At the 75th anniversary celebrations of Tamil newspaper Daily Thanthi, Prime Minister says editorial freedom must be used wisely, in public interest
At a time when the Indian media – print, television or the new, social media – have all come under sharp public scrutiny and chastised for either turning into mouthpieces of the government in power or of parties in the Opposition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Monday, laid out a charter of sorts for media organisations to follow.
Addressing the 75th anniversary celebrations of Tamil newspaper Daily Thanthi at the Madras University Centenary Auditorium in Chennai, Modi – who has himself drawn flak for not entertaining questions and scrutiny by the press ever since he became Prime Minister – lectured on the need for editorial freedom to be “used wisely, in public interest”.
The Prime Minister asserted: “It is the editors who… decide what should be given space on the first page, what should be given more space and what should be ignored…Editorial freedom must be used wisely, in public interest. Equally so, the freedom to write, and to decide what is to be written, does not include the freedom to be ‘less than accurate’ or ‘factually incorrect’.”
Modi’s comments come at a time when his party’s government in Rajasthan, led by chief minister Vasundhara Raje, if in the eye of a political storm for piloting a Bill that seeks to muzzle the press and restrain it from reporting on allegations of corruption and financial impropriety by former and serving bureaucrats, judicial officers, etc. until such a time when the government grants sanction to agencies concerned to investigate such allegations.
In a remarkable coincidence, Modi’s comments on how the media should function and the need for the press to maintain its credibility came on a day when The Indian Express published a series of articles, accessed through a global network of journalists under the overarching Paradise Papers expose, which show how over 700 Indians, including BJP and Congress leaders, had purportedly invested their undeclared money in foreign tax havens or were associated with shell companies that operated bank accounts in such countries.
Advising the media on its “social accountability” and the need to be “above board”, Modi said: “Media must make an extra effort, to maintain credibility.”
The Prime Minister also urged the media to introspect, saying: “I firmly believe that reform in the media, whenever required, can only come from within, through introspection.”
The Prime Minister, whose engagements with the press ever since he assumed the high office have been woefully few and who, in his earlier avatar as the chief minister of Gujarat was famous for evading questions on the riots that led to the killing of thousands of Muslims in his state in 2002, also advised the media to speak more of the common citizens and not about “just us politicians”.
“I observe that a lot of the media discourse today revolves around politics. It is only fair that politics be discussed at length, in a democracy. However, India is more than just us politicians. It is the 125 crore Indians, which make India what it is. I would be happy to see media focus a lot more, on their stories, and their achievements,” Modi said.