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This is apro­pos the fea­ture Freedom

of Press in In­dia” (Au­gust). In a na­tion that con­tains multi-eth­nic char­ac­ter with a vast di­ver­sity of cul­tures, the world’ largest democ­racy In­dia with a pop­u­la­tion of 1.20 bil­lion, it is not unas­sum­ing to yet have the largest and most com­plex multi-media net­works com­pris­ing the print, the vis­ual and so­cial media. Among these sev­eral media net­works which pro­mote com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs among the masses, the news­pa­pers play a very cru­cial and defin­ing role as the world’s most un­matched van­guards. The role of the press in In­dia has un­der­gone sev­eral twists and turns dur­ing the colo­nial and post-colo­nial pe­riod and also dur­ing and af­ter the Emer­gency.

The In­dian news­pa­per in­dus­try is the largest of its kind and has sur­passed a record with sev­eral of lan­guage news­pa­pers both re­gional and na­tional have been show­ing up com­pet­i­tive trends with re­gard to their pre­sen­ta­tion, cov­er­age and re­port­ing rather in a novel and va­ri­ety of ways that are prov­ing to be dis­tinc­tive and ap­pre­cia­ble in all re­spects.

The role of press is too big to enu­mer­ate, as there are at present sev­eral thou­sands of edi­tions of re­gional and na­tional news­pa­pers pub­lished and cir­cu­lated across the coun­try with an in­cred­i­bly huge read­er­ship. The press and its lib­er­ties are of late be­ing gov­erned by the min­istry of in­for­ma­tion and broad­cast­ing, as the pre­vi­ously ex­ist­ing Press Coun­cil of In­dia had be­come de­funct af­ter Emer­gency in 1977.

Although, the freedom of press is a guar­an­teed propo­si­tion as en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion, it re­mains a far cry due to the im­po­si­tion of cer­tain restrictions meant to safe­guard the de­cency en­joyed by the pow­ers that be at the po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic lev­els. Although the freedom and role of press are con­sid­ered as the fourth pil­lar or es­tate of democ­racy and act as the watch­dog to ob­serve and con­trol the other three wings, it can­not re­ally ex­hort any­one nor take it to task due to non-de­lim­i­ta­tion of pow­ers vested with press as the fourth es­tate to sup­port the democ­racy as such.

The press as a watch­dog of democ­racy should ex­pose the fac­tual in­for­ma­tion in the in­ter­ests of the pub­lic by not ma­lign­ing the lat­ter with false or dis­torted news that might prove a bone of con­tention for the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their lead­ers and also the gov­ern­ments in power. In fact, the role of press is a defin­ing fea­ture to fig­ure out the good and the bad gov­er­nance and hence such a prac­tice is of­ten not a de­cid­ing fac­tor to sus­tain or sus­pend and even throw­ing out gov­ern­ments as the press is more closely at­tached to the pub­lic. The press can draw huge pub­lic at­ten­tion due to its cred­i­bil­ity as a ve­hi­cle of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and it has in­flu­ence to cre­ate vox pop­uli es­pe­cially dur­ing the time of elec­tions when the chances of tilt­ing the votes bears a re­la­tion to re­portage and in­for­ma­tion ex­pressly un­leashed by the press.

The role of free press in dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic should al­ways be gen­uine and pre­cise by avoid­ing false or mis­in­for­ma­tion on spe­cific is­sues that are likely to come un­der pub­lic scru­tiny. This would re­sult in a trust­wor­thy and jus­ti­fied role of press in so far as the read­ers are en­light­ened to re­act only through such re­ported in­for­ma­tion which is oth­er­wise not ac­ces­si­ble to them.

— Bh. Indu Sekhar

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