Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu delivering the first ‘Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture’

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New Delhi: The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu has advised the media to present a report card on the performance of parties in an objective manner to enable people make an informed choice during elections.

Delivering the first ‘Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture’, here today, organized by Indian Institute of Mass Communication on “Role of media in moulding enlightened electorate”, the Vice President opined that if the media can present report card and the people can demand accountability from political parties vis-a-vis their promises, raising resources and how they intend to spend them, he said “our country can boast of not only being the largest democracy in the world but also one of the most vibrant, cleanest democracies in the world”.

Shri Naidu said that media should act as a mirror that reflects the reality, neither magnifying nor diminishing, neither distorting nor mystifying facts. Expressing his concern over the “evil of paid news”, the Vice President advised the media to “shun this tendency lest ‘money power’ is used to influence voters through ‘manufactured’ views and opinions of paid news”.

The Vice President wanted the media to analyze the issues and challenges before the electorate instead of resorting to agenda – setting and taking sides.

The Vice President called upon the media to dispel rumors propagated by different political outfits and put a full stop to fake news by presenting the right facts before their readers and viewers. He said facts that were sacred and must be presented in an unbiased manner and opinion must be left to people.

Observing that media has an important role in promoting voter turnout for a democracy, Shri Naidu said that to make elections more credible and inclusive the pitfalls such as money and muscle power, breaching the limits of election expenditure, invoking caste and religion, criminal antecedents of candidates, paid news and fake news, violating the Model Code of Conduct, inadequate representation of women in legislatures need to be addressed in quick time.

Referring to the efforts of Election Commission of India to combat fake news, Shri Naidu said that media’s role was extremely important during elections as the chances of people propagating fake-news increases. “It is the responsibility of media to act like myth-busters in such sensitive times, and report the absolute, undiluted truth,” he added.

Asserting that the quality of electoral process was the touch stone of healthy democracy, the Vice President said that unbiased media ensures that the electorate was well informed about the choices.

Opining that the tendency of media to add commentary to facts could be dangerous for democracy, he said “As an old saying goes ‘facts are sacred and opinion is free’. So stick to facts, present them fearlessly and give opinions fearlessly but when giving opinion don’t ‘change’ the facts”, he added.

Expressing his concern over the unhealthy trend of politicians switching from one party to other after being elected, Shri Naidu opined that defections were making mockery of the democracy. He said that defectors must resign to the post and seek re election. The Vice President also stressed up on the need for a speedy disposal of election cases pending before various courts. He also wanted a time bound disposal of cases by the presiding officers of the legislative bodies.

Shri Naidu asked media organisations to devote space and time to report on the antecedents of politicians, their past work, participation in debates in state legislatures and Parliament.

The Vice President asked people to elect leaders based on their Character, Caliber, Capacity and Conduct but said some people were trying to replace these qualities with Cash, Community, Caste and Criminality. “We must foresee that these 4C’s are coming and must be careful”, he cautioned.

The Vice President bemoaned the falling level of public discourse and wanted the quality of debates to be raised.

The Chairman of Prasar Bharati, Dr. A. Surya Prakash, the Director General of IIMC, Shri K.G Suresh, faculty and students of the institute were present on the occasion.

Following is the text of Vice President’s Lecture:

“Dear Sisters and brothers,

यह मेरा सौभाग्य है कि आपने मुझे प्रथम अटल बिहारी वाजपई स्मृति व्याख्यान देने के लिए आमंत्रित किया। वाजपई जी की गणना आजाद भारत के सर्वोच्च राजनेताओं में होती है। उन्होंने देश में संपर्क क्रांति का सूत्रपात किया। उन्होंने लोगों को एकजुट किया, वे शहरों और गांवों को समीप लाए, राजनैतिक दलों को साथ लाए। वे ओजस्वी वक्ता थे, संवाद स्थापित करने में निपुण। भाषा पर उनकी पकड़, उनका शब्द शिल्प श्रोताओं को मंत्रमुग्ध कर देता था।

