Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said there should be no government interference in the functioning of media but advised self-regulation by making appropriate changes with times, asserting that things will not change from external control.
He also expressed concern over recent murders of journalists, saying it was very ‘painful’ and a ‘most dangerous’ way of suppressing truth. His remarks came against the backdrop of murder of two journalists in Bihar.
Speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of Press Council of India, Modi also quoted Mahatma Gandhi to support his assertions seeking self-regulation by the media.
“Mahatma Gandhi had said uncontrolled writing can create huge problems but he had also said that external interference would wreak havoc. Controlling it (media) externally cannot be imagined,” he asserted.
“Government should not do any interference. It is true that self-introspection is not easy... It is the responsibility of the PCI and those associated with the press to see to it that what appropriate changes you can make with time. Things do not change from external control,” he said.
Though the prime minister did not refer to any specific changes, he said unlike journalists in past when they had ample time to make corrections, now because of the fast-paced nature of electronic and digital media there is no such opportunity now.
Referring to the Kandahar hijack in 1999, he said new channels’ round-the-clock reportage of angry reactions of the families of passengers in the Indian Airlines flight made terrorists emboldened as they thought they can get anything from the Indian government with this kind of public pressure.
The episode set off introspection in the media which later came with norms for the coverage of such incidents, Modi said.
As he spoke about self-regulation, Modi gave the analogy of a mother telling her child to eat a little less or not to eat. The child would listen to his mother but not to an outsider, he said.
Speaking about media, he said it should also be regulated from within and things should be resolved within the family in the interests of the society.
Governments should not even venture close to having an intention of interfering, he added.
The prime minister suggested that issues relating to self-regulation should be seen through the medium of organisations like the Press Council and drawing from the experience of senior people and in the interests of the society.
He added that self-regulation is not an easy task. The prime minister said that after the Kandahar attack, the media organisations introspected and and dissected their own errors.
“After 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, another moment of introspection came yet the matter is still incomplete,” he said, adding, “I believe mistakes are committed by us and by you....the media should not be assessed by its mistakes.”
“Till the time there is a section of responsible people, who want to remove the weaknesses and make it better, I believe it is a positive effort in this sector and it should continue,” he said.
Modi said that when Emergency was declared in 1975, the Press Council was shut and it was reborn when the Morarji Desai government came to power in 1977.
He said that people in Press Council should also think of how to improve things. He said even the government can be told how to improve its communication.
“Unfortunately even the government sometimes indulges in selective leaking to favoured journalists,” he said, adding if there are some discussions in Press Council regarding this they should be put forward to the government.
Modi said there should be communication to improve the institutions for which the people should benefit.
The PM also said that media should encourage healthy competition like ranking states on their performance in the area of swacchta or cleanliness.