Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that 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.” Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, he added: “The press is called the Fourth Estate. It is definitely a power, but to misuse that power is criminal.”
Is PM Modi’s statement on press freedom a veiled warning to dissenting media voices?
The PM’s statement is not a veiled warning; it is a statement that anyone who values a free, vibrant, and credible media would agree with.
To repeat what most of us know, the media in a democracy has a very important role — to inform, to question and challenge those in politics and business, on behalf of its citizens. It has to bear this responsibility premised on facts and information, instead of personal likes, dislikes, or ideological differences.
The media has tremendous power to shape what people think, and often forms the DNA of a democracy. There are numerous instances where this power is misused to further corporate, political, or personal causes.
The later years of the UPA government in India were a time when the media lost the plot and much of its historical credibility, other than a few outstanding exceptions. Any statement about responsible and accountable exercising of this power and influence of the media must be read and/or understood in this context.
The rapid growth of broadcast, and now, social and digital media, has further compounded the risks to free and fair debate in a democracy by spreading ‘fake news’ or being ‘loose and free’ with facts. The lack of real regulation or legal remedy except for defamation means that this advice to the media, to be careful about factual accuracy, needs repeating.
The Indian media can never be intimidated if it’s factually accurate and truthful. This statement is not a threat to the media, but a call to be correct and responsible. As a matter of fact, it is in the media’s own interest to build a reputation of fairness and credibility, rather than bias or hit-jobs.
It is pivotal to creating a financially viable and credible media that can operate as a standalone business.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar is an NDA MP and an investor in Republic TV