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Rajya Sabha to form an informal group of MPs to discuss challenges posed by social media- Vice President

The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today advised media to provide more coverage to the substantive work being done by the parliament rather than only focusing on sensational remarks or disruptive behavior by some members.

Presenting the first ‘TVR Shenoy Award for Excellence in Parliamentary Journalism’ to veteran political journalist Shri Vinod Sharma, Shri Naidu called the press as the extension of parliament as it holds the elected representatives accountable to the people whom they represent.

The Vice President called the parliamentary committees as a beautiful system within our parliamentary system. All members discuss and debate there constructively as there is no media glare, he said.

However, Shri Naidu expressed concern that the Chairman of the several parliamentary standing committees now complain of only one third of the members attending the meetings on an average. This is a worrying trend, he said. He also said that he is planning to write to all political parties regarding this.

The Vice President called the role of a parliamentary journalist of critical importance, as people form their opinions based on the information provided by the press. With this information, they analyze and evaluate the performance of their elected representatives and the government.

Therefore, VP urged the media to not color news with views and stressed the need to maintain objectivity, fairness and accuracy in reporting. “Impartiality and objectivity of press is of supreme importance for a democracy to survive and flourish”, he said.

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, who described journalism as ‘service’, Shri Naidu expressed concern over politicians and business groups setting up newspapers and TV channels. “This erodes the credibility and core values of journalism”, he observed.

He also called upon media bodies to come up with some sort of self regulation to ensure that credibility and reliability of press remains steadfast.

Highlighting that press fought hard for its freedom, the Vice President called for using this freedom judiciously. He also drew media’s attention towards its responsibility to provide people correct information and educate them on their rights.

Further, Shri Naidu appealed to media to demystify parliament’s procedures and work, insisting that “people should be able to understand parliament’s functioning in easy and friendly language”. This will inspire them to become active stakeholders in the political processes, he opined.

Talking about the growing volume of parliamentary data, the Vice President felt a need to invest more in creating infrastructure, tools, capacity and skills for ‘data smart’ journalists.

“A good data journalist can help the citizens better understand the institution of parliament”, he said, adding that this may also improve the output of MPs as they would become more aware of their performance.

Shri Naidu also advocated for unhindered access to the important information generated by parliament on a day to day basis in a user friendly format.

Calling the people’s ‘right to know’ as a vital component for an informed society, Shri Naidu called for a good working relationship between the parliamentarians and journalists. If their relationship becomes too adversarial or too close, it would undermine the public’s ‘right to know’, he added.

Talking about the impact of social media on the institution of parliament and parliamentarians, VP said that it enables MPs to reach their constituencies directly and is also a good medium for obtaining public feedback.

However, he also cautioned the parliamentarians to be aware of social media’s potential to spread fake news and misinformation. In this regard, he called for the creation of a system of checks and balances to curb the possible misuse of social media by anti social elements.

In this regard, Shri Naidu said that Rajya Sabha will form an informal group of MPs to discuss various challenges posed by social media, such as the spread of pornographic content.

He expressed worry that this trend on social media is misleading the children and posing the biggest challenge to Indian values by devaluing our age old family system.

Appreciating the initiative by Prof. K.V. Thomas Vidyadhanam Trust to institute an award to honour late Shri T.V.R. Shenoy, Vice President said that Shri Shenoy was an illustrious journalist and editor who served the public cause through his writings for five decades.

I also congratulate Shri Vinod Sharma, Political Bureau Chief, Hindustan Times on being conferred first TVR Shenoy Award for Excellence in Parliamentary Journalism.

Shri A.K Antony, former Defence Minister, Prof. K.V. Thomas, Chairman, Trust, Dr. Omcheri NN Pillai, Chairman of Jury and Smt. Sarojam, wife of late Shri TVR Shenoy were among the dignitaries present at the event.

Following is the full text of the speech –

“Dear Shri A.K Antony Ji, former Defence Minister

Priof. K.V. Thomas, Chairman, Trust,

Shri Vinod Sharma, Political Chief of Bureau, Hindustan Times

Dr. Omcheri NN Pillai, Chairman of Jury

Mrs. TVR Shenoy

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to be among you on this special occasion of presenting the TVR Shenoy Award for Excellence in Parliamentary Journalism.

Friends,

Shri T.V.R. Shenoy was an illustrious journalist and editor who served the public cause through his writings for five decades. A reporter par excellence, he wrote extensively on issues ranging from politics, economy to international affairs and wars.

In early nineties, his investigative journalism led to the expose of several banking and stock market scams including the Harshad Mehta scam.

Shri Shenoy was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 2003 for his services to the nation.

I appreciate the initiative by Prof. K.V. Thomas Vidyadhanam Trust to honour late Shri Shenoy by instituting an award in his name.

I also congratulate Shri Vinod Sharma, Political Bureau Chief, Hindustan Times on being conferred first TVR Shenoy Award for Excellence in Parliamentary Journalism. Shri Sharma is a very familiar face to me as he has been reporting on the parliament for more than 25 years.

