The term ‘media’ today encompasses a far wider range of communication platforms than was the case when I was a journalist and I&B minister. Even Doordarshan was in its infancy then. Both Doordarshan and All India Radio, the only non-print media platforms, were completely under the control of the Government. Today, besides a proliferation of TV channels and FM radio channels, we are witnessing one of the biggest revolutions in media history: growth of the Internet.
One of the many distinguishing features of this new medium is that, unlike the older media that only promote one-way communication, the internet has made two-way communication possible. In other words, the reader or the viewer or the listener is not only a passive recipient of information. He can also participate in the communication by responding back. This interactive feature has empowered the people by giving them a voice and an opportunity to express themselves. The significance of this for the future evolution of politics and governance in our country ― indeed, all over the world ― is so enormous that it cannot be fully comprehended now.
Let me give a personal example. Some of my colleagues in the BJP have created a website for me ― actually, they prefer to call it a portal and not just a website. It was launched by Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha in New Delhi yesterday. Frankly, I could not have imagined a decade ago that it is possible to provide so much information in the form of text, photographs, and video and audio clips, which anybody anywhere in the world can access any time. Besides, the portal gives an opportunity for the visitors to post their views on current topics and give suggestions for the Agenda of the future NDA Government on a wide range of issues. This is truly participative democracy in action.
This experience has convinced me that, although the internet has many other uses, it is by far the greatest enabler, enricher and defender of democracy in the history of mankind. We should harness its full potential to promote Good Politics and Good Governance in our country.
Which is why, if the NDA is elected to office in the next parliamentary elections, it will be our firm commitment to support a countrywide Broadband Revolution, making internet usage affordable to the common people, especially students and youth. We shall also promote the internet in Indian languages in a big way. It will be especially our endeavour to encourage the rollout of IT and IT-enabled education in the northern and eastern states of India, where the internet penetration is still weak.
Basic principles of journalism
Friends, technology has been revolutionalising your profession, just as it has been radically transforming so many other aspects of life. However, technology cannot alter the basic purpose and principles of journalism. Which is why, I was happy to note in the letter to me from Shri Shyam Khosla, inviting me to inaugurate this conference, a strong affirmation of the Indian Media Centre’s commitment to “nationalism, professionalism, ethics, press freedom and media education”. Whether one communicates through the traditional medium of a newspaper or through an internet platform, what matters more than anything else is the set of these basic principles of journalism.
In my view, journalists should become aware of both internal and external challenges to their profession. For example, today the threat to press freedom does not come so much from the Government as it did during the Emergency. It comes from other sources. The press was shackled by censorship during the Emergency. Many brave journalists resisted these draconian measures to suppress dissent, and paid the price for it. However, there were many others who succumbed. After lifting all restrictions on the press imposed during the Emergency, I, as I&B Minister, once had an occasion to interact with journalists. I told them, “When you were only asked to bend, many of you chose to crawl”.
Today the forces that make journalists bend and crawl are quite unlike those that operated during the Emergency. Money power and other vested interests have established a kind of stranglehold over the Indian media that is not healthy either for the profession or for our democracy.
Self-regulation by media professionals
I believe that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Government to dictate reforms in the media. Primarily, this is something which those related to the media have to debate. Self-regulation is the best kind of regulation as far as the media are concerned.
Nevertheless, if there are any policy matters that can help strengthen the Indian media, I would very much like to receive suggestions in this regard from media professionals like you. In particular, I would like to know from you how we can strengthen small and medium newspapers and media organizations and how we can further strengthen the various media in non-English languages.
I would also welcome from you suggestions on how both media organizations and the Government can together start welfare schemes for retired journalists and media professionals.
There is yet another point on which I would like to share my thoughts with you. I am concerned ― indeed, millions of ordinary citizens in the country are also concerned ― at the trend towards sensationalism in the media. Those in responsible positions in the media should resist the temptation of scoring over competitors ― the so-called TRP war ― by ignoring their own code of professionalism. If credibility is important for politicians, it is equally important for media organizations and media professionals.
I say this because the role of the media in our national life has increased enormously in recent decades. The media have the power to influence society both positively and negatively. It is imperative that people within the media profession, especially those in leadership positions, realize their responsibility towards society and the nation.
-- An excerpt from the speech at the two-day National Conference of the Indian media Centre in Ludhiana on 9th November 2008