‘Press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy’: India’s Chief Justice

New Delhi, March 23, (KMS): Amid the ongoing assault on freedom of press and arrest of journalists in present-day India, the country’s Chief Justice DY Chandrachud has said that a press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy’.

CJI DY Chandrachud during a speech at the Ramnath goenka awards ceremony for excellence in journalism, said that a “functional and healthy democracy must encourage the development of journalism”.

The winners of 2020 and 2019 were felicitated at this year’s function in New Delhi. He also stressed the role local and community-based journalism plays in “social cohesion and political activism”.

He said that a functional and healthy democracy must encourage the development of journalism and described responsible journalism as the force that propels democracy into a better future.

“Responsible journalism is the engine that drives democracy forward to a better tomorrow. In a digital age, it is more important than ever for journalists to be accurate, impartial, responsible and fearless in their reporting,” he said.

CJI Chandrachud referred to the Emergency period, during which the Indian Express carried blank op-ed pages, saying it serves as a reminder of the strength of silence.

“It was a fearful time but fearless time also gives rise to fearless journalism,” he said, adding that June 25, 1975 is a defining moment in India’s history.

“One proclamation defined and redefined our perceptions of liberty and threats to it and how tenuous it can be,” he said, adding that is “why we celebrate these awards as symbolising our eternal sense of optimism on which we hope the nation will continue.”
The CJI emphasized the necessity of bridging the truth-lie gap.

“Fake news has the capability of creating tensions between communities, thereby endangering democratic values of fraternity,” he said, adding that “journalists and lawyers (or judges in my case) share something in common. Both share a belief in the saying ‘pen is mightier than the sword’.”

He said that preventing the press from telling the truth to power compromises the vibrancy of democracy.
“The press must remain free if the country is to remain a democracy. Newspapers have historically acted as catalysts for social and political change”, he said.

Chandrachud said there have been instances where media has deemed an accused guilty in the public’s eyes even before the courts find them guilty when referring to media trials.

“It is the job of the media to convey information to the public without violating the rights of the innocents. Responsible journalism is the beacon of truth and its drives the democracy forward. We at present navigate challenges of digital age and journalists have to maintain accuracy, impartiality and fearlessness in their reporting,” he said.

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