Amid raging debate over the role of the press and its freedom in the country, Vice President Hamid Ansari on Monday said only a "free and responsible" media could hold power to account in this age of "post-truths" and "alternative facts".Addressing the re-launch event of the Congress-run National Herald newspaper, Ansari said here the country's constitutional framework allows state intervention to ensure smooth working of the press and the society, but "such intervention should only be in the interest of the public at large"."In an open society like ours, we need a responsible press to hold power to account," he said, launching the print and online edition of the newspaper, founded and edited by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1938.
The newspaper is presently in a legal trouble with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul accused of setting up a company, Young Indian, to buy the newspaper's debts using Congress funds, and illegally acquiring property worth Rs 5,000 crore belonging to the newspaper.Ansari's remarks came amid a campaign by journalists to safeguard the freedom of the press which they allege has come under severe threat from the government after the CBI raided the homes of veteran journalist and NDTV founder Prannoy Roy last week.
The Vice President said the duty of the state was to protect a free media, which "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."
Ansari said the freedom of press guaranteed by the Constitution was 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".
He cited a Supreme Court view 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".Ansari said the system of government like in other democracies demanded "constant vigilance over exercise of governmental power by the press", which he asserted, "is essential for a good government"."By the same token, the state shall not impede the free flow of information that will go a long way in protecting and promoting citizen's rights. The media, if it is to remain true to its calling, has to do likewise."The Vice President said in this age of "post-truths, and alternative facts, where advertorials and response features edge-out editorials", the media could do well if it recalled India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of the press "playing its role of a watchdog in democracy".