Vice-President’s address at the inaugural function of National Press Day

New Delhi, Nov 16, 2023 : Ladies and gentlemen,

Grateful to be here on National Press Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the freedom of the press and the vital role it plays in our democracy.

On this day in 1966, Press Council of India started functioning as a moral watchdog to ensure that the press maintains the high standards expected from this powerful medium and also ensure that it is not fettered by the influence or threats of any extraneous factors.

It is the moral duty of the media to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

In fact, it is the responsibility of everyone connected with the media be it journalists or owners of newspapers and other forms of communication to be truthful.

It is in their self-interest to be credible and trustworthy. It is time the media realizes that their audience is turning away from them.

The writing on the wall should be clear to all concerned that fake news, deliberately fed wrong and mischievous information, political ambitions and preferences, tendency to play power brokers and monetary considerations have eroded the people’s faith in the media. Actually, the expression “fake news” has never been heard so loudly before as it is these days.

Credibility is the biggest challenge that the media is facing today I put it as existential challenge. It is surprising that this aspect is being blissfully ignored in some quarters.

Over the years, press or I should say whole journalism landscape has evolved and expanded. The expansion has been geometric.

Today along with print media we have, digital media, television media and social media.

Media fraternity has been able to adapt to the myriad technological and socio-economic changes and navigate through multiple challenges brought about by these changes in the ecosystem.

Recent technological advancements and innovations like artificial intelligence and Chat-GPT have presented unique challenges before us, combined also with opportunities.

This year’s theme is both timely and essential: "Media in the Era of Artificial Intelligence."

In a world where information and communication are changing rapidly, it is vital for us to understand the profound impact of artificial intelligence upon the media landscape.

The media has always been a cornerstone of our democracy, serving as the Fourth Estate, the guardian of truth and accountability.

It has been a beacon of information, a voice of the voiceless, and a watchdog of those in power.

The advent of artificial intelligence has transformed the way we receive and consume news, information, and entertainment. AI has become an integral part of our daily lives.

AI-driven algorithms now curate personalized content for each individual, making it easier for people to access the information they want.

AI has the potential to streamline the news production process, enhance storytelling, and even personalize content to individual preferences. This is a double edged weapon.

However, it also brings its own set of challenges and ethical questions, such as the spread of misinformation at nuclear speed, deep fakes, creation of echo chambers and micro targeting of information to influence the democratic process and create chaos and instability in the societies.

Artificial Intelligence also has the potential as unruly horse to dramatically alter the employment remark. Introduction of AI anchors and language models which are able to write media reports after collecting and collating information from multiple sources is threatening the jobs of hundreds and thousands.

Facing these challenges, the responsibilities of journalists and media professionals have expanded, requiring an even greater commitment to the principles of truth, accuracy, and accountability.

Media organizations and media professionals must be doubly careful and alert before disseminating any information. The ground reality today is indeed alarming and worrisome. The checks take place much after the damaged has been done.

I think role of editors has become even more challenging and important, as they now have to act as a gatekeeper and remove any false and doctored information before it poisons the sea of information. You have to engage into reality check to see whether this has been done or not. I leave it to your wisdom to assess the current situation.

Though AI has the potential to harm, we must acknowledge that this technology is here to stay. This is one technology in respect of which concerns has been raised from the top in technology world for regulation, but one thing is certain that it will stay with us. We have to adapt, regulate and deal with it.

We must adapt to the changing landscape, employing the transformative potential of AI as a tool to improve our capabilities, while also safeguarding against its misuse.

Our responsibility remains steadfast to provide the public with reliable, unbiased, and fact-based information via real time reporting.

I would like to emphasize the need for responsible and ethical journalism in the age of AI. While the great diversity of Bharat mandates giving spare to plural perspectives, constructive journalism needs to also focus on social collusion. There are times when media can play a healing touch, media can be soothing. But those occasions are such that media has missed the opportunities and engaged into painful, pernicious sensationalism.

It is paramount that journalists and media outlets uphold the highest standards of integrity. I don’t wish to take this to any well informed audience. We have tapes that suggests to what extent the system was permeated with the most unethical practices.

Fact-checking, source verification, and maintaining editorial independence are more important than ever. If a newspaper in Telangana could publish that VP Twitter handle carries fake photograph of parliamentary committee, the news is 100 percent wrong. Where is fact checking? How can anyone go to the extent of demeaning the second highest Constitutional office of this country and then walk into the chamber only to say sorry? These occasions do not call for indulgence. They call for exemplary consequences.