Dear friends,

The importance of a parliamentary journalist can not be overemphasized in a parliamentary democracy.

Our parliament debates and discusses various issues of national importance everyday.

It is a place where major policy decisions are taken.

It is the place where governments form and collapse.

It is the source of valuable political ideas and points of view.

And the people as important stakeholders in democratic process have a right to know how parliament is functioning, what it is discussing and debating.

They want to know what their elected representatives are saying or doing.

A parliamentary reporter has crucial responsibility of reporting all of this to the public.

People form their opinions based on this information provided by the press. With this information, they make up their minds whether or not to support a candidate in next election …. They analyze and evaluate the performance of their government.

That is why the role of a parliamentary journalist assumes critical importance in the way he decides which issues to publicise or what angle to give to a new story.  His work and orientation plays an important role in scrutinizing the functioning of the parliament, government and the oppostion.

That is why press is often called as the extension of parliament. It holds the elected representatives accountable to the people whom they represent.

Therefore impartiality and objectivity of press is of supreme importance for a democracy to survive and flourish.

Friends,

Time and again, I have urged the media to not color news with views and stressed the need to maintain objectivity, fairness and accuracy. The neutrality and sanctity of newsrooms should be upheld at all times.

Our Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who was an eminent journalist is his own right had said that, –

“I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within.”

But today we see even many politicians and business groups setting up newspapers and TV channels. With these mediums under their control, the reporting can become distorted. This erodes the credibility and core values of journalism.

Therefore, I feel that media bodies need to come up with some sort of self regulation to ensure that credibility and reliability of press remains steadfast.

Friends,

The cardinal principle of journalism is to present fair, objective, accurate and balanced information to the reader and viewer without journalists assuming the role of the gatekeepers. This is particularly true while reporting on a political controversy. Rather than opining which argument is the strongest, a good political reporter should lays out all the arguments and facts without bias, and let the people take a decision on the relative merits of the arguments.

Dear friends,

Press fought hard for its freedom and this freedom should be used judiciously.  Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees to the citizen, the right to “Freedom of speech and expression”. With regard to parliamentary privileges also, press has full protection as long as reporting is true, without malice and for public good.

However, freedom and responsibility cannot be considered as inseparable. There can not be unfettered freedom without any responsibility.

The media has the onerous responsibility to not only provide unadulterated and correct information, but also educate the people on their rights as well.

Friends,

When it comes to reporting on the parliament, media has one more special responsibility.

It should uncode and demystify parliamentary proceedings and procedures to the larger public. People should be able to understand parliament’s functioning in easy and friendly language.

I appreciate that many news organizations are already doing good work in this direction, specially while reporting the budget, but more needs to be done.

Many parliamentarians do a lot of research and put forth their views in the parliament. This should be covered more extensively rather than only some sensational remarks or disruptive behavior.

This will enable a deeper understanding of the functioning of Indian parliamentary system among the masses inspiring them to become active stakeholders in the political processes shaping the destiny of their lives and the nation.

I suggest that similar efforts need to be made with respect to the growing volume of the parliamentary data.

Friends,

Recently, I saw a new story titled as ‘Rajya Sabha records 90% productivity in first week of winter session’.

This is the power of data.

A good data journalist can help the citizens better understand the institution of parliament. The members of parliament may also become more aware of their performance. The output may improve as a consequence.

Therefore, I feel that there is a need to invest in creating infrastructure, tools, capacity and skills for ‘data smart’ journalists.

At the same time, there should be unhindered access to the important information generated by parliament on a day to day basis in a user friendly format. This would help masses in gaining better understanding of the functioning of Parliament, participation of MPs and various legislative proposals under consideration.

Dear friends,

For a democracy to thrive, it is desirable that there should be a good working relationship between the parliamentarians and journalists.

The media on one hand, communicates parliamentary activities to the citizens, and on the other it also provides valuable feedback on public opinions.

Thus media creates a two-way flow of information which is vital for the healthy functioning of democracy and good governance.

Dear friends,

If this relationship between the parliamentarians and journalists becomes too adversarial or too close, it would undermine the public’s ‘right to know’.

And this ‘right to know’ is a vital component in our quest for an informed society and informed democracy.

This is important for empowerment of our citizens.

But at times it is observed that adjournments and commotion tend to make news rather than substantive debates on important issues.

Therefore, I would urge my friends in media to not focus on sensationalism and ‘bite journalism’ and impartially report the multiplicity of views expressed by Members in the parliament.

Friends,

In the end, I come to the impact of latest technological developments – such as social media – on the institution of parliament and parliamentarians.

It is true that social media has enabled parliamentarians to reach their constituencies directly, bypassing journalists. Social media also provides a good medium for obtaining public feedback.

But, the parliamentarians have to be aware of the pitfalls of the social media which has tremendous scope to spread fake news and misinformation. We need to create a system of checks and balances to curb the possible misuse of social media by anti social elements.

Dear friends,

In the end, I once again congratulate Shri Vinod Sharma for the prestigious award.

Wishing you all the best.

Jai Hind!”

*****

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