Cautioning Indian media to avoid becoming a mouthpiece for the government, former president Pranab Mukherjee urged media outlets to adopt self-correcting steps and avoid focusing their attention only on marketing strategies to drive up their revenues.
Delivering the annual Rajendra Mathur Memorial Lecture organised by Editors Guild of India in New Delhi on Wednesday, the former president maintained that media should be transparent, it should reject breaches of ethics and resist the temptation to publish or project what he described as news to 'dumb down' the public.
Noting that "all is not well with the media", Mukherjee further said it should encourage dispassionate debates on ideas and articulate its thoughts without fear or favour, to generate well- informed opinions and responses.
He was highlighting the alarming development of sensationalism becoming synonymous with media in India, despite its role as one of the four pillars of a vibrant democracy.
"Today, the nation faces critical challenges that go well beyond the pressure of 'breaking news' and immediate headlines in a discourse alternatively dominated by social media. While you must continue to be effective raconteurs, you must never ever lose sight of the singular talisman of truth and nothing but facts. You are after all the crystal ball that millions of Indians gaze at," Mukherjee, who was the president of India from 2012 to 2017, said.
The media in India "should endeavour to nurture a democratic republic committed to achieving justice and fundamental freedoms for all citizens. Journalists must bring to public notice the array of ills and deprivations that continue to besiege large numbers of people - be it malnourishment, the continuance of discriminatory practices against segments of society, the ongoing crisis, and the burdens and tragic consequences of indebtedness", he further stated.
The former president noted that "whatever one's personal beliefs or ideological positioning, journalists, like civil servants, can never let their biases colour the news that they report".
"It must always be kept in mind that ends and means are both important. The highest standards of ethics must be maintained at all times. Sensationalism should never become a substitute for objective assessment and truthful reporting," he concluded.
The advent of technology in the 21st century has evolved, realigned and reinvented the face of Indian media. Increased privatisation and global exposure are also factors that have altered the delivery of news across the nation. Traditional media such as newspapers and radio have given way to electronic media and allied interfaces.
Most newspapers and magazines today have easily accessible online news portals. Thanks to the Internet, online media has broadened in its scope and range to include digital-only newspapers, blogs, websites and social media interfaces such as Facebook and Twitter. Their growing popularity notwithstanding, such outlets have become very potent sources of information as well as disinformation, leaving an impact on the diverse audience.