Senior advocate and civil society activist Prashant Bhushan Saturday called for urgent and far-reaching media reforms to check the spread of fake news that seemed tilted to help the spread of “fascism and communalism” in society.
Bhushan was speaking at Panjab University on ‘Question of autonomy of media and judiciary in a democracy and contemporary situation’, the first of a lecture series called ‘Silsila-e-Taqriir’ organised by the Panjab University Campus Student Council (PUCSC).
“What is happening to our environment, to our educational institutions? Look at the state of human rights. Tools such as social network are being used to spread lies. In such a scenario, it’s the media’s duty to bring out the truth,” he said, lamenting that the media had become a “lapdog” instead of a watchdog. But, he said, independent media were being suppressed through the “misuse”of CBI and the Income Tax department.
He suggested three major reforms in the media. First, the media needs a council that was independent and had power to scrap and act against media organisations that were spreading fake news. Second, media monopolies had to be fought and stopped for corporations such as Reliance to stop controlling so many media outlets. Last, he spoke about the danger posed by fake news. “It’s a huge menace and is being spread through WhatsApp and social networking outlets. Who are these people who are supporting a communal, fascist and hate-mongering government? There should be research on whether a right shift towards fascism and communalism was due to electronic and social media,” he said.
Bhushan added that, in his opinion, while social media had numerous advantages, it also had a downside because it was easy to spread lies through this media and there was no technique through which it could be detected. He also underlined that all citizens had a role to play in a democracy.
“Civil society should be more aware and engage in social policy activities. Not everyone can be full-time activists, but some time must be devoted to these activities to safeguard the republic,” he added.
In the interactive round, Bhushan discussed issues ranging from nepotism and corruption in the judiciary to electoral politics. However, students questioned his scathing statements on the BJP-led government. Responding to the questions, he said: “Today, civilisation is in peril. There’s a huge difference between the culture of BJP and Congress. Both are corrupt. But, BJP and RSS are fascist by ideology and nature. It’s in their DNA.”
He added that this ideology was against critical thinking and, as a result, it targeted critical thinking in universities. “There are two goals of education: to promote a critical mind that asks questions and to make people sensitive towards society and environment. Sensitivity has died in the DNA of BJP and RSS, so they promote thuggish violence and hatred. That’s why I say democracy was in threat,” said Bhushan.