New Delhi: Actor Amitabh Bachchan, the chief guest at CNN-IBN’s Citizen Awards function on Monday, believes “one citizen’s duty is another’s right; another citizen’s right is the other’s duty.”
“To be a citizen journalist is to be the spirit, letter and action of a citizen in a democracy,” he said. Following is text of his speech:
With due respect to Mark Antony and the speech he made at the senate in Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, I implore: friends, Indians, countrymen and women; a good evening to all of you.
To merit the honour bestowed upon me here tonight, I come to praise.
To merit the honour bestowed upon others here tonight, I come to praise.
I praise the valour and intelligence of our Citizen Journalists of India; I praise the virtue of our professional news media, here epitomised by CNN-IBN, who have demonstrated the imaginative foresight to embrace change, to cultivate the nascent seed of citizen journalism so that it may flourish, bloom and bear its fruit of civic culture.
I praise the opportunity provided by this awards ceremony here tonight to so commend, honour, celebrate.
I praise all gathered here on this occasion, and the greater public beyond, who have put aside their individual busy cares to attend upon our collective.
And may we not, in such multitude of praise, dissimulate its generosity. May we forget our often resentful habit to deny ourselves the public acknowledgement of individual merit. May we restrain that familiar suspicion of temperament wherein one praised, one singled out above another, intuitively offends a debased equality of sameness. Conversely, may we not begin to differ in an instant who should deserve more or less; who has been excluded; who has been slighted; how we might jostle ourselves forward for better individual preference.
May we look beyond, for the most worthy praise is due to the merit of our very collective, our union in a civic culture, our vow of mutual cultivation that we pledge to each other in this greatest gathering of democracy on Earth.
It is through us all that our liberty, equality and fraternity are perpetually re-born.
For each iota of our body politic is one citizen. Each citizen is at once its heart, its head, its muscle, it’s stomach of courage.
To be a citizen is to possess the rights enshrined in our constitution, and equally, the obligation of duty. When one citizen upholds an individual right for another, they enact their duty to themselves. When one citizen fulfills their duty to others, that citizen upholds their own rights again. One citizen’s duty is another’s right; another citizen’s right is the other’s duty.
This is the essence of our collective necessity for vigilance. To be eternally vigilant, that is liberty’s strenuous price.
Here today as we celebrate the citizen journalist, so we enjoy the embodiment of such civic virtue.
These individuals amongst us possess the native intelligence to think for themselves, the will to inform themselves accordingly, a higher justice beyond immediate self-interest, the heroic valour to act, and a belief in the possibility of change.
Friends, Indians, countrymen and women, lend me your ears.
Let us not praise those we honour here tonight with mere words.
Let us praise better with more than a word: true praise is to be inspired to emulate them.
To be a citizen journalist is to be the spirit, letter and action of a citizen in a democracy. True citizenship is truly at once a ‘state of mind’ and a ‘way of life’. Let us not squander the heroism of those honoured here tonight. Let their example not merely shame us when we retract separate into divisive weakness, but fortify and quicken us all to our duty.
If we do love our country, if we are proud of our new strength, if we wish to strive for better for our children and future generations, and fulfill the destiny of our great civilisation, so we must all become citizen journalists. Each and every one of us.
We have now reached a threshold in our history where we may pause, reflect, and feel the exhilaration of great achievement, a mass participation in great achievement. Our country flourishes. We should feel good about ourselves. At last, we are strong, confident, vibrant of energy, with our own voice. We stand on the threshold of taking our place amongst the most mighty of players on the world stage and no longer shall we feel inferiority shrink our stature, but with strength and pride level our gaze to theirs.
This new-found strength, this brave new world of ours, is reflected in the global information revolution brought about by a deluge of technological invention. The consequent explosion of access to a dizzying array of media in our country is seismic in its historical moment.
But may we yet remember in the face of such technological marvel, that as human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world. Our true greatness lies in our ability to remake ourselves.
Through the information revolution, individual citizens are empowered; the news media become more inclusive of audiences. This increasing interaction enriches both parties.
Indeed, it is an unmitigated delight that the balance of power between the individual and the media corporation can be redressed.
After all, authority must be perpetually contested and negotiated if it is to remain uncorrupted, and for that matter, authoritative.
However, how far do we want to take this?
If one looks at the cost-benefit analysis of blogs versus newspapers, prospects for the professional news media look grim.
With the future withering of traditional news institutions, who could be trusted, who would be held accountable, to gather accurate information?
With infinite access to infinite information, how will we search out voices that will inform us amidst the cacophony?
With this same embarrassment of riches, how can we discriminate between one opinion and another?
If we don’t have the information, how are we to know how to be a good citizen? For instance, how could we tell in good conscience for whom we might want to vote?
If we don’t have the information, isn’t this a serious threat to our representative democracy?
Or have I spoken too late? Have we reached that future already? Is there anyone out there whom I trust enough to tell me?
That is the point. The point is the failure of trust.
The point is that there must be a point to having a profession.
The idea of having a profession is that one specialises in it, investing years of one’s life and copious energies pursuing its specific knowledge and discipline.
The reason for specialisation is because individually, separately, we all cannot do everything.
We need our professionals. We need our professional journalists.
Professional journalism is a moral calling and a moral good in a society.
For a democracy, the practice of professional journalism is not merely a good, but a crucial necessity.
For a democracy is only as good as its public: a well-educated and informed public will elect good government, obey just laws, create a strong economy and enjoy better health and happiness.
