresh recommendations for amendment were allowed on the floor of the EGM, right under the nose of the Archbishop of Calcutta, who happens the Ex-Officio Chairman of CAB, by virtue of his office. In spite of repeated requisitions, even queries on Audited Accounts of the last two financial years were not entertained. So there is something really fishy about our Lay Associations who themselves do not want our Lay members to know the Constitution, the law of the land, and also the Rules & Regulations of their own associations! They want to thrive on the ignorance of the members and want them to be meek and mute like lambs! ICPA, besides aiming for truthful reporting, has to give a clarion call to our lay associations to clean their own backyards first, before pricking holes in the Government which may hit back at our own institutions for lack of transparency. Most parishes do not have Parish Finance Committee, not even a Parish Assets Register!
In this murky background, Bishop Lobo's recommendation on the imperative need of the Laity to study the Constitution of India is all-embracing and couldn't have come at a more opportune time, considering the shallow knowledge of our Lay Leaders who head different Lay Associations and various Church Committees where we normally see the same faces, wearing different hats for different occasions.
Bishop Lobo has overlooked one very important point, that is, to encourage a breed of lawyers from our community. Without a group of top notch lawyers, our community would be only paper tigers, and in crunch situations, would be at the mercy of others. For this, and for encouraging many more Christians in professional fields including administrative service, a corpus fund must be floated. ICPA should write for change from the grassroots level and on sustainable development projects, instead of mainly reporting on persecution. On the point of Sustainable Development Concept, a diocesewise database of professionals would be very handy. This can be obtained from the family database in each parish. But experience in Kolkata shows that even this is of low priority for most parish priests. They are very allergic to a systematic database management, which has adequate checks and balances. In the Calcutta Archdiocese there is talk of a suitable Common Parish Administration Software. ICPA would render yeoman service if it can help identify/suggest a "suitable" software.
Democracy has become autocracy of the majority
Regarding prominent journalist A. J. Philip’s remark that democracy has become the autocracy of the majority, there is an increasing trend towards MAJORITARIANISM, a well-concerted political agenda that asserts that a majority (categorized by religion, language, social class) of the population makes decisions that affect the society, in particular riding roughshod on the minority. Examples of Majoritarianism are Cow Vigilantism or making it mandatory to stand up in movie halls during National Anthem. Arman Ali (36), a wheelchair-bound man, who has been fighting for rights of the disabled, was abused at a multiplex here on Friday for not standing up when the national anthem was being played. At the end of the anthem, two men abused him for not standing up. "Saamne ek Pakistani baitha hai (A Pakistani is sitting in front)," one of them reportedly said (Times of India: Oct 2, 2017).
Government Controlling media through harassment?
Regarding Indian Currents Editor Fr. Suresh Mathew’s contention that the Media in India today are controlled by the government through harassment and threats, the question is, is it for the first time? Did we not witness this during Emergency in 1975-77? Surprisingly Media is being controlled and threatened, even in the USA, the heartland of Democracy! So much so that journalists have condemned Trump Press Restrictions. Even the Catholic Church is no exception which sweeps even the slightest critical reporting under the carpet, as if nothing except "Good News" is happening in the Indian Church. It still is very allergic to two-way communication which is the norm in today's digital world. ICPA cannot afford to remain cut off from it.
ICPA members should recall what Fr Cedric Prakash said at the 2014 Kanyakumari Convention about the Indian Church's apathy to publication of the Truth and stand out for social justice; and its greater inclination to self-reservation, land and buildings. Cardinal George Alencherry is a living example of sitting on the truth! Nothing comes easy for a journalist who wants to report the truth which is not music to the ears of the powers-that-be whether the Government or the Church on Financial transparency of parishes/dioceses/institutes.
Democracy and Print Media have become Hollow!
Fr. Varghese Alengaden’s remark that both democracy and print media have become hollow is very enthusiastic! For, had democracy become hollow, he would not have been able to express himself freely at the ICPA Convention. Yes, most print and electronic media houses, except may be the Statesman and NDTV, are controlled by the five Cs – Corporatisation, Commercialisation, Co-option, Compromise and Communalisation as Fr Cedric Prakash elucidated at ICPA Kanyakumari in October 2014.
Corporatisation: Most of the Media Houses, both print and electronic, have been taken over by big corporate houses who dictate what is to be printed or aired. The editor just toes the dotted line. The Statesman is one of the few exceptions not to catapult to corporate poaching. The Statesman is characterized by its terse reporting style. It holds an independent anti-establishment position. It opposed the shifting of India's capital from Calcutta to New Delhi in 1911, stating that "[t]he British have gone to the city of graveyards to be buried there". It also strenuously opposed Indira Gandhi's Emergency in 1975-77. (Wikipedia)
Commercialisation: Commercialisation is the other side of the same coin. The corporate owner dicates the display (front page and other pages) of huge advertisements. These advertisements dominate the media more than the news content. Again the Editor is helpless. Because a lot of money flows through advertisement (lure of the lucre which as per Fr Cedric Prakash, late C.R. Irani, former Editor-in-Chief, had refused, so as not to be controlled and conditioned by the Advertisers). One can easily see even the front page contains full page advertisement/ blow up.
Co-option: The Corporate owner puts in his / her own persons, who may not have media background/knowledge, on the board, to control the Editorial Board. One of the All-India Educational Boards, headquartered in New Delhi, and having its affiliated schools all over India, thrives on Co-option, "you scratch my back, I scratch yours". A few select members who have been elected for a term, co-opt a few members (their own people who would toe their lines) when in office. Beefore their term expires, the new members who were coopted, now coopt the outgoing office bearers. In this way, they can continue to be on the Governing Board, even after expiry of their elected term of office, to promote and protect vested interest and feather their nest for years! It includes prescribing particular books, including books written by own relatives, to earn royalties and freebies, in league with powerful publishing houses. Surprisingly this malpractice is being perpetuated by members many of whom are Christians! Once they become "co-opted members", they maintain there is a vacancy in the Society’s elected body and the same number of members now come into the Society as representatives of their body – thus having doubled their numbers – they themselves as "co opted members" and the recent members elected to fill in the "created vacancy" Thus, they ensure they enjoy numerical superiority to control the affairs of the Society. Further, they can rule almost forever since they can go on co-opting themselves as long as they are in the EC.
Compromise: It is a foregone conclusion that the impact of Corporatisation, Commercialisation and Co-option will lead to compromise – in quality of news content and more froth. A look at a few print media (regarding news content) and electronic media (quality of debates – shouting matches and soap operas) would reveal the extent of compromise.
Communalisation: This is an offshoot of the well-orchestrated attempt towards majoritarianism, especially before election. It all happens in the guise of religious frenzy. Though India is a secular nation as per the Constitution, religion plays a very important role and allocation of funds for holy sites, promotion of tourism, or even relegation of a place of international historic interest (the Taj Mahal), all takes place in the name of fomenting religious fervour, to curry favour of a particular community, both in state and national politics. Until and unless religion is genuinely separated from politics, Communalisation will be used like a minefield by our politicans, much to the peril of our citizens.
* The writer is a member of Indian Catholic Press Association