NEW DELHI — With multiple media platforms now available, nobody can seriously complain of their free speech being in danger, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Friday, asserting that if the Emergency was ever to be reimposed it would collapse as technology does not permit press censorship.
Addressing the gathering at the National Press Day celebrations in New Delhi, Jaitley said the "greatest challenge" to the media in a free society is how does it retain its own credibility so that it continues to become a maker of public opinion.
Media's credibility will be its own maker and if misused, it can also be its own breaker, he said.
At the event, Jaitley gave away the National Awards for Excellence in Journalism, presented by the Press Council of India (PCI).
Veteran journalist and Hindu publishing group chairman N Ram was presented with the prestigious Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award for his outstanding contribution to journalism. Awards in other categories were also presented.
In his address, Jaitley said every political viewpoint is able to find space in some section of the media or the other.
"With multiple (media) forums now available, nobody can seriously complain my speech is in danger. Neither the viewer or the reader, nor the one who wants to convey. You have alternatives available," he said.
He, however, cautioned that the alternatives are sometimes grossly abused, for personalised grounds, collateral purposes, political purposes, or for lobbying.
"I think the worst that can happen to free speech is that if a doubt in the mind of a reader or a viewer is created with regard to the integrity of the news or the opinion that he is seeing," the finance minister.
In his remarks, Jaitley also recalled that in the 1950s an amendment was brought in by the Jawaharlal Nehru Government restricting free speech if it adversely affected the country's relations with a foreign country.
He claimed that it was brought in because Nehru-Liaquat Ali pact became a subject matter of political debate and Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee decided to lead a campaign against it.
"We have grown out of that 1950-1952 phase... I don't think that is capable of happening today," he said.
"If the Emergency was ever to be reimposed, because it is fashionable to say it is another Emergency. If the Emergency was ever to be reimposed, it would collapse for the simple reason that one of the strengths of the Emergency was press censorship. And technology does not permit press censorship.
"You suddenly get access to information through various instruments that technology has provided," Jaitley said.
The finance minister said he has not been able to understand the criticism of those "who criticise the maximum". "Well your speech can't be in danger if you are criticising seven days a week," he said.
Noting that some describe the PCI as a "paper tiger" or a "toothless tiger", chairperson Justice C K Prasad said there was a need to revisit the laws and strengthen the institution.