Thus, the central, most basic and critical role of the professional journalist and news corporation in a democracy is to inform. To educate.
It is to give us news. News is neither mere information, nor mere opinion. It is information with responsible and knowledgeable critical analysis.
This is their first duty.
Thus they have a duty to follow a professional code of ethics.
Thus they have a duty to provide the public with reliable and accurate information.
Thus they have a duty to double-source facts; to thoroughly investigate material for the possibility of error, bias, prejudice, slander and its various vicious mischiefs.
Thus they have a duty of responsible, reasoned, transparent judgement, not mere opinion.
They have a duty of a balanced negotiation of differing viewpoints, of offering their audience more than pauperised substitutions: infotainment; hyped-up dumbed down scooped out frivolous conjecture; cheap hackneyed language and the promotion of proud ignorance; saccharine emotionalism; hysterical rumour-mongering; cynical misrepresentation; blind partisanship; shallow punditry; gimmick posturing; obssessive self-referentiality; media personality; and the promotion of garbage celebrity.
The media corporation as a whole is equally duty-bound by an ethical code, a code intolerant to those amongst its ranks who engage in the cynical practice of profit masqueraded as news outfits.
Responsible journalism is accountable journalism; responsible news corporations are accountable corporations: they must be held accountable to the public. Like other professionals and their corporate bodies, if they transgress their own code of ethics, then their professional distinction is forfeit.
I believe in the professional journalists and professional news corporations of India. These standards of which I speak are no distant ideal, even when a certain minority of the profession no longer pay even the most casual lip-service to any ethical code whatsoever. For there are many out there, devoted and courageous, who do practice their profession faithfully, strenuously, courageously, imbued with its noble calling. These individuals deserve the greatest respect and honour amongst us.
But what of the public?
It is a misconception to think that the public, up until now, have been passive recipients of the Media. They have simply not had a voice to respond, or it has been too muted to hear.
It is time that the professional journalist, and the news corporation as a whole, re-examined its attitude towards the public. The public of our nation deserve to be treated as intelligent and enquiring agents, an experienced audience, who will not forever suffer us fools gladly.
They too deserve to be trusted.
But acknowledging the crucial significance of citizen journalism is at best a modest redress. It is just a beginning. It is not enough. After all, it could be argued that the rise of citizen journalism is precisely because of the public’s perception that its professional news media fail them. It could also be argued that some within the professional news media cynically acknowledge citizen journalism in order to undermine its power; disingenuously embrace citizen journalism in order to dissimulate its threat; lavish such praise and award upon citizen journalism as to kill it smilingly.
However remarkable a phenomenon the rise of citizen journalism is, it must not to be exploited to disguise the central problem that faces us.
That problem is the general failure of public trust in the mainstream Media. It is one of the greatest threats to our representative democracy.
If this trust further fails, then our professional news corporations will wither; the public will look elsewhere.
We will be faced, individually and separately, with the task of sifting through undifferentiated noise to search out reliable information.
No longer exposed to a multiplicity of viewpoints within one media entity, we will become narrow of mind, lazy of opinion, fearful of others.
Is that what we all want? Trust, by its very nature, is informal.
‘Liberté; Egalité; Fraternité’: this was the clarion call of the French Revolution, the birth of representative democracy in the modern world.
You can legislate liberty. You can legislate equality. But you cannot legislate fraternity. It is fraternity that bonds us with that informal tie of trust.
Fraternity. Comraderie. Fellowship. Brotherhood. Or, in preferable gender-neutral words, a collective sense of friendship.
Friendship exists between free and equal parties. Friendship commands the mutual respect for the other, a tolerance of and generosity towards difference, including that of opinion. It embodies balance and compromise. Its means: patience, and calm rational persuasion. That is fraternity. This is civilisation. It is strenuous and most deadly serious in nature. It deserves more weight in our civic culture, and in our culture as a whole.
So I urge fraternity and its compassions. I urge us all to reinvigorate our trust in each other. In the spirit of this evening’s awards, we must seize the moment.
Here we may pause, but may that pause be brief, for ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.’
Friends, Indians, countrymen and women, citizen journalists all, lend me your ears.
Citizenship, being a citizen of India, is not a mere political utility or rational foil. It is our true vow.
This vow is wherein our very liberty and equality resides.
This vow is our fraternity, our most basic trust, our friendship with one another.
This vow brings our hearts to oneness as a nation in hope.
This vow is our greatest future.
United in this vow, we will prosper and flourish.
But if we choose to betray our oath, divided and mistrustful, we will squander the vast wealth of human knowledge in our new technological age, sinking in its turbulent chaos. We will squander one of the greatest cultural legacies the world has ever known and fall to our individual and lonely miseries of poverty and ignorance.
Or we can harness it potential, to truly empower our body politic and remake ourselves anew.
As we stand on this threshold of change, we have a seeming infinity of channels before us. With this privilege of multiplicity of choice, with whatever individual preference we hold, May we choose hopefully. And may the institutions that provide this wealth of choice give us dignity, and honour the greatest gift of humanity, our spirit of intelligent enquiry.
Don’t switch off the TV controls, not just yet. Keep watching.
Friends, Indians, countrymen and women
Steel your own hearts to your vow.
Jai Hind; Jai Bharat.
With love from a cloud laden city, with the occasional drops of rain, only to signify that despite the fogged atmosphere and the tears of rain there can never be any weather condition that would deter me or my thoughts to come across to you through the bright morning sun in the new day.