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Advertorial edges out editorial: State intervention crucial in public interest, says Veep

NEW DELHI: Vice President M Hamid Ansari has stressed the need for a responsible press in an open society to hold power to account.

This is why freedom of press under Article 19 (1)(A) of the Constitution, is subject only to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, public order, decency, contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.

The Supreme Court has held that ‘freedom of speech and of the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy’ because public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions.

He was addressing an event to launch the commemorative edition of National Herald, in Bengaluru, Karnataka today. Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala, Chief Minister K Siddaramaiah, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.

The Vice President said the history of journalism in India is closely linked to the history of our freedom struggle. The Press played an important role in educating, convincing and mobilizing people, he added.

The Vice President said that Jawaharlal Nehru – who conceived National Herald - envisioned a free, unfettered and honest press and he watched over the interests of media persons in independent India. The Working Journalists Act, which tried to give a degree of protection to journalists, to ensure freedom of press, was largely his doing, he added.

Ansari said in this age of ‘post-truths’, and ‘alternative facts’, where ‘advertorials’ and ‘response features’ edge-out editorials, there was need to recall Nehru’s vision of the press playing its role of a watchdog in democracy and looking at the ethos and principles that powered his journalism.

He added that while the Constitutional framework provides for required intervention by the State to ensure smooth working of the press and the society, it provides that such intervention should only be in the interest of the public at large.

Referring to the role of the media in the freedom movement, he said the Press emerged as a tool for national awakening. It became a medium of nationalist political participation for the masses. The Press was a medium for propagation of modern ideas of democracy, freedom and equality. The English Press emerged as a medium of communication between nationalists across the country and played a role in welding India into a single nation and in giving the Indians a sense of national identity. This was crucial in mobilising the masses for various nationalist and social causes.

A free media is not only beneficial but necessary in a free society. If press freedom is attacked, it will result in the jeopardising of citizen’s rights. When faced with unjust restrictions and the threat of attack, self-censorship in the media can have the opposite effect, aiding the covering up of abuses and fostering frustration in marginalized communities.

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