Free media is the soul of democracy

Media Coverage | 02-06-2023

Superficiality & sensationalism of media undermine seriousness of important issues

This write-up is based on Member of Parliament Dr Shashi Tharoor’s speech at an event organised in Delhi to release the book ‘Ringside- Up, Close and Personal on India and Beyond’ authored by the Chairman of Editorial Board of Lokmat Media Group and former member of Rajya Sabha Dr Vijay Darda.

Dr Vijay Darda, my friends on the dais and all the guests in the audience…

It is indeed an honour for me to have the opportunity to release the book ‘Ringside- Up, Close and Personal on India and Beyond’ authored by the Chairman of Editorial Board of Lokmat Media Group and former member of Rajya Sabha Dr Vijay Darda.

I am proud of Dr Darda not only as a friend but also as a person who through his contributions in various fields has left an indelible impression on society. I have stated in my preface for the book: “In the tumultuous world of Indian politics, it is rare indeed to find a voice that outlines the key issues in a manner that is succinct, in-depth, and unsullied by prejudice.” Many of us are aware of Dr Darda’s impressive performance as the leader of the fourth estate and contributions as an experienced parliamentarian on issues of national importance.

Everyone knows which party Dr Darda belongs to. Still, he manages to express his views independently and firmly, as Shekhar Gupta rightly said, and this has added to his credibility as well as that of his publications.

I must say that journalism in our country will be in good state only when people like Dr Darda, who are committed to the highest standards of journalism and fact-based news, lead the media groups.

The journey of Lokmat started in 1971 under the leadership of Dr Darda’s late father and founder editor of Lokmat Media Group Jawaharlal Darda, whom we paid tributes to at the outset. From there, Lokmat today has earned the reputation of being one of the largest regional newspapers in India. And in all this, Dr Vijay Darda’s leadership as the Chairman of Lokmat Media Group with a clear understanding of the situation has been significant. Lokmat is universally accepted as the beacon of truth and credibility. Dr Vijay Darda’s steadfast commitment has highlighted the importance of honesty, impartiality and efficiency in attaining new heights of quality towards responsible journalism in the media world. Unbiased reporting, accurate and ethical journalism have empowered citizens with the information they need to make decisions. Dr Darda has played an important role in bringing about discussions on public issues through Lokmat. While fostering a culture of transparency, he has also held accountable those in power, even if they were from his own party. He has solidified his position as a trusted voice in our national media, earning the respect and admiration of many in his relentless pursuit of truth. Many of us may not know, but Dr Darda has also expanded his group into electronic media through News18-Lokmat. Besides strengthening our democracy, this news channel has become a platform for diverse perspectives, meaningful discussions and exchange of ideas. Through his efforts in the media world, Dr Darda has set an example of the power of information, accountability in journalism and the decisive role of media in shaping society.

What Shekhar Gupta has said is right. Vernacular is really a pejorative term that belittles the significance of regional media in the country. We assume that the English media sets the agenda. But there is no doubt that a large number of readers and voters are influenced by what is projected in the regional media. So when Shekhar Gupta said that the word vernacular should be banned, I tried to find an alternative word for it on Google. But the touchscreen of my mobile betrayed me. But there are alternative words for vernacular on Google like indecent, ordinary and general. I must say that it reflects a mindset that many of us would vehemently reject regarding the sanctity of languages that are close to the hearts, minds and souls of our people. Another impressive aspect of Dr Vijay Darda’s multifaceted personality is captured very successfully by the book ‘Ringside’. One of India’s most clairvoyant commentators, Dr Darda can be described as an owner, publisher and a leading figure in the media world. He is a commentator on some important developments too. ‘Ringside’ is a comprehensive collection of articles commenting on the most important events that have taken place in recent times. It contains informative and prophetic writings drawn from various sources. It also contains studied arguments over the challenges of our neighbour Pakistan, the need for security of personal digital privacy of citizens, the argument for the upliftment and protection of the weaker sections of our society while setting India’s developmental priorities. It also includes personal essays like a tribute to the late former President Pranab Mukherjee and the rise of a young leader like Kanhaiya Kumar who is trying to give a new meaning to ‘Azadi’. These articles provide an absorbing and engaging experience to the readers. The book paints a very readable and informative picture of the unique challenges and opportunities facing contemporary India. It was informed that the original articles in this book were published in Hindi and Marathi. The English translation of these articles is very beautiful too and I would say that everyone should read it. I too, was the subject of one of Dr Darda’s articles in this book. The title of that article is ‘Three cheers for Shashi’. Dr Darda has written the article very generously on my speech at Oxford Union on what the British owed India and erstwhile colonies. He has reviewed the key arguments of my speech very effectively. I am overwhelmed by his touching words. Dr Darda’s knack for conveying anything that catches the attention of his readers is truly commendable. Turning to the serious points of this book, Dr Darda who is a towering figure in the Indian media and at the same time a representative of the people committed to an inclusive and democratic India, has rare qualities that qualify him for a nuanced approach.

His article commenting on the relationship between the media and the political class in India is truly remarkable. In this article, Dr Darda examines the cordial, but not professional, relationship that regularly breaks down between the two. Dr Darda says the patience and capacity of politicians to tolerate criticism are gradually declining.

While advising that leaders with a mass base should try not to take criticism from the media personally, Dr Darda divides Indian politicians into three categories. The first category is that of circuit politicians. They are permanently positioned in the Circuit House. They have garlands in their hands. They greet any arriving leader with garlands and make any arrangements to make the leaders’ stay comfortable. Eventually, they become politicians themselves. Another category is that of ‘supplements’. Party workers in this category put advertisement supplements in newspapers to celebrate their leaders’ birthdays and anniversaries and get pictures of themselves with their leaders published. Thus, they become leaders too. The third category comprises leaders who truly have a mass base and leadership qualities. How we can expect polite and mature behaviour from individuals who have become leaders by taking the Circuit  House and supplement routes, asks Dr Darda.

In India, the fourth pillar serves as a witness, public prosecutor, judge and executioner all at the same time. People and political leaders were tested by fire in ancient times. Today, it has been replaced by the media trial. In reality, it exacerbates the climate for both politics and the media in a variety of ways. Many people believe that independent media is essential to democracy. Because true high-quality media informs citizens in order for them to make informed decisions about who should be elected and hold those in power accountable. The role of the media is to review the performance or inaction of the elected government instead of taking the safe route of criticising the opposition. Superficiality and sensationalism of the media undermine the seriousness of important issues.

For an honest and efficient government, a free and professional media is important. Dr Vijay Darda possesses numerous traits. His tireless use of his national office for the welfare of the people of Maharashtra and Vidarbha, commitment to social justice and inclusiveness, philanthropic initiatives, and work for health, education and livelihood opportunities have all made a difference in people’s lives, including lifting many of them out of poverty.

Dr Darda has organised numerous programmes to promote communal harmony in various groups. Unfortunately, more such programmes are needed in our broken society. Dr Darda is deeply committed to India’s success. The values of social justice, economic empowerment, pluralism and inclusiveness are at the heart of India’s prosperity. Our country’s success requires a strong democracy, as well as collaboration from the media and political class. I would like to wish Dr Vijay Darda the best of luck with the publication of his book and its translation into many languages, and congratulate him on his countless accomplishments. Jai Hind!

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