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Media Censorship and Media Freedom (Specific to South Asian Countries)
“This Keynote speech is delivered by Hon’ble Chairman of Press Council of India, Mr. Justice C.K .Prasad at the Awarding of Certificates for the Batch V of “ Diploma in Media Studies & Journalism held in BMICH on 2nd of August, 2017 organized by Sri Lanka Press council under the patronage of H.E.the President of Sri Lanka.”
MEDIA REGULATION AND MEDIA FREEDOM (with special focus on South Asian Region)
His Excellency Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Hon’ble Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Finance and Mass Media; Mr Koggala Wellala Bandula, Chairman, Sri Lanka Press Council, faculty members, graduating students, ladies and gentlemen.
I, on behalf of the Press Council of India and on my own behalf express our gratitude for inviting me, my wife and Mr & Mrs. C.K. Nayak for today’s function. For personal reasons my wife could not join me and as instructed by her, I sincerely apologise for her absence today.
It is a great event where Diplomas and Certificates shall be conferred to those who have successfully completed Course in media studies and journalism. It is time to celebrate because of the goal you have achieved. It is a moment to express gratitude to your parents, teachers and innumerable persons who have directly or indirectly helped you in fulfilling your dream. You perhaps might not be knowing the sacrifices your parents had made to see you here. A story which comes to my mind at this moment is of Thomas Edison. The teacher of the School where Edison was a student gave a note to him to be delivered to his mother saying she can only read and understand it. As an obedient student he handed over the note to his mother. Edison did not go to school thereafter and he was taught at home by his mother.
He grew up and the rest is history. He invented electric light bulb with more than 1093 patents to his credit. After the death of his mother, Edison, one day found the same note in his mother’s- safe. He read it and started weeping. Do you know what was written on it? The teacher wrote“your son is mad,the school cannot afford to expose the safety of other students at his hands. It is better you teach him at home”. Dear friends for your success your parents had made great sacrifices. It is time that you remember them and thank them wherever they are for all that they have done for you to see this proud moment when you are about to receive diplomas and certificates from the President of the country.
It is also time to make promises to your nation that you will use your talents and skills for the well-being of your people, and for upholding the democratic values and will never use them to destroy the social fabric of your country. You shall not do anything which would lend support to those who say, if you do not read the newspapers you are uninformed and when you read it you are misinformed.
Freedom of speech is a basic human right. It is recognized by several international conventions and statutes starting from 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental freedoms. The basic laws of all South Asian countries not only recognize the individual freedom but also media freedom. In India, our Constitutional Fathers characterized Freedom of Speech and Expression as the very life of civil liberties and our Supreme Court expounded it as Ark of the Covenant of Democracy.
A free media is not an option in democracy, it is Sine qua non. What oxygen is to human beings, freedom is for the survival of the media. As a watchdog of democracy, media is not the poodle of the establishment; it is the voice of the people. A country that responds positively to the problems of the people alone can grow and flourish. Media is the most effective tool for mobilizing and creating mass awareness in the society. It is a special purpose vehicle to supply information and help people to formulate a collective opinion. Information these days is flowing freely and flowing fast to the people through various forms of media which play effective role not only in informing the masses but also in influencing their thoughts and moulding their attitude.
The primary duty of a journalist is to act as an interpreter of the world around him. He observes the events, transmits facts about the events and acts as an interpreter of these events; he is expected to comment on matters of public interest in fair accurate, unbiased, sober and responsible manner. A journalist should always be in search of truth. He should bear in mind “facts are sacred, comment is free”. Thus, journalists, while reporting must not tamper with facts, it be reported with complete objectivity without any distortion and not mix news with views. Indian ancient wisdom extols “Satyam Bruyat, Priyam Bruyat Na Bruyat Satyam Apriyam” which says “Speak the truth, speak the pleasant,never speak the unpleasant truth, ”A journalist should however be the exception, duty bound as he is to highlight all shortcoming in public interest.