वे कवि हृदय थे लेकिन साथ ही सिद्धांतों पर निष्ठ, मंजे हुए अनुभवी राजनेता भी थे। आज इस अवसर पर यह याद रखना प्रासंगिक होगा कि राजनीति में कदम रखने से पहले, अटल जी ने अपना कैरियर एक पत्रकार लेखक के रूप में प्रारंभ किया था।

आपने जिस विषय पर मुझे बोलने का अवसर दिया है वह आज के संदर्भ में वास्तव में बहुत प्रासंगिक है। लोकतंत्र का महान पर्व कुछ ही हफ्ते दूर है और मीडिया इस उत्सव के हर पहलू को कवर करने के लिए तत्पर है। साथ ही नकली/फेक न्यूज जैसी कुप्रवृत्ति के प्रति आगाह किया जा रहा है। अभी कल ही चुनाव आयोग ने मीडिया में अाई इस कुरीति की रोकथाम के लिए एक बैठक बुलाई थी।

देश में लोकतंत्र की जड़े मजबूत करने में मीडिया की महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका पर आपसे अपने विचार साझा करने में मुझे हर्ष होगा।

I deem it a privilege to deliver this first Atal Behari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture.

Atal ji was indeed a great democrat and his contributions to enriching the democratic spirit of the country has very few parallels. His contributions as an outstanding Parliamentarian to enriching the democratic discourse is indeed legendary.

Vajpayeeji has been one of the tallest leaders of post-independence India who ushered in a connectivity revolution in the country. He brought people together, villages and cities together and political parties together. He was a master communicator whose mastery over language left audiences spell bound. He was the architect of telecommunication revolution as well. It is incumbent on all of us to carry forward his legacy. That is the best tribute we can pay to him.

He was a poet at heart and an astute statesman par excellence. What is quite relevant to remember today is the fact that he started his career as a journalist before he entered politics. He retained that rare ability to connect and communicate all through his life – traits that will undoubtedly inspire young journalists.

Sisters & brothers!

The theme you have asked me to speak on is also quite topical. The great festival of democracy, 17th Lok Sabha along with a few assembly polls is a few weeks away and the media is fully geared up to capture this festival’s different facets.

Democracy in simpler terms is a political system in which the people elect their government and hold it accountable through legislatures. In other worlds, the people are the masters of their destiny. Elections are the bedrock of democracy. A thriving and vibrant electoral democracy has been India’s distinct and durable entity, long before it asserted itself as an economic, nuclear and IT power. Universal adult suffrage that we adopted soon after Independence is a giant leap forward, a bold enterprise and an unparalleled adventure.

Participatory democracy is only possible through the active participation of citizens. Elections are sacred expression of citizenship. Voting is a national call of duty. The right to vote needs to be accompanied by the sacred responsibility of exercising that precious right. Voting in every election needs to be made a habit. Media has an important role in promoting participatory democracy through enhanced voter turnout which in turn broad bases the foundation of democratic governance.

Decades of democracy in our country has ushered in social changes by giving voice to the voice less.

Anthropological perspective of democracy says electoral campaign is a pilgrimage manifesting the ‘inversion of power from the hands of politicians back to the hands of voters. With elections as its central and regular ritual enactment, democracy helps maintain and restore equilibrium. Taking this ritual as the central metaphor, anthropological studies approach electoral process as a series of ‘ceremonies and performances’.

An election is a celebration in two ways. It is a festive social event and it also involves a sense of democracy as sacred and therefore, elections are sacred expression of citizenship.

Sisters & brothers

Media has an important role in promoting awareness about voting and to increase the voter participation for a meaningful democracy which is all about informed exercise of choice and expression of opinions in our collective endeavor to sculpture a better future.

