Healthy democracy can thrive with independent press: CJI Ramana
hief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana gave the keynote address at the RedInk Awards for Excellence in Journalism hosted virtually by the Mumbai Press Club on Wednesday evening
Mumbai Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana during his keynote address at the RedInk Awards for Excellence in Journalism hosted virtually by the Mumbai Press Club on Wednesday evening, while speaking on the current state of journalism and media, lamented the decline in the credibility of the noble profession which is “suffering due to lack of facts verification in the age of digital media” and stated that a professional journalist is one who does not permit “seeping of ideological stances and biases into the news story.”
The CJI added that “A healthy democracy can thrive and survive only with a fearless and independent press.” CJI NV Ramana praised Mumbai city for being at the forefront of protecting the freedom of speech and expression and has produced great patriarchs, freedom fighters, human rights activists and journalists of great professional integrity.
Stating that as he had started his career as a journalist and was aware of the difficulties and struggles faced by the scribes, the CJI said, “Speaking truth to power and holding up a mirror to society is an immense responsibility that is extremely difficult to fulfil. There is enormous pressure and stress upon you. In the contemporary world performing your duty as a journalist is akin to dancing on a razor’s edge.”
While referring to the safety of journalists and their stress faced by their families CJI Ramana said, “Those in powerful positions, both political leaders and bureaucracy, the mafia of all shades and those on the wrong side of the law – none of them are comfortable with a professional journalist. As a result, you keep getting unpleasant and disturbing messages.”
Stating that there were efforts to bracket journalists into a particular category and how painful it was, he said that it is yet an extremely satisfying profession to pursue and like the legal profession, the journalist’s job is noble.
“Like the legal professional, a journalist also needs to have a strong moral fibre and moral compass. The freedom of the press is a valuable and sacred right enshrined in the Indian constitution, without such freedom there cannot be discussion and debate that is essential for the growth of democracy. There can be no flow of information that the public requires and democracy demands but the profession is vastly different from when I was a journalist. All things change, it is inevitable. Unless you are willing to evolve and change you will stagnate and be left behind,” said CJI Ramana.
Speaking on the transformation of traditional journalism, he said that there is digital news media platforms and social media reporting. CJI Ramana said that while the transformation was good as more information was available for the people but added that there was cause for worry as well.
Referring to the adverse and incorrect reporting which cannot be taken back from social media like YouTube, the CJI Ramana said, “You media professionals will have to voluntarily come forward with solutions for such a menace. I will advice all of you to follow the principles of natural justice before making adverse comments against someone who is not in a position to defend himself.”
Referring to the bias in reporting, CJI Ramana said, “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. News mixed with views is a dangerous cocktail.”
“Nothing can be more lethal to democracy than the deadly combination of confrontational polity & competitive journalism. Tragically, they feed on each other. History is witness to this hard truth. Allowing yourself to be co-opted by an ideology or the state is a recipe for disaster,” said CJI Ramana.
He also exhorted the media to defend the judiciary from motivated attacks by evil forces. “We are together in the mission of democracy and in promoting national interest, we have to sail together,” said CJI Ramana.
The CJI also appreciated the work of Reuters photojournalist late Danish Siddiqui who was killed in Afghanistan and called him - the foremost photojournalist of this era. He also highlighted the dangerous working conditions of journalists working in areas of conflict.
He also lauded the work of the journalists who lost their lives while reporting during the pandemic and thanked all others for highlighting the plight of citizens too.
Speaking about the RedInk Awards for Excellence in Journalism, Gurbir Singh, chairman of Mumbai Press Club said that the awards had special significance this year as they marked the 10th edition of peer recognition for excellent writing and good journalism.