Yet again coming out strongly against intolerance, President Pranab Mukherjee said people in power across the political spectrum now reach out directly to their audience which often becomes a one-way only communication from the powerful to the less-privileged, pushing the narrative in one direction….reports Asian Lite News
Delivering the Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture, Mukherjee said Indian civilisation has always celebrated plurality and promoted tolerance and the country must continue to “throw open the windows for fresh breezes” without being blown away.
Talking about technological advances made in the means of communication, the President said aggregation and algorithms, the multiplicity of choices, have meant that while access to news is unfettered and vast, it has become increasingly, personalized.
People now have the choice to read only what they want to and more importantly, only what they agree with.
“Inherent in this process of selective sourcing of news, is the danger of people turning a deaf ear to one another, and a refusal to listen to points of view that may differ from our own. This in turn diminishes the room for agreement and can increase intolerance,” the President said.
Mukherjee said discussion and dissension are crucial to public debate for decision-making in a vibrant, healthy democracy like India.
“There should always be room for the Argumentative Indian but not for the Intolerant Indian. That would be contrary to the spirit of the Constitution of India, to the very idea of India itself,” he said.
The President referred to the social, cultural, racial and linguistic diversity in India and said that is why there is need to be sensitive to dominant narratives of those who make the loudest noise, drowning out those who disagree.
“That’s why social media and broadcast news have seen angry, aggressive posturing by state and non-state players literally hounding out contrarian opinions.”
He said people in power, across the spectrum of politics, business or civil society, by virtue of the position they enjoy, tend to dominate the discussions and influence its direction.
“Due to technological advancement, they can now reach out directly to their audience, completely bypassing this crucial process of filtration and mediation. This often becomes a one-way only communication from the powerful to the less privileged, and an effort to push the narrative in one direction.”
He said Indian civilization has always celebrated plurality and promoted tolerance and these have been at the core of the country’s very existence, binding people together for centuries despite many differences.
“We must continue to `throw open the windows for fresh breezes’ as Mahatma Gandhi observed, without being blown away.
“Thus the need to ask questions of those in power is fundamental for the preservation of our nation and of a truly democratic society. This is a role that the media has traditionally played and must carry on playing,” he said.
The President said all stakeholders, from parties to business leaders, citizens to institutions, have to realise that asking questions is good, healthy and, in fact, is fundamental to the health of the country’s democracy.
Noting that media’s role of giving a voice to all has become more important in an atmosphere where there is too much noise and jostling for attention, Mukherjee said journalists and media organizations must also hold themselves to the standards they demand of others.
Mukherjee referred to the danger of ‘paid news’ and noted that abundance of media outlets has led to a highly competitive environment which often results in the survival of the shrillest voices rising above the others to be heard.
“Dumbing down the news to attract an audience is another consequence of the phenomenal growth of the media. Together, these compulsions have led to complex issues being reduced to binary opposites which, in turn, create a polarity of views and distort the facts.”
Mukherjee said media must resist the temptation to take the path of least resistance which is to allow a dominant viewpoint to prevail without questioning it.
“The question that faces all of us is whether we will choose to define ourselves as a nation enriched by the diversity of views or allow partisan views to dominate our national narrative?
“We ought to remember that democracy will be the loser when and if we cease to hear voices other than our own.”
He said the media must choose to reflect a plurality of opinions for that is what breathes life into democracy.
“It must always remember that its fundamental task is to stand up and ask questions with honesty and fairness. That’s the sacred compact it has with citizens in a democracy,” he said.
“Press will be failing in its duty if it does not pose questions to powers that be,” he said.