Prime Minister Modi and freedom of the press
How often does our Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet the press? You must have already seen a small video clip making the rounds on social networks. This did not happen in India. It happened in Denmark the other day. On his way to a meeting, he found himself surrounded by a group of journalists and he was visibly taken aback. The Prime Minister of India is widely known as a good speaker. It’s not just what his supporters say. This is also recognized by his opponents.
He very often addresses mass gatherings of thousands of people and fascinates them with his speech. He is known as a strongman prime minister. Let’s stop here and dive into the history of our prime ministers. We have 15 prime ministers so far. Some of them had been in office for more than one term. Prime Minister Modi himself is in his second term now. What is strange is that in his eight years in office, Prime Minister Modi has not delivered a single press conference. The media are considered the fourth pillar of democracy. Why is Prime Minister Modi so shy to talk to the press?
Here we should know a little about why media is called the fourth pillar of democracy. The legislature makes laws either in parliament or in legislative assemblies. Then, it is the responsibility of the executive, that is to say the government in place, to implement or execute the laws. Whether the legislature has crafted the law following due process and adhering to constitutional principles is reviewed by the judiciary. If the executive has not properly executed a law or if defects and shortcomings in the application of a law or an act are brought to the attention of the judiciary, it will take cognizance of them.
After going through the related things and hearing the arguments of litigants and defendants and after following the principles of law and constitutional provisions, the judiciary will deliver its verdicts. The government can also go to court if an individual or group of individuals gets in the way of implementing an act or law. The duties and responsibilities of the legislature, executive and judiciary are already fixed. The three organs of democracy are supposed to act independently with their autonomy.
More importantly, the judiciary must act independently. Here we can refer to a comment by famous jurist Fali S Nariman in his book “God Save The Hon’ble Supreme Court”. He said: “The lack of harmony between the government and the court is another matter – if there was complete harmony between them, this country would not be worth living in.” So, at present, the difference between the judiciary and the government is a healthy sign for democracy. Now comes the question of the media.
Like the judiciary, the media must also keep a safe distance from government and maintain its autonomy. Why do we need press freedom and press autonomy? Who will control whether the legislative power draws up laws and acts adhering to the objectives, the spirit and the constitutional provisions? It is the responsibility of justice and the press. The press can fulfill this responsibility if it remains free from government control. The press must act as the watchdog of democracy. He must denounce reprehensible acts and shortcomings in the functioning of the government. There must be no collusion between the press and the government just as there must be no collusion between the government and members of the judiciary.
But for the public interest, ministers and government officials should share necessary information with the press. The prime minister is the chief executive. He is responsible for all government decisions. Why is the government hyperactive on some issues and silent on others? What are the major changes in the country’s foreign and economic policies and internal affairs? The country’s prime minister is expected to occasionally address the press on such and other details. He should answer questions from the media and deal with their criticism. This is what is expected of a democracy. It’s the norm.
If a policy is built on solid foundations, it will not weaken when exposed to criticism, rather it will be strengthened. This is why the decentralization of power is a characteristic of democracy. That is why the judiciary and the press must stay away from the government. It is not a good sign for our democracy that our Prime Minister has not given a single press conference during his eight years in office. It’s no wonder we’re so low on the Freedom of the Press Index.