The freedom of the press was a valuable and sacred right enshrined in the Constitution and a fearless media was essential for an efficient working of democracy, Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said on Wednesday and maintained journalists must resist being “co-opted by an ideology or the state”.
He said a healthy democracy could thrive only with a fearless and independent press, but warned: “news mixed with views is a dangerous cocktail”.
The CJI cautioned journalists against the trend of seeping of ideological biases into news stories and said factual reports must keep aside interpretations and opinions.
“Another trend that I witness in reporting nowadays, is the seeping of ideological stances and biases into the news story. Interpretation and opinions are colouring what should be factual reports,” he said.
Underscoring the need for unbiased, fact-based reportage, particularly during the current 24×7 news cycle, and the vast reach of social media, the CJI said that journalists must resist being “co-opted by an ideology or by the state”.
“It is often said that the legal profession is a noble profession. I can state that the journalist’s job is as noble and is an integral pillar of democracy,” CJI Ramana said.
“Like the legal professional, a journalist also needs to have a strong moral fibre and moral compass. Your conscience is your guide in this profession,” he said.
The CJI was speaking at the ‘Red Ink Award’ organised online by the Mumbai Press Club through a virtual interface.
The top-most Supreme Court judge lamented the increasing trend of “mixing views with news,” and publishing defamatory content without due verification.
He said journalists must follow the principles of natural justice before making adverse comments against someone who was not in a position to defend themselves.
“Allowing yourself to be co-opted by an ideology or the state is a recipe for disaster. Journalists are like judges in one sense,” CJI Ramana said.
“Regardless of the ideology you profess and the beliefs you hold dear, you must do your duty without being influenced by them,” he said.
The Chief Justice of India also congratulated all the winners of the Red Ink Awards.
He said Mumbai had been at the “forefront of protecting the freedom of speech and expression,” and added the city had been home to some great patriots, freedom fighters, human rights activists and journalists.
It was, therefore, apt that the Mumbai Press Club organised the awards for fearless journalism, the CJI said.
“The media must have belief and trust in the judiciary. As a key stakeholder in democracy, the media has the duty to defend and protect the judiciary from motivated attacks by evil forces,” he said.
“We are together in the Mission Democracy and in promoting national interest. We have to sail together,” the CJI said.
He added that the trend to “sermonise about judgments, and villainise judges” needed to be checked.
In his keynote address delivered during the event, CJI Ramana also paid tributes to late photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, who was killed earlier this year in Afghanistan, where he was on an assignment when foreign troops were withdrawing from the war-torn country.
Siddiqui was named posthumously as the ‘Journalist of the Year – 2020’ at the Red Ink Awards.
“He (Siddiqui) was a man with a magical eye. If a picture can convey a thousand words, his photos were novels,” CJI Ramana said.
He also paid a tribute to all journalists who had lost their lives while reporting during the coronavirus pandemic. “Their reporting was integral for highlighting issues and to bring much needed attention to the plight of our citizens,” he said.