National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairperson Justice H.L. Dattu on Thursday highlighted the significance of media saying that it plays a key role in the protection of human rights.
"The media plays an enormously important role in the protection of human rights, most significantly by exposing human rights violations and offering the required space for different voices to be expressed and heard in public discourse," he said while inaugurating the Workshop on the 'Role of Media in Protection and Promotion of Human Rights' organized by NHRC in collaboration with NLSIU, Bangalore.
Stating that the role of media in protection of human rights cannot be ignored, he further said the media empowers the functioning of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, and has thus, rightly been called the 'fourth pillar' of democracy.
"Peace, non-violence, disarmament, maintenance and promotion of ecological balance and unpolluted environment and ensuring human rights for all irrespective of caste, colour and creed should be the minimum common agenda for the media," he added.
He further stressed upon the role played by the media especially print media in educating and informing citizens of their rights as well as the violation of such rights, particularly in geographically remote regions of the country.
"If one were to trace the history of the origin of newspapers in India, one would realise that many of them were launched not to serve merely as disseminators of information and news, but to challenge existing inequities and denial of rights. Hicky's Bengal Gazette, Amrita Bazar Patrika, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak's twin newspapers Kesari (in Marathi) and Mahratta (in English), come readily to mind, which acted as agents of mobilisation and change during India's struggle for political independence," Dattu said.
Dattu further recounted some of the newspapers that boldly exposed the truth of various events like - Emergency, Babri Masjid demolition, the Godhra carnage and the mass killings that followed, state repression and violence in Nandigram, conflicts in central India, Kokrajhar, Muzzafarnagar etc.
He said that both electronic and print media have played a vital role in protecting and promoting human rights in India by acting as the eyes and ears of our democracy and bringing to light the gaps in the effective realisation of civil and political rights and social and economic justice.
"It remains to the credit of the media that several issues related to human rights violations, when brought to light have been taken up by the Indian judiciary and landmark judgements have been delivered, thereby, upholding and expanding the meaning of human rights," he added.
Dubbing journalists and others associated with media as human rights defenders, Dattu said the former also played a pivotal role in addressing the real problems faced by persons at ground level.
"It has often been seen that journalists have come under attack from anti-social elements, sometimes in collusion with state and police authorities, who wish to prevent the truth of their misdemeanors to be disclosed in public. These attacks are condemnable for not only do they weaken the freedom of the media, but also significantly emasculate democratic processes. This issue needs to be taken up by all concerned governments so that the 'voice of the society' is protected in every sense," he added.
He further said that some sections of media fail to reflect some of the pressing challenges that confront marginalised sections, including Dalits, Adivasis, women, rural poor, urban poor, and only consider the human rights violations committed by the state and its various agencies against the urban elite and middle classes.
"In this regard, I would however, like to applaud the efforts of the vernacular press as well as 'alternative' media, including social media, which continue to highlight important human rights issues from the 'forgotten' regions of the countr," he added.
He further asserted that the media will have to steer clear of sensationalism and provocative journalism to become genuine protectors of human rights.
"Insensitive and irresponsible reporting in the name of the 'right to free expression', far from protecting human rights, only creates and perpetuates numerous stereotypes about persons, cultures, communities, and institutions and promotes an atmosphere of vengeance and mistrust," he added.
He further said that the Commission would continue to partner with the media in a constructive engagement to bring relief to those most in need.
"Media has immense power to protect human rights and to address the various challenges that confront their effective realisation. A noble intent and a constructive approach will unleash the inherent power of the written and spoken word in becoming agents of positive change and upholding human rights in the country," he said.