The President of India, Pranab Mukherjee delivered the Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture on 25 May 2017 in New Delhi. Speaking on the occasion, the President said that Ramnath Goenka embodied the finest virtues of journalism: fierce independence, fearlessness and a determination to always stand up to the powerful and fight against the abuse or misuse of power. In fact, there was nothing he enjoyed more than a fight to protect the right of The Indian Express to publish what he thought was proper and just. Mukerjee also looked into the fine nuisances of the media revolution presently underway, while giving his views on good gatekeeping and professional journalism. Here are some selected excerpts:
Remembering the legend@Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture
“When I think of The Indian Express, I think of Shri Ramnath Goenka. Ramnath ji embodied the finest virtues of journalism: fierce independence, fearlessness and a determination to always stand up to the powerful and fight against the abuse or misuse of power. In fact, there was nothing he enjoyed more than a fight to protect the right of The Indian Express to publish what he thought was proper and just,” said Mukherjee.
He was a fighter. In the face of attempts to control the press, exemplified his willingness to stake all for his principles and to set the highest standards for press freedom in India. The blank editorial published by The Indian Express during Emergency, under the leadership of Ramnath Goenka, was perhaps one of the strongest protests ever published against censorship in India.
As Ramnath Goenka wrote in an editorial in August 1942 when he announced suspension of the paper rather than give in to censorship by the British authorities. He said and I quote: “The hard fact of the situation is that if we went on publishing, The Indian Express maybe called a paper, but cannot be a newspaper.” It is also worth remembering today that Ramnath Goenka was a true patriot. When he founded The Indian Express in 1936 it was in response to a need articulated by Mahatma Gandhi for a national newspaper. He fought for the freedom of the country and for freedom of the press. He took on the Establishment – in colonial times and after Independence – to make democracy more secure and zealously guard the right to free speech as is enshrined in our Constitution. Better than most, he realized that democracy without a free press was like a blank piece of paper.
“The ideals he personified need to be reiterated time and again, cast in stone and followed by all journalists who love democracy and freedom. I am happy to say that The Indian Express has maintained the standards under the leadership of Ramnathji’s son, Shri Viveck Goenka. It has not wavered in its commitment to fairness and accuracy, to independence and a pursuit of the truth. These are not old-fashioned values. In fact, the values espoused by Ramnath ji were relevant then, are relevant now and will remain relevant in times to come”, added Mukherjee.
New Age Media
The President said that technology has led to a phenomenal growth in the means of communication, bombarding the public with unprecedented volumes of data, information and, not least, opinion. This has had many positive outcomes: foremost, it has broken the shackles of silence imposed on the powerless. The sense of liberation that the Internet and social media especially, allows, has ensured that everyone has a voice and that even small voices in the remotest areas can be heard.
In a way, everyone with a phone can be a publisher and a broadcaster, a schoolteacher, a mother, a student and a political activist. The average citizen has been truly empowered in her ability to speak out and to find out. All of this growth has resulted in a plurality and diversity in the access to information. There is a whole new information world out there to be tapped by our people across the length and breadth of the country. However, the downside is that the sheer scale and volume of data and information means that much of what is available today remains unfiltered and unmediated. In many cases, even unchecked.
Take the case of recent developments in the United States of America and France, where personal communications of political leaders during an election were leaked and made available freely to anyone roaming the Internet. Such information, in order to make sense needs to be carefully vetted – checked and rechecked — contextualised and made sense of for it to have value or equally importantly, not be misused. When so many people speak in so many voices across mediums, many voices are drowned out in the cacophony that is created: and in that noise it is difficult to hear or make sense of what is being said.
Good Journalism and gatekeeping
“I believe that the bedrock of Indian civilization has been its pluralism and its social, cultural, linguistic and racial diversity. It mesmerises me when I shut my eyes and think that in our country 1.3 billion people who are using more than 200 languages, practicing 7 major religions, belonging to 3 major ethnic groups are residing under one system, one flag and one identity of being Indian. That is the celebration of our diversity. That’s why we need to be sensitive to dominant narratives, of those who make the loudest noise, drowning out those who disagree. That’s why social media and broadcast news have seen angry, aggressive posturing by state and non-state players literally hounding out contrarian opinions,” said Mukerjee.