Let us now look at the voter participation in general elections since 1952. At the time of Independence, only about 16% of our population was literate. With 17.30 cr voters for the first general elections in 1952, the voter turnout was about 45%. Since then, there has been a 500% increase in both the size of the electorate and literacy but the voter turnout has increased by only about 50% in the general elections for the 16th Lok Sabha in 2014. In the last 16 general elections, voter turnout has been lesser than 60% on ten occasions and more than 60% six times. With persistent efforts of the Election Commission of India, voter turnout was 66.30% in 2014, the highest since Independence. This is low but given the decline in voter interest in some societies, it is still better.

Issues of social, political and economic exclusion need to be addressed to ensure robust, confident, informed and ethical electoral participation for enriching democracy.

Sisters & brothers!

Use of money and muscle power, breaching the limits of election expenditure, invoking caste and religion, criminal antecedents of candidates, paid news and fake news, violating the norms of level playing field, violating the Model Code of Conduct, inadequate representation of women in legislatures are among the major pitfalls of our democracy and need to be addressed in quick time to make our elections more credible and inclusive.

There is also an effort to combat the menace of ‘fake news’ and it was only yesterday that the Election Commission had held a meeting to evolve a strategy to curb this distortion by media.

I am happy to share with you some thoughts on the role of media within the context of deepening our democratic roots.

Free media is the Cornerstone of Democracy.

India, being the world’s largest democracy, the role of media becomes all the more important. Media can actually be a force multiplier to sustain democracy.

Media is rightly called the ‘fourth pillar’ of democracy as it is the bridge between the people and the other three pillars of Legislature, Judiciary and Executive.

One of the fundamental aims of democratic elections all over the world is to provide electorate with an opportunity to exercise their political rights and vote for the political parties and candidates of their choice.

A meaningful way for exercising this choice requires, among other things:

1. A free and fair media that can report on the politics of the day in an unbiased manner.

2. An examination of the political agenda and platforms of different parties and their candidates—providing information about their intentions, policies, vision, corruption scandals, the impact of their policies on the country and its citizens

3. Ability to publish these views via different media formats like online news, newspapers and television

4. An informed citizenry that respects facts, and is open to reasoning, logic, love for country and respects its ethos.

Media assumes a crucial role when elections are concerned and there is a need to link the citizenry of approximately 1.35 Billion people.

Media role is very important, especially during the elections, the chances of people propagating fake-news increases. It is the responsibility of media to act like myth-busters in such sensitive times, and report the absolute, undiluted truth.

Media has to ensure that the public has access to all the information that they need to make an educated and informed decision.

The Representation of Peoples Act lays down the ground rules related to the conduct of elections in India. Every media professional who does election reporting must know the relevant provisions of the act. Media can greatly contribute in the swift and effective conduct of elections in the country.

Over the last few years, the media has come under serious attack in the country- for its biased role, publication of fake news, pushing the agenda of special interest groups like corporates, NGOs, ideologies and foreign companies- raising serious questions regarding the media impartiality and objectivity.

Paid news is a matter of concern. Reporting is no longer perceived to be objective and the media somewhere fails to fulfill the basic requirements of good journalism in the present scenario. But there are many good media houses, which play the crucial role in highlighting local, regional and national problems as well as positive developments.

The quality of electoral processes is the touchstone of a healthy democracy. An unbiased media ensures that the electorate is well informed about the choices.

The tendency of media to add commentary to facts can be dangerous for democracy. As an old saying goes ‘facts are sacred and opinion is free’. So stick to facts, present them fearlessly. Give opinions fearlessly but when giving opinion don’t ‘change’ the facts.

The media universe is fast expanding with the explosion of social and new media – such as social media sites, blogs, email and other new media platforms – has changed the role media play in elections, with unprecedented opportunities for two-way dialogue and interaction.

But this explosion is bringing in its wake certain serious challenges, primarily in the form of it’s misuse and abuse.

While the emergence of social media has ‘decentralised and democratized’ the flow of information and views, it’s potential degeneration has serious implications for democratic spirit and values. It should not be allowed to derail the democratic process at the time of elections.

