Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan on Tuesday expressed concern at the emergence of unethical trends in media as a result of competition.

The Chief Minister said attempts were being made to manufacture news and mislead people. “Not many people who become the subject matter of such news stories react as they would have to spend a lot of time responding to them,” he noted.

Mr. Achuthanandan was delivering the inaugural address at a function organised by Kerala Kaumudi to mark the beginning of its centenary celebrations here.

Emphasising the important role media played in several exposures in recent times, including those against the executive, judiciary, and media personalities, he said media had an important role to play in making Kerala a corruption-free State.

The Chief Minister lauded Kerala Kaumudi for its historical role in leading the struggle for the empowerment of backward classes. Under the leadership of its founder C.V. Kunhiraman and legendary editor K. Sukumaran, the newspaper's contribution to the temple entry movement and struggle against untouchability were important landmarks.

Mr. Achuthanandan said Kerala Kaumudi wrote an editorial on Lenin when not many people here knew about him. He recalled the unstinted support given by the newspaper to the Communist Party at a time when other dailies chose to look the other way. The newspaper was at the forefront in opposing the “Liberation Movement” of 1959 against the first Communist Ministry.

Set of principles

Delivering the centenary message, N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, proposed a set of principles as a template for socially responsible and ethical journalism in the country. The principles included truth-telling, freedom and independence, and justice with the focus on fairness, humaneness and contribution to social good.

Truth-telling essentially meant that the media must aim for factuality, accuracy, verification, “anticipating the likelihood of error,” providing context, background, reasonable interpretation, and careful analysis.

“It means probing deep and investigating in a tough-minded and resourceful way to uncover facts of significance that are either concealed or are inaccessible for some other reason. Further, it means bringing to the fore and keeping the focus on key issues, especially social issues,” Mr. Ram said.

The freedom of press was a fundamental right not explicitly mentioned by the Constitution, but derived from Article 19. Relevant sub-clauses subjected this freedom to reasonable restrictions, which must also meet judicial standards of reasonableness.

The conceptions of justice varied widely, but one level of justice was fairness, judged by widely accepted standards of reasonableness. “A fairness doctrine can be laid down in a quite precise and enforceable way and can indeed be codified in terms of professional ethics,” Mr. Ram said.

“Covering issues like deprivation in an informed and sustained way has not been a strong area of performance for the mainstream media. The justice component of the media can be significantly improved if a new interest is triggered among young journalists covering subjects such as those related to deprivation on a regular, sustained, sensitive basis, and in developing specialised media capabilities in areas where the mainstream media generally perform poorly,” he said.

As for the principle of humaneness, Mr. Ram said it would not be a tall order to demand this from the media consistently, referring to the national media coverage of the Gujarat carnage, which has been praised for “its honesty, integrity and humanness.” But the coverage of the same experience by dominant Gujarati newspapers lacked both truth and humanity.

Mr. Ram, who unveiled a portrait of K. Sukumaran on the occasion, stressed on the principle of contributing to the social good. “Journalism must not become agitation and propaganda, but there is strong and ethical justification for a journalism that contributes, within its constraints and to the best of its ability, to peace and to resolution of conflicts in society,” he said.

He suggested that opposing communalism as a political mobilisation strategy; advocating the principles of secularism and the path of uniting the people for development and social transformation tasks; arguing for democracy, rationality science and education; demanding that all children of school-going age be in school; and the fight against child labour could be ways of contributing to social good. “Such a perspective will allow for reasonable differences and disputes over what is socially and politically good,” he said.

Mr. Ram said Kerala Kaumudi played a sterling role in several areas, but above all in its influential coverage and advocacy, sustained over a century, of the cause of social justice and deep-going social reform. The newspaper struggled, grew and flourished by doing good, solid and relevant journalism. “It has done this above all by remaining true to the great ideals and world changing terms set by Sree Narayana Guru (1855-1928), Ayyankali (1853-1924), Chattampi Swamigal (1853-1924) and of course, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956),” he said.

Kerala Education Minister M.A. Baby, Food and Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, Ports and Youth Affairs Minister V. Surendran Pillai, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala, poet O.N.V. Kurup, and filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan were among those who spoke on the occasion. Leading film personalities who contributed to Kerala's cultural landscape were honoured. Deepu Ravi, Managing Editor, Kerala Kaumudi, and M.S. Ravi, its Managing Director, were present.