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Citizens’ right & duty to ensure free press, expose lies of state, says Justice Chandrachud

Justice Chandrachud, next in line to be Chief Justice of India, says it's time we strengthened public institutions to ensure a well-functioning, transparent democracy.

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New Delhi: In this age of fake news and misinformation on social media, it is a citizen’s duty to be more vigilant and speak truth to power to “expose the lies of the state”, underlined Supreme Court’s Justice D.Y. Chandrachud Saturday, adding that one cannot rely on the state to determine the truth.

“Democracy and truth go hand in hand. Democracy needs truth to survive … One can consider speaking truth to power as a right of every citizen, which they must have in a democracy, but equally a duty of every citizen,” he said while speaking at the M.C Chagla memorial online lecture on the topic ‘Speaking Truth to Power: Citizens and the Law’.

Pointing out that truth is important to instil public faith in democracy, Justice Chandrachud — who is set to become the next Chief Justice of India in November 2022 — said it was time citizens participate in strengthening public institutions and strive to ensure free press.

Quoting philosopher Hanna Arendt, the judge said totalitarian governments are associated with “constant reliance on falsehoods in order to establish dominance”.

In contrast, courts, he said, play the role of recording public truth with their ability to document information from all parties involved after due process has been carried out. According to him, only truth can create a shared public memory “on which foundations of a strong nation can be established”.

Also read: How SC defended freedom of speech by pulling up Mamata govt for blocking satirical film

Steps to a more robust democracy

In a democracy, one cannot rule out the possibility of the state not “indulging in falsehood for political reasons”, Justice Chandrachud noted, citing the Vietnam War and the Covid-19 pandemic to highlight the trend of countries trying to manipulate data.

Underlining the role of responsible citizens, he said, “We should put these truth providers through intense scrutiny and questioning to convince ourselves of the veracity of the claims made by them. It is equally important for those making truth claims to be transparent.”

By citizens, the judge clarified, he did not mean just the elite and privilege, but also those who belong to the marginalised community and women, who traditionally have not enjoyed power and whose opinions have been “caged, confined and crippled”.

As citizens of India, the first thing to do is strengthen public institutions and ensure we have a press which is free from influence of any kind, be it political or economic, which can provide information in an unbiased manner, he said.

Similarly, schools and universities need support so that an atmosphere is created in which students can learn to differentiate truth from falsehood.

Plurality of opinions in a country as diverse as India must not just be acknowledged but also celebrated, for it allows open space for more opinion, he added.

Along with this, there is also a need to protect the integrity of elections, not just as a right but as a duty. For this, education is necessary so people realise the value of their vote, he said.

On the growing influence of social media, Justice Chandrachud said the rising phenomenon has made it difficult for people to identify the truth. “Human beings have a tendency to get attracted to sensational news, which are often based on falsehoods. Studies show lies dominated in social media like Twitter,” he said.

“The algorithms and systems of social media corporations often amplify existing polarisations. Truth might get drowned out by large amounts of information to the contrary,” he noted, adding the contest in the current times was between “our truth vs your truth”. The tendency was to ignore truth, which is not in alignment with one’s perception of truth,” he said.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: ‘In humanitarian crisis, SC can’t be silent spectator’ — full text of Justice Chandrachud speech


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