Freedom of expression is not absolute: PCI Chairman

Media should report responsibly and needs to provide answers: Prasad

Published - September 07, 2019 01:27 am IST - CHENNAI

Holding that within the space of the single Constitutional provision, both freedom and regulations are enunciated, Press Council of India Chairman Justice C.K. Prasad said on Friday that freedom of expression of the media was not absolute.

The media had to report responsibly, he said. Inaugurating a two-day media conclave on responsible journalism organised at M.O.P. Vaishnav College for Women, Chennai, Mr. Prasad said: “No matter how liberal one is, he has to face the truth that some news is best not reported.”

While the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and speech, it does not confer an absolute right to speak or disseminate without responsibility and is subject to restriction by law, he said.

While he said that he was committed to the freedom of the media, he went on to quote an American journalist’s disclosure before the U.S. Congress wherein he said the function of a newspaper was to “suppress” as well as to “publish”. “This candid and eloquent expression drives home the point that the freedom of the media cannot be absolute but comes with responsibility. Media needs to provide answers. Questioning is the easiest part of it,” he said.

Mr. Prasad emphasised that journalists could not live on the glory of their profession alone and need wages to lead a decent life. “Journalists need to be financially and socially secure. So long, they are not financially and socially secure to expect independence from them.” Unless and until journalists’ services are protected and provided job security one cannot expect journalists to be independent and responsible, he said.

“The day the media becomes the cheerleaders of the ruling party, that is the end of democracy,” Mr. Prasad said and went on to exhort that the primary duty of the media was to be the voice of the voiceless.

Recalling a recent Lok Sabha elections, Mr. Prasad said: “Every newspaper assessed the prospects of a political party but none of them were near to the truth, no newspapers in the country, no news channel in the country, projected that one party will get more than 300 seats.”

He mooted the idea of legislation for providing support to journalists. “I appeal to the leaders of the industry to see that the journalists are provided with sufficient funds to maintain themselves and maintain their families. There has to be a legislation, according to me, I'm talking about that. A law to protect the services of journalists, the working conditions of journalists, their salary and perks.”

Lalitha Balakrishnan, Principal, M.O.P. Vaishnav College for Women, and Sandhya Rajasekhar, Head of the Department of Journalism, participated.

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