Media can dispel rumours and fact check on fake social media narratives which, if unchecked, can lead to social disharmony and unrest. However, what poses a challenge before social media is the rampant spread of hate speech as elections draw closer. Media should play a responsible role in disseminating correct and unbiased information to its citizens.

Fake news has become a major issue that media all over the world is waging a war against. The trend sees a hike in the sensitive election environment when political parties try to tilt the narrative in their favour. While steps have been taken by Google news initiative, WhatsApp and Facebook in their capacity to curb the menace, efforts have to be made by traditional media as well to ensure that nothing but credible information is conveyed to people.

As a recent Supreme Court judgement notes, “The media is the watchdog of the constitution”. Media’s role as a watchdog is perhaps its most defining characteristic apart from its obvious role as an information disseminator.

The evil of paid news has been addressed by the Election Commission. Media has to shun this tendency lest ‘money power’ is used to influence voters through ‘manufactured’ views and opinions of paid news.

Media should play an objective role. It should highlight and analyse the issues and challenges before the electorate instead of resorting to agenda setting and taking sides.

One of the most important factors that guide the independence and the watchdog role of the media is the ownership patterns that the media house falls under.

The last few decades have witnessed the expansion of large media conglomerates owning a wide range of media along with expansion into other business ventures.

The greatest threat to media independence, however, comes from direct political ownership of the media houses.

Earlier people used to say about Media& Politicians, they have a “Mission” to serve. Now people sarcastically say few among them converted it means for “Commission”.

If people can choose the candidates on the basis of 4 ‘C’s- Character, Caliber, Capacity and Conduct, if the voters are not led astray by considerations like ‘Caste’, ‘Community’, ‘Cash’ and ‘Criminality’, and media can present the profile of contesting candidates with all antecedents, our democracy will gain in strength.

If media can present the report card of the performance of parties in an objective manner, if people can demand accountability from political parties on how far they had fulfilled their past promises, how they raise resources, how they spend them, our country can boast of not only being the largest democracy in the world by also one of the most vibrant, cleanest democracies in the world.

That’s the role media should play. It should be a mirror that reflects the reality, neither magnifying nor diminishing, neither distorting nor mystifying facts.

मीडिया को इस भूमिका का निर्वाह करना है। वो एक दर्पण है जो सच्चाई को यथावत प्रतिबिंबित करता है, न बढ़ा चढ़ा कर, न कमतर कर के, न ही तोड़ मरोड़ कर और न तथ्यों को गोपनीय बना कर। प्रेस की आजादी लोकतंत्र के लिए आवश्यक है, लेकिन इस आज़ादी के साथ भारी ज़िम्मेदारी भी है। सत्य, सौहार्द, खुशहाली, सुशासन – भारत इन मूलभूत सिद्धांतों का सदैव पक्षधर रहा है। अपने इन्हीं मूल्यों के कारण वाजपई जी जाने जाते थे। सबके लिए प्रिय तथा आदरणीय थे।

मैं आशा करता हूं कि भारतीय जनसंचार संस्थान युवा पत्रकारों में इन मूल्यों को स्थापित करेगा। आप युवा पत्रकारों का एक ऐसा वर्ग बना सकेंगे जो अपनी कलम का प्रयोग एक बेहतर राजनीति को स्थापित करने के लिए करेंगे, लोकतांत्रिक शासन और अंततः एक बेहतर विश्व के निर्माण के पक्ष में करेंगे।

A free press is essential for sustaining democracy but that freedom comes with a tremendous sense of responsibility, a sublime mission to promote values like truth, happiness, harmony, good governance – all essential values that India has traditionally stood for and those for which Vajypayeeji is known for.

I hope the Indian Institute of Mass Communication will instill these concepts in young journalists and create a new cadre of journalists who wield the pen masterfully to create a better polity, a people-centric, development-oriented, democratic governance and ultimately, a better world.

Thank you

Jai Hind!