Justice Chandrachud: Need to ensure unbiased press, can’t rely on state to determine truth

New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Justice D Y Chandrachud on Saturday said as citizens we must strive to ensure a press free from any influence and which also provides information in an unbiased manner.

Justice Chandrachud was delivering a talk on the topic “Speaking Truth to Power: Citizens and the Law” as part of the 6th MC Chagla Memorial Online Lecture. He said to counter the spread of fake news, we need to strengthen our public institutions. “As citizens, we must strive to ensure we have a press free from influence of any kind, political and economic. We need a press that will provide us information in an unbiased manner,” said Justice Chandrachud.

He said we live in a post-truth world and elaborated on its definition, which has two meanings. “First, it has become exceedingly difficult for citizens to find the truth in this time and age. Second, having found the truth they do not care about the truth”, he said.

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He added “there is a contest between ‘our truth’ vs ‘your truth’, and there is also a tendency to ignore a ‘truth’, which is not aligned with one’s perception or political inclination. He said social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook should be held responsible for false content, but people should be more vigilant and learn to accept different opinions. “We incline towards echo chambers and don’t like opposing beliefs… we live in a world that is increasingly divided along social, economic and religious lines,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud added that it is undeniable that the phenomenon of fake news is on the rise and a pertinent example of this is that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently termed the current COVID-19 pandemic as “infodemic” and highlighted the overabundance of misinformation online.

He quoted philosopher Hanna Arendt, saying that totalitarian governments are associated with a “constant reliance on falsehoods in order to establish dominance”. He said truth is considered important in democracies, which have been described as spaces of reason. “Truth is also important to instil a public sense in a democracy that the officials in-charge are committed to finding the truth and acting in accordance with it,” he said, citing truth also plays an important role in creating shared public memory, on which the foundations of a nation can be built in future.

Speaking on the role of the state in determining the truth, he said it can’t be said that the state will not indulge in falsehood for political reasons even in democracies. “The role of the US in the Vietnam war did not see daylight until the Pentagon Papers were published. In the context of COVID, we see that there is an increasing trend of countries across the world trying to manipulate data. Hence, one cannot only rely on the state to determine the truth”, said Justice Chandrachud.

He called for a positive atmosphere in schools and colleges, which allows students to learn to differentiate truth from falsehood and question those in power. Justice Chandrachud urged people to be kinder and more sensitive to those around them.

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