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New Delhi: Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana on Wednesday asked the media to have belief and trust in the judiciary, saying the trend to “sermonise about judgments, and villainise judges” needs to be checked.
Delivering the keynote address at this year’s RedInk Awards, the CJI said that as a key stakeholder in democracy, the media has the duty to defend and protect the judiciary from “motivated attacks by evil forces”.
“We are together in … mission democracy and in promoting national interest. We have to sail together,” the CJI said.
The chief justice also cautioned journalists against “the seeping of ideological biases into news stories”, adding that factual reports must keep aside interpretations and opinions. He said though a healthy democracy can only thrive with a fearless and independent press, “news mixed with views is a dangerous cocktail”.
He lamented the “cherry picking of facts” to give news stories a “certain colour.” He further said nothing could be more lethal to democracy than the “deadly combination” of confrontational polity and competitive journalism. “Allowing yourself to be co-opted by an ideology or the state is a recipe for disaster,” the CJI, who started out as a journalist, said.
“Journalists are like judges in one sense. Regardless of the ideology you profess and the beliefs you hold dear, you must do your duty without being influenced by them. You must report only the facts, with a view to give a complete and accurate picture,” he said.
CJI Ramana said the arrival of digital news media platforms and social media reporting has changed the profession. He said while digital media has made sure there is more information is easily available to people, the CJI also offered a critique.
“Nowadays, everything is subject to reporting. Every moment is available to the scrutiny of millions as things get reported 24×7. This places an enormous pressure not only on the person or professional being reported about, but also on the journalist doing the reporting. In the race for ratings, the important journalistic tenet of verification before publishing is not being followed,” he said.
“Unlike print and electronic media, unfortunately, it is almost impossible to hold social media platforms such as YouTube accountable even after they host most derogatory and defamatory stuff which has potential to ruin careers and lives,” CJI Ramana said.
Journalism a noble profession
CJI Ramana congratulated all the winners of the RedInk Awards and reiterated that journalism and truthful reportage was essential to a robust democracy. “There is no doubt that a healthy democracy can thrive and survive only with a fearless and independent press. For that, journalists like you need to grow in number,” he said.
The CJI said that he understands the difficulties and struggles that media professionals. “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,” CJI Ramana said.
“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. 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 also praised Prem Shankar Jha, who received the RedInk Lifetime Achievement award, saying the veteran journalist’s “reputation for hard work, the highest ethical standards, and intellectual rigour is unparalleled in the field”.
The country’s top judge also paid his respects to Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, who was posthumously declared journalist of the year by the Mumbai Press Club. “He was a man with a magical eye and was rightly regarded as one of the foremost photo-journalists of this era. If a picture can tell a thousand words, his photos were novels,” CJI Ramana said.
The chief justice also paid tribute to all those journalists who lost their lives while reporting from the ground during this pandemic. “Their reporting was integral for highlighting issues and to bring much-needed attention to the plight of our citizens. I thank them for their service,” he said.