Freedom of the media is imperative at any given point in time, but even more so when India along with the world is in a deep health crisis. It is necessary as it is expected to sift the chaff from the wheat, and inform the people of the reality behind any claim or allegation, of news as it is, and not as anyone might want it to be. In democratic countries like India, the media is also the fourth and essential pillar to give the ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’ commitment strength.

The Supreme Court directive to the media to ‘refer and publish the official version’ of the developments related to the pandemic has thus, generated, deep concern. More so as it followed a plea by the central government that the migrant workers fleeing the cities in hordes had been panicked by ‘fake news’ that the lockdown would continue for three months. Perhaps it is, perhaps not, a coincidence that this has been followed almost immediately with a FIR against The Wire for a report on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.Wire has stood by its story terming the FIR an attack on the freedom of the press. Editors across the board are in touch with the Editors Guild of India and other journalist bodies to take a stand on this.

The media, in times of stress, has a crucial role to play in alerting governments about the situation on the ground so that remedial measures can be taken before further damage. The migrants exodus, that was sudden and painful, was covered by the journalists and indeed did serve as a warning of sorts with the more responsive governments moving into first gear to provide shelters and food for the poor. Of course others sprayed the poor with bleach, and stopped them at the borders, supposedly for quarantine purposes.

The problem for India is the spread of the virus, the inability to test more than a limited number of persons, the poor health infrastructure and the ongoing humanitarian crisis involving India’s poorest that the government has the ability to tackle and contain if it puts its mind to it. Unfortunately, the side step into turning the pandemic into religious bigotry with television channels and the social media spreading ‘panic’ through generated Islamaphobia does not reflect the seriousness one would have expected. Every single country in the world, with the US now competing with China and Italy in the number of cases, is trying to fight the disease as a nation. And not as communities within a nation, fractured and divided.

The economy is entering a serious crisis but so is the pandemic that is peaking in different countries, and experts say India has still to see the worst. US President Donald Trump who was keen to open up by Easter this month, has been compelled by health experts and public pressure to extend the lockdown till the end of the month. The cure does not lie in muzzling the press doing its job, in making it a religious community issue, in targeting some over others, but in bringing a nation and its peoples together to cooperate and work together in an atmosphere of trust and confidence. The Coronavirus has shown no discrimination, and the fight is lost when we do.