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Underlying Principle of Freedom of Speech & Expression Within four Corners of Law Defines our Democratic Identity - Vice President

New Delhi, November 16: The Vice President of India M. Hamid Ansari has said that India is the world’s largest democracy and despite its imperfections remains a good example of a functioning, vigorous, constitutional and democratic state structure. Like most other liberal democracies, our functioning is predicated on the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary and a significant role for the Press and the Media.

Delivering inaugural address on ‘Freedom of Press and its Responsibilities’ on the National Press Day celebrations organized by the Press Council of India here today, he has said that the underlying principle of freedom of speech and expression within the four corners of the law defines our democratic identity. Both are guaranteed as a Fundamental Right by our Constitution. Freedom of the Press and Media is a logical corollary. The Press Council is a mechanism for the Press to regulate itself. Its raison d’etre is rooted in the concept that in a democratic society the press needs at once to be free and responsible.

He said that two questions come to mind. Firstly, should not the right to freedom of expression carry with it the responsibility of ethical conduct, of reasoned persuasion, and a projection of values and priorities that strengthen our institutions? Secondly, should it not be the responsibility of the Press and Media, apart from parents and teachers to inform and educate the youth so that they become aware of their rights, and their responsibilities towards their families, their community, their State, their region, their nation and to the global order? The Press and Media clearly has a role both as communicators and as persuaders, so that the national debate can be enriched and the democratic structure strengthened.

The Vice President said that we have every reason to be proud of the strength and diversity of the Indian media. All indications are that our Press and Media will continue to grow and continue to carefully adopt and adapt to the new digital technologies of communication to widen its reader/viewer base and leverage the growing numbers to increase both its influence and revenues. But what remains crucial is the credibility and commitment of the Press and Media to objectivity and to that elusive search for “truth”.

He said that it has been noted by a careful observer that the two roles that newspapers have played are credible-informational and critical-investigative-adversarial. The two can, and do, complement each other, and thereby build trust so essential for retaining readership. Public education is one aspect of it, analysis and criticism is another. The latter also leads to discovering happenings in need of correctives and thereby to public good.

The Vice President opined that the Press and Media scene in India veers from reasoned debate, under-stated expression and moderation in views, to polemical overstatement, hysterical outpouring and plain misinformation. When this happens in a number of languages, over a wide geographical spread and virtually around the clock, it constitutes the din of democracy and often creates more confusion than intended. It nevertheless upholds the principle of free expression, within the law, and remains an essential part of a functioning democratic system.

He expressed his concern that there are also larger systemic issues that need to be considered as they directly affect the Media’s objectivity and credibility. These relate to cross-media ownership, the phenomena of “paid news”, media ethics and need for effective and viable self regulatory mechanisms, the decreasing role of editors and their editorial freedom, and the need to improve the working condition of media personnel including their safety and security. Each of these is the subject of vigorous on-going debate. There is an imperative need to put in place the required correctives.  

The Vice President said that apart from being the world’s largest democracy, our demographic profile makes India perhaps the democracy which has the largest number of young people.  51.8% of India’s population is below 35 years of age. It is estimated that in the next general elections due in 2014 there will be over 30% of the electorate who will be first time voters and will seek to reflect their aspirations and anxieties at the hustings next year. They would need to understand the functioning of our democracy, the manner of its impact on their lives, and their responsibilities as citizens.

Posted by Imphal Dispatch on 22:32. Filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0

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