Amitabh Bachchan lashes out at news media, insists on professional code

NEW DELHI: Megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who recently enacted the role of a media baron in the film Rann, feels there is "general failure of trust in the mainstream media" and so it needs to "re-examine" its role and responsibility to the people.

In a hard-hitting speech after giving away 14 CNN-IBN Citizen Journalist Awards here at a glittering function, Big B stressed the need for a professional code of ethics for the media.

Bachchan said that professional journalism is a crucial necessity in a democracy and the role should be to provide the public with reliable and accurate information through balanced reporting. The media should be accountable to people, he added.

The news media had "a duty to double-source facts; to thoroughly investigate material for the possibility of error, bias, prejudice, slander and its various vicious mischiefs. They also have a duty of responsible, reasoned, transparent judgement, not mere opinion," he said, adding the media should not use cheap hackneyed language, or promote "garbage celebrity."

If one looks at the cost-benefit analysis of blogs versus newspapers, prospects for the professional news media look grim, he observed. He said the responsibility should increase with such a large number of channels to work towards greater integrity.

"As we stand on this threshold of change, we have a seeming infinity of channels before us. With this privilege of multiplicity of choice, with whatever individual preference we hold, may we choose hopefully. And may the institutions that provide this wealth of choice give us dignity, and honour the greatest gift of humanity, our spirit of intelligent enquiry. Do not switch off the TV controls, not just yet. Keep watching," Bachchan added.

In a speech modeled on that of Mark Anthony in William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, he addressed "friends, Indians, countrymen and women" to point out that when one citizen upholds the right for another, he does his duty. This is the essence of liberty.

He praised the valour and intelligence of the citizen journalists of India and the virtue of professional news media epitomised by CNN-IBN, "who have demonstrated the imaginative foresight to embrace change, to cultivate the nascent seed of citizen journalism so that it may flourish, bloom and bear its fruit of civic culture."

He concluded his long speech with a rendition of the poem ‘Agneepath’ by his late father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan. 

The awards were given in six categories: CJ Fight Back, CJ Save Your City, CJ Be the Change, CJ Photo, CJ Video and Special CJ. The awardees included a 13-year-old girl fighting against child labour, a 90-year-old woman freedom fighter fighting for restoration of her pension, two differently enabled persons fighting for reducing accidents in Mumbai local trains and improving standards of schools in small towns and villages, and a civil servant ensuring education to children of workers on archaeological sites.

Bachchan announced a five-year pension from his personal funds for the 90-year-old Gayatri Devi who had been brought on a wheelchair.

In the programme sponsored by Idea Cellular Limited, IBN18 editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai said the aim was to empower the citizen to help Indians climb any mountain. IBN7 managing editor Ashutosh said the aim was also to draw the attention of the government to the reportage by the CJs.

The evening also saw a special performance by famous playback singer Shilpa Rao which left the audience mesmerised.

The award ceremony will be telecast on 20 February on IBN7, IBN-Lokmat and CNN-IBN at 7 pm, 8 pm, and 9:30 pm respectively.

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