The first daily made its appearance in 1702 in England and in the USA, the first weekly newspaper appeared in Boston in 1704. The first printing press in Sri Lanka was set up in 1737. The press as an institution and journalism as profession evolved only three centuries ago. The press today is one of the most needed and essential member of any democratic country. It is eyes and ears of the people. In world history no other institution has such a massive influence than media on human affairs in such a short span of time. Today, undisputedly the mass media including the press, radio and television wields great power. The Constitution of all South Asian Countries have recognized the importance of media and one thing which is common between all these nations is that their basic law has shown respect for media and guaranteed freedom of speech and expression in their respective Constitution. The Indian Constitution does not talk about freedom of Press or media separately but is derived from the right to freedom of speech and expression of the citizens’ guaranteed under article 19 of the Constitution. Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees freedom of speech
and expression including publication. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees press freedom and freedom of speech and expression under Article 39 (1)(a)(b). Article 7 of the Constitution of Bhutan guarantees the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression to the citizens of Bhutan. It also ensures freedom of information to its citizens and guarantees freedom of press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information including electronic media. Same is the case of Maldives, Article 27 and 28 of the Maldivian Constitution (2008) guarantees the freedom of thought and expression and freedom of the press and have clearly stated that no person can be compelled to disclose the source of any information. Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan while guaranteeing freedom of speech to its citizen specifically gave this right to the Press. Article 18 of the Constitution of Nepal (2015) guarantees freedom of media in a different way. It prohibits censor of news items, editorial or any other material and Article 34 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan gives right to print or publish topics without prior submission to the State authorities.
Another thing common across all South Asian Countries is that freedom of expression or speech to the individuals or the media is not absolute but subject to restrictions by law. Within the space of less than a single Constitutional provision both freedom and regulation are enunciated in a manner that ensures a harmonious flow. I am committed to the freedom of media but I do not find anything obnoxious in it. The editors often complain that what is given as a right by the Constitution on one hand is taken away by another provision in the same Constitution but they forget that objective standards have been laid down in the Constitution itself for the purpose. Media practitioners constantly endeavor to expand their boundaries of their freedom, just as those imbued with the authority attempt to constrict the space available for free speech. It is an unending debate and often guided by special circumstances that might prevail in the country or in a particular region. No matter how liberal one is, it has to face the fact that some news is best not reported. An American journalist made a very startling disclosure before the US congress and Iquote
“In my judgment the function of a newspaper is to suppress as well as to publish. I know that in my exceedingly long career I have suppressed as many items as I have written for publication. I have no apology to offer for it. On the whole I am prouder of items that I have suppressed than those I have published. While in many instances the item I sent to the graveyard measured up to Dona’s standard of ‘human interest’ but their publication would have wrought injustice to someone or would have wrought pain to some poor soul who did not deserve it’.
This candid and eloquent expression drives home the point that freedom of the press cannot be absolute.
Media, the fourth pillar of the state, possessing immense power is not run by robots but by human beings. Human beings have their own likes, dislikes, belief and convictions. In modern times news is a business, a competitive business at times, this profit making exercise results in hasty, biased, ambiguous and sensational reporting. Much more for the television channels whose every report is a race against deadlines. All these need to be avoided and therefore it calls for creation of a regulatory body. Self-regulation may in theory be the best option as suggested by Mahatma Gandhi. He said long ago,
“The news paper press is a great power,but just as unchained torrent of water submerges the whole country side and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within”.
There cannot be any argument on this principle. But human experience shows that it is not effective. Journalists are also not fallen from heaven they are part and parcel of the prevailing social milieu at any given point of time and this makes them vulnerable to use their pen for personal gain. On the flip side, being voice of the voiceless and crusader of truth, journalists many times come in conflict with state functionary. Many believe that conflict between journalist and establishment of the state help the cause of democracy. There being conflict of interest it shall be desirable to have regulatory body consisting of men and women of impeccable integrity independent from State’s influence.
Constitutions of the respective nations of South Asia, show respect for the media and assurance of freedom of speech or expression. In my opinion all the states have necessary law to limit the free speech and expression of individual and freedom of the press but it has been done to prevent the freedom from degenerating into a license, to prevent its encroachment on the rights of others and to safeguard the interest of the society as a whole. The freedom of the press in the South Asian region is guaranteed by the presence of media regulatory bodies like the Press Councils or such similar institutions to preserve and uphold free and responsible journalism within the respective nations. The Press Councils/media regulatory bodies of the South Asian Nations collectively voice for the protection and preservation of freedom of the press and safeguarding the best interest of media without causing a breach of national interest. A responsible media can create a responsible society and set up a culture of respecting the dignity and the rights of other individuals and contribute to the development of the nation, leading to regional development.
I have a piece of advice for all those who with diplomas and certificates in their hand intend to join the noble profession of journalism with desire to become the agent of change. When the world is flooded with fake and paid news it is your duty to guard yourself from this menace, failing which, I am afraid your credibility will be lost and you will not be considered to be part of a noble profession as had happened in few countries where journalists are treated as liars. We have to avoid it at any cost. You must give attention to the weaker and deprived section of the society and involve them in the nation’s process of development. Be the torch bearer of Social justice. Listen to the voice of your conscience and you shall not fail.
With these words I seek the leave of his Excellency the President of Sri Lanka to conclude my speech.
Thank you very much for your patience.