The President said that he also believes the media must safeguard the public interest, and provide a voice to the marginalised in our society. Our people face enormous inequalities which need to be articulated and highlighted continuously – by the media — in order to ensure they are addressed by those who govern. For it to be able to aim for the highest standards of professionalism, journalists and media organizations must turn the spotlight inwards, on themselves. They must hold themselves to the standards they demand of others.
The President said that the Press and the media are considered to be the fourth pillar of the democracy. It wields extra ordinary powers of not only holding the other three pillars accountable, but also influencing and shaping public opinion like no other institution of democracy can. While this enormous power, to sustain itself requires the basic dictum of freedom of expression, at the same time it puts an equally enormous responsibility of accountability and credibility on the media itself. To my mind, while the press will be failing in its duty if it does not pose questions to the powers that be, it will have to simultaneously judge the frivolous from the factual and publicity from reportage.
The President said that media must learn the art of withstanding pulls and pressures without sacrificing its commitment to free and fair reportage and always remain on guard against conformity. Because any tendency towards conformity to be enforced, often requires disguising or dissembling the truth and the facts. This is completely alien to the ideals which inform professional journalism which lives and even dies by chasing the facts and the truth.
The President said that as we go forward as a nation we face contradictory forces: on the one hand is a country with immense potential for growth and prosperity; on the other is a growing sense of unequal distribution of resources and opportunities. The media should reflect both in equal measure but it can only do so if it truthfully reflects the reality on the ground. If the media believes in the freedom of expression, a free and a fearless independent media as Ramnath Goenka did, it must choose to reflect a plurality of opinions for that is what breathes life into our democracy and has defined us as Indians. It must always remember that its fundamental task is to stand up and ask questions with honesty and fairness. That’s the sacred compact it has with citizens in a democracy.
News Update| 12 June 2017|
A responsible press is needed to hold power to account in our open society: Vice President
The Vice President of India, M. Hamid Ansari has said that in an open society like ours, we need a responsible press to hold power to account. He was addressing an event to launch the commemorative edition of National Herald, in Bengaluru, Karnataka on 12 June 2017. The Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, K. Siddaramaiah, Vice President-AICC, Rahul Gandhi and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.
The Vice President said that the history of journalism in India is closely linked to the history of our freedom struggle. The Press played an important role in educating, convincing and mobilising our people, he added.“Today is a memorable occasion, the resurrection of a happening in our freedom struggle, a reminder to a younger generation of the role that media in the hands of people committed to a cause could do to motivate the public. This is the 70th year of our independence and the National Herald’s return to active media space with a commemorative edition is worthy of being celebrated. Conceived by Jawaharlal Nehru, the National Herald began its publication from Lucknow in 1938 and soon became the voice of our independence movement. Its banner of ‘freedom in peril’ has an abiding relevance,” he cited in his speech.
“The history of journalism in India is closely linked to the history of our freedom struggle. Indian journalists were not mere news providers. They were freedom fighters and social activists, who fought not only to rid India of foreign rule but also to rid our society of social prejudices, casteism, communalism and discrimination. The Press played an important role in educating, convincing and mobilizing our people. Many founding members of the Congress in 1885 were journalist. The most inspiring of the journals, like Tribune, Hindustan, Leader, Sudharak, Kesari, Akbar-i-Aam, The Hindu and Swadesh were edited by prominent leaders like Tilak, Gokhale, Subramanya Iyer, Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malviya and Agrakar,” he added.
