Describing a free press as the 'soul of democracy', top leaders including President Ramnath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday commended media persons for their work as frontline warriors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In their messages on the occasion of the National Press Day, the leaders also stressed that any attack on the freedom of press is detrimental to national interests and must be opposed by one and all.
While the president and the prime minister lauded the media for its contribution during the pandemic, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Union Ministers Amit Shah and Prakash Javadekar emphasised on the importance of freedom of press in the country and condemned any attack on it.
In his written message, which was read out during a webinar organised by the Press Council of India (PCI) to celebrate the National Press Day, the president said that media persons have been among frontline corona warriors who played a major role in education people and mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
Kovind said the theme of this year's National Press Day celebration, 'Role of Media during COVID-19 and its Impact on the Media', deals with the most serious crisis facing the world and the country.
"In dealing with the issues concerning COVID-19, media has played a very important role in educating people and thereby it has helped in mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
"Media persons have been among the frontline corona warriors. Through PCI, I convey my appreciation to such media persons," the president said while extending "greetings and felicitations to all those associated with the PCI" and wishing the National Press Day 2020 "every success".
The vice president, through a video message, said press in India has always been at the vanguard of protecting and strengthening the foundations of democracy.
He said that any attack on the freedom of the press is detrimental to national interests and should be opposed by one and all.
"Democracy cannot survive without a free and fearless press. Therefore, any attack on the freedom of the press is detrimental to national interests and should be opposed by one and all," Naidu said.
The prime minister also lauded the media for doing an exceptional service by spreading awareness against COVID-19 and said that it has acted as a valuable stakeholder in helping government in its initiatives. His message was read out by PCI Chairman C K Prasad during the webinar conducted to celebrate the occasion.
Modi said that at a time the world is up against an unprecedented crisis in the form of COVID-19, the nation's fight against the pandemic is powered by the restraint and resolve of its 130 crore citizens.
"In such a scenario, the media has been continuously doing exceptional service by spreading awareness against the COVID pandemic. In a post-COVID world, India is marching ahead with its resolve to build a strong and 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat'. Media is giving our resolve the shape of a big campaign and carrying forward the message of 'Vocal for Local'," he said.
The prime minister also said that from creating mass awareness about important issues to contributing to a behavioural change in society for the larger good, "we have seen how the media as a valued stakeholder has furthered the efforts of the government and helped many initiatives like Swachh Bharat and water conservation grow into mass movements in the last few years".
Expressing similar views, Union Home Minister Amit Shah greeted journalists and said that the government is committed towards the freedom of press.
"Modi government is committed towards the freedom of Press and strongly oppose those who throttle it. I applaud media's remarkable role during COVID-19," Shah tweeted.
Terming freedom of press as the soul of democracy, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said that with any freedom also comes responsibility.
In his video message, Javadekar said, "Freedom of press is the soul of democracy. Freedom of press is very important but any freedom comes with responsibility. So there has to be a responsible freedom and no sensationalism by the press. The news should not be to deliberately defame anyone. The way freedom of press is being attacked these days is not good."
Talking about the alleged Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation by some news channels, Javadekar said a committee formed by the ministry will soon submit its report on the issue.
"To check TRP manipulation and address the issue, we have formed a committee which will give its report very soon," he said.
Javadekar also touched upon the issue of absence of a regulatory body for TV channels and said a decision may be taken on bringing a code of conduct for them.
"The Press Council of India is a self-regulatory body which has representations from various media houses as well as Parliament. There have been discussions on giving more power to the PCI," he said. "But for TV channels there is no self-regulatory body like PCI. We are getting suggestions to make a code of conduct for all TV channels but we are yet to take a decision on it," the minister said, adding that the government doesn't want to interfere but the "press should present responsible journalism".