Finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday that people who criticize others “seven days a week”, can’t complain that their own freedom of speech was in danger, and asserted that if the Emergency was ever to be reimposed, it would collapse as technology does not permit press censorship any longer.
Jaitley said he had not been able to understand criticism by “those who criticize the maximum”. “Well, your speech can’t be in danger if you are criticizing seven days a week,” he said.
Speaking at the National Press Day celebrations, organized by the Press Council of India, Jaitley said the “biggest challenge for the media is to retain its credibility so that it continues to be an opinion maker” at a time when the perils of fake news and paid news were on the rise.
“If the Emergency [imposed by Indira Gandhi government in 1975] was ever to be reimposed — because it is fashionable to say it is another Emergency — it would collapse for the simple reason that one of the strengths of the Emergency was press censorship. And technology does not permit press censorship,” Jaitley said, pointing out that one can now access information through platforms that no government can control.
Jaitley’s comments appeared to be a response to sections of the Opposition and activists who contend that the freedom of the press is under threat in the country. The minister conferred the Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award to the chairman of the Hindu publishing group, N Ram, at the event.
Jaitley said in his speech that every political viewpoint is able to find space in some section of the media or the other. “With multiple media forums now available, nobody can seriously complain my speech is in danger. Neither the viewer or the reader, nor the one who wants to convey [information]. You have alternatives available,” he said.
He compared this with the past, recalling that former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru amended the law to restrict free speech if it adversely affected the country’s relations with a foreign country, saying it was brought in after a pact between Nehru and Pakistan prime minister Liaquat Ali pact led to a fierce political debate and Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee led a campaign against it.