India’s Minister of Law & Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said Thursday that for the Indian Government, freedom of media is integral to polity, duly recognized by the Constitution and reinforced by Judiciary in series of judgements.
Addressing the 15th Asia Media Summit in New Delhi, Prasad said that the media has full right to inform, circulate, criticize, advice, and counsel. He added that the rights of media under the Constitution are also subject to reasonable restrictions.
On misuse of data, the Minister said India will not allow the country to become a centre of data pilferage, and that data commerce through collusive methods cannot be used to influence its electoral process.
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Prasad said all the online companies which are in the business of data commerce must understand the nuances of accountability. He said that when the recent controversy surrounding data privacy surfaced, the Government took a very firm stand on these issues.
Prasad further said that accountability is integral to democracy and all institutions – the Government, the Judiciary, the Legislature, and the Media – have to adhere to this principle.
Referring to India becoming a very big centre of data analysis, he said that there is a need to have a proper coordination on data availability, data utility, data innovation, data anonymity, and data privacy.
He said that a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge is looking into these issues and soon the Government would enact a data protection law.
Dwelling upon the issue of ethical journalism, the Law Minister said that it must be fair, true, properly presented highlighting sights and counter sights and empowering the consumers of news in a decent and independent fashion.
The Minister wondered whether the media today, under the garb of sensationalism, paid news, fake news, too much of other insidious practices is addressing to this large issue. This is a matter of debate, the Minister added.
Supporting the principle of self-regulation by the media, Prasad said that the IT Act mandates that the content going through the intermediary is not dangerous, libelous and does not impinge upon the security and integrity of the country nor should it encroach upon the copyrights.
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On sanctity of privacy, the Minister noted that the Supreme Court had upheld privacy as part of the Fundamental Rights. But he added that the plea of privacy cannot become a shield for the corrupt and the terrorists.
The Minister elaborated that on the issues of terrorism, propagation of hatred and communalization and on the issue of promoting extremism, there has to be a global consensus that needs to be properly enforced.
Dwelling on the challenges of social media, Prasad said that the Government is committed to the freedom of press but there is a need to segregate the real from the dangerous.
He said many in the Government today had fought against the emergency where freedom was trampled upon. The Minister said that the Government respects social media as it empowers the common man but the language used sometimes in this medium is a cause of concern.
Prasad further said that the internet cannot become a tool of neo-imperialism. Referring to internet as one of the finest creations of human mind, he said that it cannot remain the monopoly of a few. He said that if internet has to be global, it must have linkages with local ideas and culture.
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