We must not allow AI to compromise the values that are the very foundation of a free and vibrant press.

It is imperative that we maintain a free and fair media environment. The Fourth Estate plays a ivotal role in a democratic society by serving as the watchdog of government, holding those in power accountable, and providing citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions. What we see very frequently is that they have become stakeholders in power, political directional approach, stakeholders to come out as prominent influencers. That is the last job they should ever be doing, if they wish to be in any profession.

In the era of AI, media organizations must stand united in their commitment to journalistic ethics, unbiased reporting, and unwavering dedication to the public's right to know the facts.

India is on rise like never before. Entire world is stunned by the growth of India. The technological penetration is to the last person, to the villages. Media needs to reflect, rethink, soul-search and be soulmate of ethics and high degree of professionalism.

I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of protecting press freedom. A free media is the cornerstone of any vibrant democracy.

No country in the world can claim to have such kind of democratic institutions, Constitutionally sanctified right from the village, to the state and centre.

It is the duty of the government, civil society, and media organizations to collaborate in preserving and strengthening this fundamental democratic pillar. It is only in such an environment that media can blossom and serve the public at large. But if those who are required to keep the environment free become pollutants, that situation is indeed very worrisome and of deep concern to every citizen who loves Bharat.

As we celebrate National Press Day, we must remember the countless journalists who have dedicated their lives to reporting the truth, often at great personal risk. I congratulate journalists, they have done great job during COVID. The journalists at grass root level are performing excellently, the problem is at one level where iconic status has been given to some and they have forgotten both ethics, professionalism contours, engaging in due diligence and thriving on credentials bestowed on them. These parameters are baffling and are of great concern.

As Governor, State of West Bengal, I suffered a senior journalist saying on Twitter that I am summoning the Chief Minister of West Bengal every day. My Twitter account is in public domain. Not a single instance. How can a Journalist have courage to go to that extent? We in public life do not take recourse to coercive mechanism against journalist. We believe in the wisdom of institutions like Press Councils and the press associations to take care of such derailed minds. Someone must check about it.

I am the one who would honour the courage, conviction of journalists who engage in due diligence, investigate the truth, put it in public domain. We must do all we can to help our young professionals whose passion is journalism, whose mission is truth; they seek to execute everything in public welfare by inviting attention of all concerned to the hard ground realities and the truth.

As we celebrate this National Press Day with the theme "Media in the Era of Artificial Intelligence," I want to reaffirm our commitment to a free and responsible press.

I am sometimes baffled, without check a narrative is set afloat to tarnish, demean and taint our established institutions. It is done on considerations that are extraneous. It is done with the intention that we are far from being bonafide, it is done in a manner which is far distanced from journalist ethics and commitment. I’m sure that the distinguished audience will take note of it and rise to ensure that such sinister forces are effectively dealt with. You silence will resonate in the ears of those who love the nation and I’m sure you will speak out.

AI may be a powerful tool, but it is the human touch, the commitment to truth, and the unwavering dedication of journalists that will continue to make the media a force for good in our society. No disruptive technology can be a substitute for a well-informed, conscientious journalist.

The Press Council of India should take quick action against those deliberately spreading fake news and compromising professional ethics. It is not the time to show teeth but a time to bite. And the bite must be strong because those who are serving with high ethical standards must be encouraged only by those not doing so being visited with exemplary consequences.

Media is not a power centre or stakeholder in realpolitik. Ground reality is, it is doing everything under the sun to be a power centre- not only a stakeholder, it seems to control it, seems to infuse it. It is so painful that some journalists have taken on themselves to change the course of democratic process contrary to the ground sentiments. We need to be alive to such dangers.

This is not the time to avoid addressing what ails media. A ground reality -it is commerce driven. It floats narratives. It has become unfortunately a stakeholder in agitation sustainability. It seeks the role of partisan influencer in democratic process. Even in the matters that concern security, terrorism, the media has to be responsible which at the moment I do not see. I am in a tunnel where I don't see the light at the moment. You all in the room have to show the light.

Let us move forward with a spirit of innovation and responsibility, harnessing the potential of AI while upholding the principles of journalism that have served us well for generations.

Together, we can navigate this new era and ensure that the progressive media remains a beacon of truth and accountability in our democracy.

Thank you, and let us make this National Press Day a resounding celebration of the power of the free press in the era of Artificial Intelligence.

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