Stating that freedom of media was of crucial importance in every democracy, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said that India and the United States were among the few democratic countries where media freedom was given its due.

Speaking after the release of ‘Ask America’, a booklet brought out by the U.S. Consulate General and the Kerala Sabdam news magazine on the first anniversary of their combined column, ‘Ask America’ in the magazine here on Monday, Mr. Chandy said it was heartening to see the U.S. Consulate holding discussions on press freedom at a time when the Indian Parliament was celebrating its 60th anniversary, since the media had a major role to play in the Parliament’s functioning.

On the booklet, the Chief Minister said there were over 30 lakh Indians in the U.S., a large number of who were Keralites. The column, through which Keralites could clear their doubts on U.S. foreign policy, visa matters, education and so on, had been highly successful and popular and it was very appropriate that an annual booklet was brought out, he added.

Former Chief Secretary C.P. Nair, echoing Mr. Chandy’s thoughts on how such columns were helpful to over three million Indians, including a large number of students, said the range of questions that were handled in the column was mindboggling. The column was also giving information on the heightened security measures in the U.S., which he said were “perfectly justified since they were applicable to all including VIPs”.

Later, Anand Krishna, Information Officer with the Consulate, told The Hindu that the Consulate had recently started a similar column in Tamil Nadu, in association with the ‘Dinamalar’ daily, and in Karnataka, in association with the ‘Prajavani’ daily. Other States and for that matter, the entire world was looking at the Malayalam version of ‘Ask America’ as a unique model for communication with the U.S.

“The number of questions has not slowed down, and an entire gamut of topics were being covered. One of the feedbacks we received from the public was that many did not know that the Consulate would indeed answer their questions,” Mr. Krishna said.

Stating that the Consulate was still mulling over whether to have a structured format for the column, Mr. Krishna said the column, in its Malayalam avatar, offered a unique opportunity to Malayalam readers to ask any question about the U.S. to the representative of the U.S. Government in South India. ‘Ask America’ also represented the first of its kind experiment in Malayalam journalism, completing one year with the March 2012 issue, he added.

Kerala Sabdam managing editor B. Rajakrishnan also spoke. The booklet release was followed by a panel discussion on ‘Media and Democracy’.

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