Duty of the Press


Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

The Indian media seems to have forgotten its duty to the nation. Instead of being a representative of the people, it has largely become a representative of the Establishment. Instead of being the Fourth Estate, it has largely become a limb of the First Estate

Hence I am quoting from the historic judgment of Justice Hugo Black of the US Supreme Court in New York Times vs US, 1971 ( the Pentagon Papers case ) :

” In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do ”.

Historically the media arose in the 18th century in Western Europe as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time all the organs of power were in the hands of the feudal authorities ( kings, aristocrats, etc ). Hence the people had to create new organs which would represent their interests.

The media ( which was then only print media, and that too in the form of leaflets, pamphlets, etc, not regular daily newspapers ), was one of these powerful organs created by the people, and it was used by great writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Junius, etc in their fight against feudal autocracy and religious bigotry. The media then represented the voice of the future, as contrasted to the feudal authorities who only wanted to maintain the status quo.

It is this original duty of the media to which Justice Black pointed out when the Vietnam War was raging. And it is this sacred duty to the nation, which the Indian media of today seems to have forgotten, which they must be  reminded of if they wish to regain the trust and respect of the people


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