‘Press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy’: CJI Chandrachud at RNG awards

Source- The post is based on the article “‘Press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy’: CJI Chandrachud at RNG awards” published in the “The Indian Express” on 24th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Polity

Relevance– Issues related to media

News– CJI DY Chandrachud gave a speech as the chief guest at the RNG awards.

What is the importance of media?

Promoting debate and discussionDebates and discussion are the first steps towards action. All societies inevitably become dormant, and immune to the problems faced by them. Journalism pushes them out of this collective inertia.

The media has always played an important role in shaping the course of current events, and the course of history itself. For example, the #MeToo movement had cascading effects all over the world and it was a watershed moment in history.

Importance for democracy– The media is the fourth pillar of the State, and an integral component of democracy.

A functional and healthy democracy must encourage the development of journalism as an institution that can ask difficult questions to the establishment.

Vice of common manLocal or community-based journalism has played an important role in encouraging social cohesion and political activism. It has the ability to raise the little-known concerns and set the agenda for debate on those issues at the policy level.

Community journalism opens the avenues for the members of marginalised communities to raise their own issues.

Relevance in emergency situations– The relevance of the media was best highlighted during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. Electronic, print, and social media facilitated the State to disseminatethe relevant information to the general public during the lockdown.

The media highlighted administrative loopholes and excesses. Various high courts and the Supreme Court of India relied on news reports in taking suo motu cognisance of instances of violations of people’s rights during the pandemic.

How did the media play an important role in pre-independence India?

India has a great legacy of newspapers. They have acted as catalysts of social and political change.

Prior to independence, newspapers were run by social reformers and political activists. The objective was to raise awareness and outreach to people .

For instance, Dr. Ambedkar launched several newspapers such as Mooknayak, Bahishkrut Bharat, Janata, and Prabuddha Bharat to create awareness about the rights of the most neglected communities in India.

The newspapers and other publications of pre-Independence India also give us a picture of the detailed history of those times.

How is the media landscape changing?

Recently, social media has become a game changer for journalists by providing opportunities to individuals to launch their own online media channels. In that way, online platforms have led to the democratisation of the media.

Earlier, the paucity of space was a constraining factor. Now, it is the paucity of reader patience. Readers have short attention spans. News is reduced to shorts on YouTube or reels on Instagram.

In recent years, we are also witnessing a rising interest in legal journalism. Legal journalism is the storyteller of the justice system, shedding light on the complexities of the law. It is thus essential for journalists to provide a complete picture of events, rather than presenting a one-sided view. Journalists have a duty to report accurately and impartially.

What are the challenges faced by the media?

Fake news poses a serious threat to the independence and impartiality of the press in the current society.It has the capability to create tensions between communities by misleading people.

Another issue affecting the media is that of legitimacy. A diverse and representative newsroom is essential for media institutions to provide well-researched and complex stories.

Selective quoting of speeches and judgments of judges by journalists in India has become a matter of concern. This practice has a tendency to distort the public’s understanding of important legal issues. Judges’ decisions are often complex and nuanced.

What is the way forward to ensure a robust media?

It is the collective responsibility of journalists as well as other stakeholders to weed out any element of prejudice from the process of reporting events.

Journalists should provide a neutral view, in case of reporting on legal matters.

A comprehensive fact-checking mechanism should be in place to verify all news items before reporting.

As citizens, we may not agree with the approach of a journalist. But disagreement must not distort into hatred and hatred must not be permitted to evolve into violence. The Supreme Court of India has emphasised on the rights of journalists in a number of judgments.

Media institutions need to ensure that their newsroom culture reflects the diverse news content they are producing.

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