Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Monday said any attempts to attack the freedom of press would lead to an infringement on the rights of citizens, PTI reported. The vice-president said the state should not obstruct the flow of information. Ansari’s statements gain significance amid the debate surrounding speculation that the recent Central Bureau of Investigation raids on NDTV were an attempt to muzzle free speech.
Speaking at the launch of the commemorative edition of Congress’ National Herald, Ansari said “unjust restrictions” on the media could result in the neglect of abuse committed and a fostering frustration in the marginalised communities. “In an open society like ours, we need a responsible press to hold those in power to account,” the vice president said.
“That is why the freedom of press under Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution is subject only to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, public order, decency, contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.”
Recalling former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s call for the media to play the role of a “watchdog”, Ansari said imbibing that role was important in this age of “post-truths and alternative facts”. Ansari praised Nehru, who founded the National Herald newspaper. “He watched over the interests of the mediapersons in an independent India.”
The vice president said the Working Journalists Act, which tried to ensure journalists were protected, was largely the result of Nehru’s efforts. “The Act, I believe, is now in disuse and short-term contracts, which make the journalists beholden to the preferred lines of the publications, are in vogue.”
Residences in New Delhi and Dehradun, owned by NDTV founders Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy, were raided by the CBI in connection with causing an alleged loss of Rs 48 crore on a loan taken from ICICI Bank. In a statement following the raids, NDTV accused the CBI of “concerted harassment” of the channel and its promoters based on the “same old endless false accusations”. The investigating agency, in turn, refuted the allegations.