General Assembly Security Council

 Arria-formula meeting on Media freedom in Belarus

 

Statement by

Ambassador K. Nagaraj Naidu

Deputy Permanent Representative  

 

22  January 2021

Mr. President,

 

I thank the Hon’ble Deputy Foreign Minister of Estonia for giving me the floor. We have taken note of what has been said by the briefers.

 

We also take note that while today’s theme of the Arria formula meeting is not on the agenda of the Security Council or may affect international peace and security, the issue of media and journalistic freedom is extremely vital for functional democracies.

 

The effective functioning of media is intrinsically linked to the freedom of speech and expression. The media, as the Fourth Estate, has been playing a critical role across the globe in shaping public opinion, on a whole range of issues concerning our lives, thereby strengthening democracy. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who himself was a prolific journalist and editor, ‘The sole aim of journalism should be service’ and ‘Freedom of the press is a precious privilege that no country can forgo’.  As the world’s largest democracy, with the most diverse and vibrant media, India, therefore welcomes any discussion on protecting and promoting the freedom of the media.

 

Mr. President,

 

The role of the media in informing, critiquing and stimulating debate is indispensable. A free, independent, professional and responsible media is not only important for facilitating good governance and transparency, but also for its ability to strengthen social cohesion, empower citizenry and guarantee the protection of all other human rights.

 

The information revolution has both benefited and weakened media systems. While media outlets can today reach billions of new information consumers, the same technological transformation has left fewer channels with accurate and reliable information. Antidemocratic and other malign actors have been quick to perceive opportunities to spread disinformation and fuel polarization. Disinformation campaigns that crowd out credible information, alongside other manipulation techniques, have thus emerged as a significant threat to media freedom.

 

Today, the global economy of disinformation rests on the complex interaction between data sets, algorithms and information infrastructure built by technology companies. These algorithms govern not just what information is available to different populations, but also to whom, and with what frequency. As such, tech companies have the obligation to make sure that the platforms they have deployed are transparent and their users are not misinformed.

 

Mr. President

 

There is also a growing tendency of foreign interference in the internal affairs of other countries through use of disinformation campaigns to advance their ulterior political agendas. In June last year, India, along with 12 other like-minded countries co-sponsored the Cross-Regional Statement on “Infodemic” in the context of COVID-19, the first of its kind of a statement by UN Member States to counter the increase in hate speech and misinformation during the pandemic.

 

The right to express freely and without any fear is critical in open democracies like India, where the framers of our Constitution have maintained that curtailment of freedom of expression inevitably leads to restrictions on other fundamental human rights. Hence, Article 19 of India’s Constitution states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

 

Every year, November 16, is observed in India as the National Press Day. Speaking on the occasion, last year, Prime Minister Modi said, “be it positive criticism or highlighting success stories, the media has been continuously adding strength to India’s democratic ethos. 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.”

 

India is not just the world’s largest democracy, but our media universe is also the world’s largest with more than 17,500 newspapers and over 100,000 magazines in circulation, and over 400 exclusive television news channels and countless websites in dozens of languages.

 

World Press Freedom Day, celebrated every year on 3rd of May, serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Any illegal arrests, detention or torture or threat of reprisal of journalists, in the course of performing their duties, must be condemned.

 

Mr. President,

 

India has never been in support of initiatives that target or single out a specific member state. We strongly advocate the use of a cooperative, inclusive, transparent and peaceful dialogue process rather than finger pointing to discuss issues of friction. We need to bring a more cooperative framework of working methods on such issues in order to have effective results.

 

India and Belarus enjoy a comprehensive partnership and have established mechanisms for exchanging views on bilateral, regional, and multilateral issues. We underscore the need for constructive engagement by the international community with the Belarusian government. India stands ready to render all possible help in this regard.

 

I thank you, Mr President.