If Journalism falters, democracy falls: Justice B.N. Srikrishna

23 Dec 2022


(Full transcript of Justice Srikrishna’s address at the RedInk Awards 2022, at The Press  Club, Mumbai, on Sunday, 18 December 2022)

Justice B.N. Srikrishna / Courtesy: SAI University

"Long speeches are not necessary for me because I am neither a lawyer like my friend Maneshinde here; nor am I a politician, looking at the dress he has worn.

"The buzzword in the atmosphere today is Ram, am I right? So let me quote from the Ramayana. I don’t know how many of the Ram people have actually read the Ramayana.

"A piece of advice given by Vibhishana to his elder brother Ravana was to tell him to restore Sita to her husband, Ram to save Lanka from being destroyed. Instead, Vibhishana gets fired. Ravana says you are my brother. You are against me? Vibhishana replies: Sulabhah purusha rajan, satatam priyavadinah. apriyasya tu pathyasya, vakta shrota cha durlabhah.  

"What Vibhishana says is: Oh king, mighty king, people are always talking to you very pleasantly, very pleasingly; but you will not find a person who will speak the truth to you if it is bitter; nor will you find a person who is willing to listen to the bitter truth.

"That Ladies ang gentleman is a job of a journalist. To speak the truth to the powers that be.

"Incidentally that is also my job as a judge.

"Now two professions are required to be necessarily independent. Everybody else can afford to be not independent. A Judge and a journalist. If they falter, then the whole of democracy gets shaken up.

"The first is called the fourth estate. Which are the other three estates of the state? The Legislature, the parliament, and the judiciary. Imagine a situation when they cozy up to each other? Then what happens? Who is there to take care of the situation? It is the job of the journalist to speak the truth to them and say: hey you guys are wrong here. The job of (truth) the journalist is to put the facts as they are before the public. The journalist who loses his independence, is as bad as the judge who has lost his independence.

"Now there are various ways of making a journalist lose his independence. Gurbir talked about situations of threat. Threat by…. Raid by ED, CBI and you name whatever other the investigating agency. Incarceration for long periods of time with or without bail, constant surveillance by the police. These are some of the methods by which the independence of a journalist can be lost. Of course, there is the other subtle way, more subtle way of cutting off their revenues and making sure that the entire business itself collapses.

"But friends, these are as rightly pointed out by my friends during the debate the incidents as they came. Now picture the game. If you are a cricketer, you are not going to be bothered about the ball hitting you somewhere, but you are going to stand up to the fastest bowler and make sure that ball is hit right across the boundary for a sixer. That is what the journalist is required to do and that is what we saw some of the senior journalists who have done that and they have been honoured.

"To the youngsters, remember you are into a profession where honesty is really the best policy. Be honest to yourself. Be sure that your conscience tells you what you are doing is right. Now as a judge we always call it the judicial conscience; and I always say it is the journalist conscience which must tell him or her whether what that person is doing is right? Is it intended for the betterment of society, is it intended for the betterment of all fellow citizens? If this is the test, then you adopt it never mind what other threats come your way.

"Yes, I mean I am quite sure I have seen the emergency and what happened to the Indian Express, how the Indian Express was harassed time and again by cutting off the newsprint, by cutting off the power supply, terminating the lease of the building. These are all the methods adopted by the powers that be all over the world. There is nothing strange about India.

"I was told that we are still a free country. I also believe that it’s a free country. Yes, that there are signs which give us cause for concern. Gurbir gave a whole long list of them. I don’t want to go into the data. I assume that he has collected his data truly and represented it truly. If that be true then there is cause for worry. Cause for worry not only to the journalist, to every individual also. Is this really happening? Are the journalists being bumped off in this country? Some of them have been bumped off. Are the journalists being arrested for no reason. Maybe let off after five ten years in incarceration. 

"Are the journalists being subjected to this kind of open or veiled threat? if that is happening then the fourth estate is going to be completely denuded of its power to sustain democracy.

"And when that happens ladies and gentlemen, as we said when Caesar falls, you and I all fall together. So let’s hope that such a situation does not happen. That the youngsters of the day are able to manage with the situation, face the situation, face it bravely and come out on top.

"Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity of saying a few words.

"God Bless you all."

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