Gandhiji was associated with six journals, and editor of two very influential weeklies. He published no advertisement; at the same time he did not want his newspapers to run at a loss. ‘Young India’ and ‘Harijan’ became powerful vehicles of his views on all subjects. He wrote on all subjects. He wrote simply and clearly but forcefully. For Gandhiji, journalism was a public service. He said,
“In my humble opinion, it is wrong to use a newspaper as a means of earning a living. There are certain spheres of work which are of such consequence and have such bearing on public welfare that to undertake them for earning one’s livelihood will defeat the primary aim behind them. When, further a newspaper is treated as a means of making profits, the result is likely to be serious malpractices. It is not necessary to prove to those who have some experience of journalism that such malpractices do prevail on a large scale,” said Ansari.
In an open society like ours, we need a responsible press to hold power to account. This is why freedom of press under Article 19 (1)(A) of the Constitution, is subject only to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, public order, decency, contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence. The Supreme Court has held that ‘freedom of speech and of the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy’ because public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions. Another pronouncement of the Court bears reiteration:
“But what is called for today, in the present times, is a proper balancing of the freedom of press and said laws consistent with the democratic way of life ordained by the Constitution. Over the last few decades, press and electronic media have emerged as major factors in our nation’s life. They are still expanding and in the process becoming more inquisitive. Our system of government demands as do the systems of government of the United States of America and United Kingdom- constant vigilance over exercise of governmental power by the press and the media among others. It is essential for a good Government,” said Ansari.
The duty of the State is thus clear. A free media is not only beneficial but necessary in a free society. If press freedom is attacked, it will result in the jeopardising of citizen’s rights. When faced with unjust restrictions and the threat of attack, self-censorship in the media can have the opposite effect, aiding the covering up of abuses and fostering frustration in marginalized communities.
The Vice President said that in this age of ‘post-truths’, and ‘alternative facts’, where ‘advertorials’ and ‘response features’ edge-out editorials, we would do well to recall Nehru’s vision of the press playing its role of a watchdog in democracy and look at the ethos and principles that powered his journalism. He further said that our Constitutional framework provides for required intervention by the State to ensure smooth working of the press and the society. The laws provide that such intervention should only be in the interest of the public at large, he added.
News Update| Lokmat Parliamentary Awards 2017 celebrates spirit of Parliamentary Democracy
Lokmat Parliamentary Awards 2017 held on 19 July 2017 in New Delhi witness presence of Star Parliamentarians, who had played a pivotal role in furthering the spirit of Parliamentary Democracy in India. The Vice President of India, M. Hamid Ansari has said that it is the duty of the elected representatives of the people of India to prevent erosion of the vitality and spirit of democracy that is the lifeblood of our Parliament. He was addressing the gathering after giving away the Lokmat Parliamentary Awards 2017. The former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the former Governor of Punjab, Shivraj Patil, the former Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation and Information & Broadcasting, M. Venkaiah Naidu, the Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways and Shipping, Nitin Gadkari, Members of Parliament and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.
The Vice President said that the personal conduct and credibility of the parliamentary representative provides assurance to the public in the efficacy of the institutions of Parliamentary democracy. He further said that a parliamentarian must believe in democracy, be a bridge between overarching national interests and the local dynamics and have the ability to communicate effectively with an economy of words. The Parliamentarians we honour today all posses these qualities in good measure, he added.
“A few years back, while accepting the Parliamentarian of the year award, one of our most charismatic parliamentarians in recent history, Atal Behari Vajpayee said: Democracy is not a play of 51 and 49. Democracy is basically a moral system. The house of parliament is not even a small court of law, where the dissection of words takes place. It is a political platform – I am not using the word political in its narrow sense, but in the wider sense – where hopes, aspirations and frustrations of 90 crores of people of this country should be reflected and echoed, reminded Ansari.
News Update | Media should avoid sensationalism and maintain its credibility: Vice President
The Vice President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that the media has to avoid sensationalism and maintain its credibility while disseminating news. He was addressing the gathering after presenting the 14th Shailikaar Prabhakar Samman Award to eminent journalist Anuradha Prasad, on 24 September 2017. The award was instituted in memory of well-known Hindi writer, journalist and freedom fighter, Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Misra ‘Prabhakar’. The Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Prakash Javadekar and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.