New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said the media is responsible for upholding the right to freedom of speech and there must be no government interference in its functioning, which must be self-regulated.
“External control of press is not good for the society. The media is instrumental for upholding free speech. Freedom of expression must be maintained,” he said at an event commemorating the National Press Day and the Golden Jubilee of the Press Council of India.
In this context, he quoted the Father of the Nation, saying: “Mahatma Gandhi had said uncontrolled writing can create huge problems but he had also said that external interference can result in havoc. Controlling media from outside cannot be imagined.” “Internal discipline in the media is more important than any external intervention,” he told the gathering which included representatives of press councils from countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Citing the importance of self-regulation in the media, Modi said: “After the Kandahar plane hijack (in 1999) and the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks (in 2008), we witnessed examples of media’s self-regulation.”
The Modi government had come under attack from various quarters, including media personalities and journalists’ associations, when a move was made to ban the telecast of NDTV India for one day. The matter has now been kept in abeyance.
Modi, however, took pot shots at the opposition, recalling the Emergency when press freedom was curtailed and even the Press Council of India ceased to exist. “We remember how the Press Council ceased to exist during the Emergency. And the things for the media normalised after Morarji Bhai (Morarji Desai) became the Prime Minister,” he said. He also said that it was “painful” to know about the murders of journalists in some states and said that was “the most dangerous” way of suppressing truth. Praising the persistence of the media, Modi quipped: “I have been friends with journalists for a long time. They just need 10 per cent of information, and they can then find the 90 per cent out.”
Speaking on the occasion, Information & Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the government does not believe in imposing ban on any medium of communication, but added that “necessary restraint” has to be exercised keeping in mind the protection of sovereignty and integrity of India. He said the electronic media coverage of Mumbai terrorist attacks received a backlash from the Supreme Court, which, according to him, mentioned that “any attempt to justify the conduct of the TV channels by citing the right to freedom of speech and expression would be totally wrong and unacceptable in such a terrorist situation”.
Referring to the Pathankot air base attack coverage for which NDTV India was to be banned for a day, he said electronic media coverage can often put lives of both civilians and armed forces personnel in danger. In a federal polity, Naidu said, regional media with its reach can help align the interests of the states with those of the nation and also make the Prime Minister’s vision of “cooperative federalism” a success.
Regarding the government’s New Print Media Advertisement Policy, he said it promotes equity based regional outreach by providing relaxation in empanelment procedure to provide special encouragement for regional language an small and medium newspapers.
PCI Chairman Justice (Retd) C.K. Prasad and Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore were also present on the occasion. Eminent journalists and media persons S. Nihal Singh, Mrinal Pande, Raghu Rai, Renjith John, Arvind Kumar Singh and Xavier Selva Kumar were awarded for their contribution to journalism.