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Jaitley says no censorship on media, but restraint in terror reporting on anvil

Delivering the first Justice JS Verma memorial lecture, he also said that advent of technology had made it difficult to impose censorship.

Indicating that there could soon be norms for media coverage of terror-related operations, Jaitley said that the issue is under “serious and very advanced consideration” of the government. “The manner in which anti-terror operations by security agencies was covered is one of the most important issues with regard to responsibility of media in contemporary times. The question is whether to allow the media to go right up to the spot or if there should be constraints,” he said.

He said that intelligence agencies had claimed that real time coverage of 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai had helped the terrorists garner information about the ongoing operations by the security agencies. “Our security agencies and the Ministry of Defence are clearly of the view that this cannot be allowed. And, therefore, during the limited duration when the security operation is on, a very strict discipline on the kind of reporting which is to take place from the place of the incident will have to be maintained,” he said, adding, “This issue is under serious and very advanced consideration of the government.”

Jaitley said, “The days of threats and bans are over. The challenges are from within. It is a challenge of quality. Media today has a responsibility to be credible, fair and be an educator on sensitive issues.” In this context, he also mentioned the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in France, saying what happened had to be “condemned by one and all.” The minister added, “A humour magazine is supposed to make fun of people. If they are going to be slaughtered, then free speech is going to be adversely affected.”

He also said that while traditionally it was thought that a newspaper or a channel could be banned, the fact was that the days of ban were long over as it was now hardly possible to “victimise” media outfits through denial of advertisements. On the possibility of censorship, Jaitley said technology has made it impossible. “Assuming that there was emergency imposed today under Article 352 of the Constitution, the impact of the censorship would be nil. The satellite itself defies geographical boundaries, the email does not allow it, the fax machine does not allow it,” he said.

On the issue of foreign investment in media, Jaitley said it was still being debated to what extent investments would be allowed. Currently the Government has allowed only 26 percent FDI in news and current affairs publications.
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