Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Wednesday said that “disagreement must not distort into hatred”, which in turn should not turn into “violence”, asserting that “no society can afford to accept hatred as a new normal”.
Speaking at the Ramnath Goenka awards for excellence in journalism in Delhi, he said, “As citizens, we may not agree with the approach that a journalist has adopted or the conclusion that they reach. I, too, find myself disagreeing with many journalists because after all, who amongst us agrees with all other people? However, this disagreement must not distort into hatred and hatred must not be permitted to evolve into violence. No society can afford to accept hatred as a new normal.”
Highlighting the media’s role in shaping the course of events, the top court judge referred to the ‘Me Too’ movement, which he described as a “watershed moment in history”, and the ‘Nirbhaya’ case, which, he said, led to “reforms in criminal law”.
“The media has always played and continues to play an important role in shaping the course of current events, and by extension, the course of history itself. Recently, the #MeToo movement was sparked in part by the publication of stories concerning the accusations of sexual harassment against prominent figures in the film industry in USA. The #MeToo movement had cascading effects all across the world and was a watershed moment in history. In India, the media’s coverage of the rape of Jyoti, or Nirbhaya, by certain men in Delhi resulted in widespread protests and later, in reforms to criminal law. Even on a day-to-day basis, some news stories prompt questions and discussion in Parliament and in the legislative assemblies of states,” the CJI said.
The top jurist also said that the press must remain free if a “country is to remain a democracy”.
“The media is the fourth pillar in the conception of the State, and thus an integral component of democracy. A functional and healthy democracy must encourage the development of journalism as an institution that can ask difficult questions to the establishment – or as it is commonly known, ‘speak truth to power.’ The vibrancy of any democracy is compromised when the press is prevented from doing exactly this. The press must remain free if a country is to remain a democracy,” Chandrachud said.
CJI Chandrachud also spoke about the challenges faced in journalism, and said that one of them is the “threat” of “fake news”.
“Fake news poses a serious threat to the independence and impartiality of the press in the current society. It is the collective responsibility of journalists as well as other stakeholders to weed out any element of bias or prejudice from the process of reporting events. A comprehensive fact-checking mechanism should be in place to verify all news items before reporting. Media houses are expected to act cautiously while publishing news,” he said.
He also called for maintaining a “diverse workforce” in the newsroom and that the profession of journalism should not be “elitist” or “exclusionary”.
“A diverse and representative newsroom is essential for media institutions to provide well-researched and complex stories that explore a multiplicity of perspectives and voices,” he said.
“Maintaining a diverse workforce is imperative for the longevity of any media platform. This is not just about providing different perspectives and viewpoints. Media institutions need to ensure that their newsroom culture reflects the diverse news content they are producing. Otherwise, audiences may question their authenticity. Journalism ought not to be elitist, exclusionary or for that matter a selective profession,” he CJI added.