Vice-President Hamid Ansari today said a free media was not only beneficial, but necessary in a free society and any attack on the freedom of press would jeopardise the citizens’ rights.
When faced with “unjust restrictions” and the “threat of an attack”, self-censorship in the media could have an “opposite effect”, aiding the covering up of abuses and fostering frustration in the marginalised communities, he said.
Ansari said the constitutional framework provided for the required intervention by the State to ensure a smooth working of the press and society, but the laws made it clear that it should only be in the interest of the public.
By the same token, the State should not impede the free flow of information which would go a long way in protecting and promoting the citizens’ rights, he added.
“The media, if it is to remain true to its calling, has to do likewise,” Ansari said after releasing the National Herald newspaper’s commemorative publication, ’70 years of India’s Independence’, in the presence of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a function here.
The vice-president also said, “In an open society like ours, we need a responsible press to hold those in power to account.
“That is why the 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.”
He said in this age of “post-truths” and “alternative facts”, where “advertorials” and “response features” edged out the editorials, “We would do well to recall (Jawaharlal) 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 founded the National Herald newspaper, believed that the media was a pillar of democracy, Ansari said he envisioned a free, unfettered and an honest press.
“He watched over the interests of the mediapersons in an independent India.”
The Working Journalists Act, which tried to give a degree of protection to the journalists to ensure the freedom of press, was largely the former prime minister’s doing, he said.
“The Act, I believe, is now in disuse and short-term contracts, which make the journalists beholden to the preferred lines of the publications, are in vogue,” he said.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said it was heartening to note that Associated Journals Limited was reviving the National Herald newspaper by launching its English website and resuming its phased publication as a multi-media outlet, focussing primarily on news in a digital form.
He said he was sure that the newspaper would re-emerge as a “potent voice of all the right-thinking people of India”.