Statement on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, May 3, "to the Indian Media as well as to the Media of the whole world" by the chairman of the Press Council of India
The concept of freedom of the media (which was at that time only the print media) arose in England and France in the 17th and 18th Centuries to combat feudal despotism and feudal ideas. Great writers like Voltaire who wrote against religious bigotry (see Candide, Zadig, Letters on England, or Letters philosophiques, etc.), Rousseau, who attacked the feudal political and economic system (see The Social Contract, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality etc), Thomas Paine (see The Rights of Man, etc) played a historical role in helping European society progress from feudalism to the modern era.
Thus, freedom of the media was meant to benefit society and help it move forward in history.
Unfortunately, subsequently freedom of the media was used often to (1) block progress, and (2) to help businessmen make money.
In India the recent tendencies show the media playing such a reactionary role. Instead of promoting scientific thinking, which alone can solve the massive problems facing the country such as poverty, unemployment, lack of healthcare etc. the Indian media often promotes superstitions and other backward ideas, and often diverts attention of the Indian people from the real issues which are socio-economic, to non-issues like lives of film stars, cricket, astrology, etc. The media is often looked upon by its owners as a means of making money (hence the importance of TR P rating).
Freedom of the media is thus a double edged weapon; it can both help society, and also damage society. It is like a knife, which can be used for cutting things, and also stabbing people. Hence freedom of the media cannot be regarded as always good; it depends for what purpose it is being used.
While Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution grants freedom of the media, this provision has to be read along with Article 51A (h) which lays down that it is the duty of all citizens to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.
The mediapersons are also citizens of India, and hence it is their fundamental duty under the Constitution to promote the scientific temper and work for humanism and encourage the spirit of inquiry and reform so as to benefit society. I regret to say that while mediapersons lay great emphasis on their fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a), they usually forget their fundamental duty under Article 51A (h) mentioned above.
The Indian media is no doubt largely controlled by businessmen who wish to make money. There is nothing wrong in making money but this must be coupled with social responsibility. The businessmen cannot be allowed to say that should be permitted to make money even if the rest of society suffers. Such an attitude will in the long run result in the undoing of the businessmen themselves. Moreover, the media is not an ordinary business which deals with commodities, it deals with ideas, which should be used to benefit people, not harm them.
Today 80% of the Indian people are suffering from massive poverty, unemployment, skyrocketing prices, huge problems of health, education, housing etc and evils like honour killing, dowry deaths, farmer’s suicides, child malnutrition, female foeticide, etc. These problems can only be resolved by science and scientific thinking which must be spread to every nook and corner of the country. It is hence the patriotic duty of all Indian citizens, including media people, to promote scientific temper and combat backward ideas like casteism, communalism and superstitions. It is regrettably noted that often the media does not do its duty in this connection, and instead often does the reverse, and highlights lives of film stars, cricketers, fashion parades, astrology etc. to divert attention of the people from the real issues facing the nation which are socio-economic.
Hence, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, I call upon all mediapersons to fulfil their social responsibility to the nation by promoting scientific and rational thinking and combating backward ideas. The media has a great role to play in this transitional period through which India is passing, and I recommend that the Indian media should emulate the path shown by the great writers in Europe like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, etc who attacked feudal and backward ideas in Europe and made a great contribution by helping European society to move forward from feudalism into the modern age. This way they will earn the respect of the Indian people.