India needs free media to hold ‘power to account’: Hamid Ansari
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Bengaluru: During a debate on press freedom on Monday, vice-president Hamid Ansari said India needs a free and responsible media to hold “power to account” and protect the rights of citizens.
The comments by Ansari come against the backdrop of the recent raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) on premises belonging to NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy. NDTV described the raids as “a blatant political attack on the freedom of the press”, a charge rejected by the CBI, which said it was carried out following court orders. The CBI also said it “respects the freedom of press”.
Ansari said a free media is not only beneficial but necessary in a free society and any attack on press freedom would jeopardize citizens’ rights. When faced with unjust restrictions and the threat of attack, self-censorship in the media could have the opposite effect, aiding the covering up of abuses and fostering frustration in marginalised communities, he said. Ansari said the constitutional framework provides for required intervention by the state to ensure smooth working of the press and society, but the laws provide that it should only be in the interest of the public at large. By the same token, the state should not impede the free flow of information that will go a long way in protecting and promoting citizens’ rights, he said.
“The media, if it is to remain true to its calling, has to do likewise,” Ansari said, after releasing National Herald’s commemorative publication, 70 years of India’s Independence, in the presence of congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a function. Ansari also said, “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.”
Ansari said 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 a democracy and look at the ethos and principles that powered his journalism”. Noting that Nehru, who started the National Herald newspaper, believed that the media is a pillar of democracy, Ansari said he envisioned a free, unfettered and honest press. “He watched over the interests of mediapersons in independent India.” The Working Journalists Act, which tried to give a degree of protection to journalists, to ensure freedom of press, was largely Nehru’s doing, he said.
“The act, I believe, is now in disuse, and short-term contracts that make journalists beholden to the ‘preferred lines’ of the publications, are in vogue,” he added. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah said it was heartening to note that the Associated Journals Limited is reviving National Herald by launching its English website and resuming phased publication as a multi-media outlet, focussing primarily on a news presence in digital form. He said he was sure that National Herald would re-emerge as “the potent voice of all right-thinking people of India”.