Advising media to exercise caution, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the spirit of inquiry must not morph into a "campaign of calumny" and "witch-hunt" is no substitute for investigative journalism.
Sharing the dais with Singh at the inauguration of Rs 60 crore National Media Centre here, Congress President Sonia Gandhi also said, "At times the language and dignity of media discussion can be found wanting. Sometimes I, too, have to confess that the media makes the political establishment uncomfortable."
Maintaining that the media is not merely a mirror of business activity, Singh said it is a reflection of the entire society.
While reflecting the process of great societal changes brought out by the economic reform and liberalisation, the media has also been affected by these changes, he said.
"Change inevitably brings challenge in its wake. Those of you, who are the practitioners of media industry have a special responsibility to assess, tackle and overcome the challenges that two decades of socio-economic changes have brought about," the Prime Minister said.
He said in a vibrant democracy like India, which revels in free enquiry and quest for answers, this is a significant calling.
"But there is need for caution while executing this responsibility. A spirit of inquiry must not morph into a campaign of calumny. A witch-hunt is no substitute for investigative journalism. And personal prejudices must not replace the public good," Singh said.
The views of the Prime Minister and Congress President come against the backdrop of severe battering the UPA government and the ruling party have suffered in the last three years over a series of scams.
The NMC is a state-of-the-art facility, set up by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in the 75th year of its information wing--Press Information Bureau, to act as a communication hub and a single window facility for media persons.
The Prime Minister said that at the end of the day, "credibility is the media's currency" and is integral to its contract with the reader or viewer.
"There is also the question of a certain responsibility for social harmony and public order. I emphasise this particularly in the light of the social media revolution, which is rendering irrelevant the lines between a connected citizen and professional journalist.
"A mature and wise handling of this phenomenon is essential if we are to avoid the tragedy last year that befell many innocent souls who became victims of an online propaganda campaign and were then driven across the country to save their lives in their home states," Singh said.
While noting that journalism cannot be divorced from the business of which it is a part, the Prime Minister said that the responsibility of the media organisations is not limited to the viewers and readers alone as the companies also have an obligation to their investors and shareholders.
"The tussle between bottom-lines and headlines is a fact of life for them," he said but at the same time added "this should not result in a situation where media organisations lose sight of their primary directive, which is to hold up a mirror to society and help provide a corrective." Gandhi said that the media has a tremendous, almost larger than life impact on our lives and "this imposes great responsibility".
While maintaining that media and government often disagree and the edit columns of newspapers and voices on prime time television provide ample evidence of this, Gandhi said, "But I venture to say that this can be healthy, there need not be any intrinsic antagonism between the two." The Congress President also said that while media at times makes the political establishment uncomfortable, she caveated it by saying, "Perhaps this is because we are not always able to put forth our point of view more effectively.
Today, we should remember that the need to communicate and inform is as much the responsibility of the government." Both Singh and Gandhi also lauded the media's watchdog role.
The Prime Minister also reiterated UPA's commitment to "fostering a free, pluralistic and independent media".
Gandhi said, "We welcome the watchdog role of the media and well founded and well intentioned criticism of our policies and programmes. We recognise that there could be shortcomings that need to be highlighted." "Our media has evolved over the years into a vibrant and mature institution that cherishes its freedom and independence and exercises it with a sense of commendable responsibility at least most of the time," she said.
Gandhi said the sheer diversity of media ensures that balance on it functions to benefit the institutions of democracy and democratic foundations of our society.
"This is no mean achievement considering how contentious and sharp is the public image on so many issues. Obviously there has to be space in the public image for conflicting and opposing points of view and the Indian media certainly cannot be faulted for not providing this in abundance," she said.
Gandhi also said that Government and media have a shared interest in disseminating programmes, policies, decisions and information noting that this is where an institution such as the National Press centre assumes importance.
"And I want to be quite clear, we do not want propaganda, favour or publicity campaign simply in order to score points for the government but the people have a right to know their legal and other entitlements. They have a right to information and they have a right to be able to make informed decisions.
Only an aware and conscious citizenry can be expected to make the system work well and hold governments and political parties to account," she said.
The Prime Minister recalled that the "exponential growth" in India's media sector began during the decade of the nineties and the media was among the principal beneficiaries of the wave of economic reforms.
Singh was Finance Minister in the P V Narsimhaa Rao regime in the nineties, which is credited for bringing in the economic reforms.