Attacks on press freedom impact the rights of citizens and self-censorship by the media under fear of attacks can give rise to frustration in society, Vice-President Hamid Ansari said here on Monday.Speaking at the release of a special edition of the National Herald to commemorate 70 years of India’s independence, Ansari said, “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 citizens’ 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 marginalised communities.”
The constitutional framework of India allows intervention by the state to ensure smooth working of the press and society but such intervention should only be in the interest of the public, he said. “By the same token, the state shall not impede in the free flow of information that will go a long way in protecting and promoting citizens’ rights,” he 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 (who started the National Herald newspaper) vision of the press playing its role of a watchdog in democracy and look at the ethos and principles that powered his journalism,” he said. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who was at the event, said there is a disbalance between the “power of truth” and the “truth of power” in India.
“The power of truth has been completely replaced by the truth of power. Anybody who attempts to say the truth and anybody who attempts to stand for truth is pushed aside in different forms. Dalits are beaten up, minorities are frightened, journalists are threatened, bureaucrats are threatened,” the Congress leader said. “We are living in an India where power simply manufactures the truth. Everybody knows what the truth is but they are scared to say it. A famous Soviet poet once said when truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie. That is what the government is trying to do. They are forcing everyone into silence.”
He added, “Thousands and thousands of journalists in the country are not being allowed to write what they want. When they meet me they tell me we are not allowed to write what we want.”