Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu Wednesday said a free media is the “cornerstone of democracy” and its role becomes “all the more important” in the world’s largest democracy as it can “actually be a force multiplier to sustain democracy”. “A free press is essential for sustaining democracy”, but that “freedom comes with a tremendous sense of responsibility”, Naidu said.
The Vice President spoke on the media’s role in moulding an enlightened electorate while delivering the inaugural Atal Bihari Vajpayee memorial lecture, instituted by the Indian Institute of Mass Communication.
Naidu said the possibility for the menace of fake news increases during elections and it is the media’s responsibility to “act like myth-busters in such sensitive times, and report the absolute, undiluted truth”. He said the media must ensure that the public has access to all the information that they need to make an educated and informed decision.
For citizens to exercise their free choice meaningfully, the Vice President said, requires a free, fair and unbiased media which can examine the agenda of political parties and their candidates along with their policies, vision, corruption scandals, and has the ability to publish these views. It also requires an informed citizenry that respects facts, and is open to reasoning, logic, loves the country and respects its ethos, he said.
But the media has also been attacked “for its biased role, publication of fake news, pushing the agenda of special interest groups like corporates, NGOs, ideologies and foreign companies, raising serious questions regarding the media’s impartiality and objectivity,” the Vice President said. Naidu said that paid news is also a matter of concern and “the media somewhere fails to fulfil the basic requirements of good journalism in the present scenario”.
Naidu said that paid news must be shunned, otherwise money power will be used to influence voters through “manufactured views and opinions”. Social, political and economic exclusion were among issues which need to be addressed “to ensure robust, confident, informed and ethical electoral participation for enriching democracy,” he said.
The Vice President that while social media provides an “unprecedented” chance for interaction, its explosion and abuse brings serious challenges, including “the rampant spread of hate speech as elections draw closer”. It must not be allowed to “derail the democratic process at the time of elections,” Naidu said. Media can dispel rumours and check fake narratives on social media, which, if unchecked, “can lead to social disharmony and unrest,” he said.
Naidu said the ownership of media impacts its independence as in the last few decades large conglomerates have come to own large sections of the media. But the “greatest threat to media independence”, he said, “comes from direct political ownership of the media houses”.