This Article is From Mar 23, 2023

"Fake News Can Endanger Democratic Values Of Fraternity": Chief Justice Of India

Speaking at the 16th Ramnath Goenka awards ceremony, CJI Chandrachud, who was the chief guest, termed responsible journalism as the engine which drives democracy towards a better future.

'Fake News Can Endanger Democratic Values Of Fraternity': Chief Justice Of India

"The press must remain free if the country is to remain a democracy," CJI Chandrachud said. (File)

New Delhi:

Flagging the dangers of fake news in this digital age, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Wednesday said such misinformation has the capability of creating tensions between communities thereby endangering democratic values.

Speaking at the Ramnath Goenka awards ceremony, where he was the chief guest, the CJI also said the vibrancy of a democracy is compromised if the press is prevented from speaking truth to power and stressed that the press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy.

On media trials, he said there have been instances where the media has rendered an accused guilty in eyes of public even before the courts find them so.

He said as with every institution, journalism is also facing its own challenges.

"Fake news poses a serious threat to the independence and impartiality of the press in the current society. It is the collective responsibility of journalists as well as other stakeholders to weed out any element of bias or prejudice from the process of reporting events... Fake news can misguide millions of people at once, and this will be in direct contradiction with the fundamentals of democracy which form the bedrock of our existence," he said.

He termed responsible journalism as the engine which drives democracy towards 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.

He asserted that a "functional and healthy democracy must encourage the development of journalism as an institution that can ask difficult questions to the establishment - or as it is commonly known, 'speak truth to power'. The vibrancy of any democracy is compromised when the press is prevented from doing exactly this. The press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy".

Referring to the Emergency era, when the Indian Express carried blank op-ed pages, CJI Chandrachud said it is a reminder how powerful silence is.

He said that the Emergency era was a fearful time but such occasions also give rise to "fearless journalism" and hence June 25, 1975, the day when emergency was imposed, was a defining moment in 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 nation will continue." He said journalists and lawyers and judges like him share something in common.

"Both share a belief in the saying 'pen is mightier than the sword," he said.

He added judges and journalists also share the occupational hazard of being disliked by virtue of their professions -no easy cross to bear.

"But members of both professions keep at their daily tasks and hope that one day, the reputations of their professions will receive a makeover," he said.

The CJI added that journalists are constantly engaged in the endeavour of simplifying complex information for the consumption of the public, which is frequently unaware of even the most basic facts underlying the issues sought to be exposed.

"This simplification of information must not be at the cost of accuracy, which further complicates the journalist's job. This is true world over," he said, adding that the media sparks debates and discussion, which are the first step towards action.

"All societies inevitably become dormant, lethargic and immune to the problems that plague them. Journalism (in all its forms) is one of the key aspects which prods us out of this collective inertia. The media has always played and continues to play an important role in shaping the course of current events, and by extension, the course of history itself," he said.

Referring to the recent 'MeToo movement' the CJI said it was sparked in part by the publication of stories concerning the accusations of sexual harassment against prominent figures in the film industry in the US.

"The 'MeToo movement' had cascading effects all across the world and was a watershed moment in history. In India, the media's coverage of the rape of Jyoti, or Nirbhaya, by certain men in Delhi resulted in widespread protests and later, in reforms to criminal law. Even on a day-to-day basis, some news stories prompt questions and discussion in Parliament and in the legislative assemblies of states," he said.

He said that vibrancy of democracy is compromised when press is prevented from speaking truth to power.

"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, adding that a comprehensive fact-checking mechanism should be in place as fake news can guide or misguide millions at once in contradiction to the fundamentals of democracy.

Referring to media trials, he said, "It is 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."

CJI Chandrachud said that he too finds himself disagreeing with many media reports.

"As citizens, we may not agree with the approach that a journalist has adopted or the conclusions that they reach. I, too, find myself disagreeing with many journalists. After all, who amongst us agrees with all other people? But disagreement must not distort into hatred and hatred must not be permitted to evolve into violence", he said "No society should accept hatred as the new norm", he said, adding that the relevance of the media was best highlighted during COVID-19 pandemic and print, electronic and social media has helped in disseminating relevant information.

The 50the chief Justice of India said that community journalism can help set the agenda for the debate around those issues at the policy level.

"Several studies have shown that composition of mainstream media is not reflective of all communities in India", he said, adding that diversified news room is essential for the longevity of the media platforms and newsroom should signify the diverse range of news and "journalism cannot be elitist".

CJI Chandrachud, who handed over the awards to various journalists along with Viveck Goenka, Chairman and Managing Director of the Indian Express Group, said that in recent past social media has given a new platform to journalists and led to democratisation of media.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)