I am very happy to be here today with all of you at the centennial celebrations of ‘the Samaja’, the premier Odia Daily.
At the outset, let me extend my heartiest congratulations to the Samaja family on this momentous occasion.
Completion of 100 years is a significant milestone in the journey of an organization. It is a testimony to your commitment to journalistic excellence, your dedication to objective reporting and above all, the popularity you enjoy among the people of Odisha.
I am told that the Samaja took birth in 1919 as a weekly newspaper from Satyabadi in Puri district, with the vision of informing, educating and empowering the people of Odisha and facilitating the development of the state and the nation.
I am glad to note that the Samaja has remained the nerve centre of journalism, intellectual pursuit and social service in Odisha since its inception a century ago.
I believe that Samaja is also considered to be the gold standard for Odia language and is a true delight to the literati of the state, so much so that, the elders of Odisha encourage their children to read the Samaja to perfect Odia language.
I also applaud the Samaja for transcending its journalistic mandate and engaging in the service of the poor and the oppressed. I am happy to know that a major portion of its revenue is used for the welfare of people hit by calamities. It is indeed an example worth emulating.
The illustrious founder of the Samaja, Utkalamani Pandit Gopabandhu Das, was a great teacher, a renaissance poet, a prolific writer, a seasoned journalist, a selfless social worker, an erudite legislator, a frontline freedom fighter and of course, a great proponent of Gandhian ideologies and moral values .
He was also a dedicated educationist. He constantly spoke of the need for all citizens to fulfill their ‘Fundamental Duties’. I am glad to note that he was also a firm believer of the ancient India ideal of ‘Vasudheyva Kutumbakam’ and dedicated his life to the service of his countrymen.
I am also delighted to have released the book on Gopabandhu Das written by Dr. Subhash Chandra Mishra today. I hope that this book will take the life story of the great icon to the younger generation and serve as an inspiration.
I appreciate the Samaja for building a towering edifice of outstanding journalism on the strong foundation of morals, values and ethics, laid by its visionary founder.
My dear sisters and brothers,
The press in India has a long and illustrious history ever since the first newspaper, ‘Bengal Gazette’ was published by James Augustus Hickey in 1780.
The press played a pivotal role in inspiring people and in voicing their aspirations when the struggle to gain independence from the British began gathering momentum. It acted as a great unifier, bringing people from different backgrounds together to fight for the noble cause of freedom.
The press remained undaunted by the ironclad restrictions imposed by the British. The same resolute spirit continues to be the hallmark of the Indian media ever since independence, barring a temporary deviation during the dark times of the Emergency.
Today, India’s vibrant media landscape is dotted with thousands of journals and newspapers, hundreds of TV channels and scores of radio stations. Of course, you also have social media, which has become one of the main drivers of information in the Digital Age.
My dear sisters and brothers,
Democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people. It gives equal chance to all the citizens to participate and play a significant role in the political process and guarantees certain inalienable rights and freedoms to people.
A democratic system will succeed only if there is extensive participation of its citizens in governance process.
This participation will be a meaningful one only if citizens are well informed and educated. Access to information is essential for a democratic society because it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than act out of ignorance or misinformation.
Thus reliable sources of information form an important constituent of a democratic society. This is where the role and importance of media lies.
Media must inform, educate and enlighten people. It has a critical role to play in the formation of public opinion. It must empower citizens and help in ushering in greater transparency and accountability in the governance system. It must amplify the voice of citizens and communicate their opinions to lawmakers
Media also plays a crucial role in ensuring good governance in a democracy. Support of media may yield results in governance activities, particularly those related to decentralization, anti-corruption, and citizen participation in the policy process.
Free and fair elections conducted through transparent processes require a media sector which gives candidates equal access, and reports the relevant issues in a timely, objective manner.
Media must also expose loopholes in the democratic system, which ultimately helps government in filling the vacuums and gaps, making the system more accountable, responsive and citizen-friendly.
A democracy without media is akin to a vehicle without any wheels.
A free and fair media is not just a part of a healthy democracy but is an indispensable prerequisite. Media has been considered the fourth pillar of the democratic system– a pillar that supports, nurtures and nourishes the democracy and helps in course corrections as and when necessary.
Although freedom of the press has not been overtly recognized as a fundamental right in our Constitution – a perusal of the extensive debates of the Constituent Assembly makes it abundantly clear that there was wide ranging consensus about considering media freedom as an extension of fundamental freedom of expression.
After that, several decisions of the Supreme Court gave legitimacy to this recognition. Mahatma Gandhi once said that “freedom of the press is precious privilege that no country can forego”.
My dear sisters and brothers,
Media is a national resource that the journalists use in public trust.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that it is the duty of a journalist to realize the public opinion of the country and give it a vocal expression boldly.
In view of the tremendous responsibility it holds, media must remain honest and truthful and act with great restraint, responsibility, placing the welfare of the common man and the progress of the nation at the centre of all its activities.
Mahatma Gandhi also said that the objective of journalism should only be social service.
Journalism is a mission.
TRPs, circulation figures and bottom lines, though important, must not dictate your path. Media must shun tendency to sensationalize and must take care to stick to facts dispassionately and steadfastly and must diligently desist from mixing news and views.
It must get rid of established prejudices and give voice to the expectations of youth, women, farmers and entrepreneurs. Media must act as the moral compass and the conscience of the society and must aggressively campaign to end all social evils. You must become the voice of the voiceless and help the helpless.
Media must be a vehicle for change in status quo. It must highlight positive stories and best practices so that they inspire positive changes and can be replicated elsewhere.
Media must play a constructive role in solving the burning problems of our time– from poverty to disease to climate change. The world has already witnessed the stellar role played by Indian media in making the Swachh Bharat movement a success.
The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has announced on October 2nd, on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi that India was Open Defecation Free and a lot of credit for this achievement goes to the media.
It must now take up more such missions in national interest, such as ‘Fit India’ and turn them into people’s movements. Media must also lend a hand in protecting, preserving and promoting India’s rich cultural heritage and languages.
We live in an era of rapidly proliferating social media, a by-product of which is fake news. The pervasive menace of fake news now threatens to destroy the credibility of media.
Under such circumstances, you must be prepared to effectively tackle and disprove fake news by taking control of the narrative. You must devise creative solutions to contain fake news. You must tackle paid news with the same zeal too.
My dear sisters and brothers,
Even though we live in an era of electronic and digital media, print media continues to be important, especially in India. Estimates say that print media revenues grew by 5.6% in 2018. The outlook for growth in the years to come is also positive.
I hope that more and more vernacular newspapers would come up in India, promoting regional languages and spearheading the prosperity of rural areas.
Not only do regional newspapers reflect local aspirations, you are also much closer to the public. You can truly transform the rural landscape of India through your prudent, prompt and truthful reporting.
I urge you to take positive stories from the local community to a larger audience. At the community level you could give positive stories on water conservation, environmental protection, sustainable agriculture and innovation.
Your efforts will increase public confidence, community consciousness and will drive inclusive and sustainable development. I am confident that the Samaja is an asset to Odisha and it will attain even greater heights in the time to come.
Let me once again congratulate you on the occasion of your centennial celebrations. I wish you all the very best in your future endeavors.