In the wake of an array of prominent writers and artists returning their awards to protest against rising intolerance in the country, President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday said that prestigious awards “are a public recognition, of talent, merit and hard work, by peers and leaders in the profession” and that “such awards should be cherished and valued by those who receive them.”
The President added that “sensitive minds” who get “disturbed by some incidents in society” should express their “disagreement through debate and discussion” and that “emotions should not overrun reason”.
Speaking at a function to mark the National Press Day, Mukherjee said, “Sensitive minds sometimes get disturbed by some incidents in society. But, expression of concern over such events should be balanced. Emotions should not overrun reason, and disagreement should be expressed through debate and discussion.”
“We must, as proud Indians, have confidence in the idea of India and the values and principles enshrined in our Constitution. India has always been able to self-correct whenever such a need has arisen,” he added.
Underlining that freedom of press in India forms part of the “freedom of expression which is guaranteed by the Constitution as a fundamental right”, the President said that “protection of this right is our bounden duty”. “In a democracy, various challenges will emerge from time to time. These should be addressed collectively. We must ensure that the letter and spirit of the law always remains a living reality,” Mukherjee said.
Noting that the “influence, credibility and quality of our media is well recognized all over the world”, the President said that “the Indian media has grown in scale, reach and revenues over the years” and that “its significance has further increased with higher literacy levels and the revolution in communication technologies”.
“New media has brought about a convergence between traditional, audio-visual, digital and social media. It has become a powerful means for shaping the ideas, aspirations and behaviour of our people, even in the remotest corners of our country,” the President said, adding that “this entrusts media with an additional responsibility” and “they must act as a watchdog of public interest and give voice to the marginalized”.
“Journalists must bring to public notice the array of ills and deprivations that continue to beset large number of our people. They must shape and influence public opinion even as they provide objective and balanced coverage of news,” Mukherjee said. “Gloom and dark alone should not dominate news coverage. A conscious effort should be made to show what is noble and good in the society. It must highlight the positive and inspire change for the better. The power of the media should be used to reset our moral compass and promote liberalism, humanism and decency in public life,” he added.
Pointing out that the media has an important role to play in “cleansing public life”, the President said, “For that, the conduct of the media itself should be above board. Independence and integrity are two sides of the same coin and it goes for every one of us including the media.”
“Sensationalism should not substitute for objective, accurate and dispassionate reporting. While opinion is free, facts should be sacred. Caution should be exercised in passing judgements, especially on matters where the due process of law is yet to be completed. We must never forget that careers and reputations take years to build but only minutes to demolish,” Mukherjee further said.
The President also said that “it is said accusations appear in headlines, denial in small print and contradictions are hidden away amidst cheap advertisements” and that “the media must realise that it remains always accountable to its readers and viewers and through them, to the entire nation”.