As the government wants people to ‘learn to live’ with coronavirus, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar says in an interview with Ritwika Mitra that educating people to follow social distancing still remains a challenge.
How does the I&B Ministry plan to raise awareness among people to take precautionary measures amid COVID-19?
We have reviewed how far we have come in educating people. While people are aware of wearing masks and frequently washing hands, the problem lies in popularising the concept of social distancing…for people to maintain a distance of five to six feet and to not shake hands. This is a bigger challenge where there is crowd. Liquor shops drew a lot of people...We will raise awareness on practice of social distancing over the next few days. We have to improve in this area. We will find creative ways to raise awareness.
Will you consider raising awareness on Aarogya Setu application?
We will deliberate on this. We are also preparing testimonials on what people have got so far, and the ongoing relief measures in zillas. The testimonials are also being shared on Press Information Bureau’s website.
Do you think the fact-check unit of PIB has been successful in combating fake news during the pandemic?
I have always advocated for freedom of press. However, there should be responsible freedom… These days, unfortunately, sometimes in the absence of information, sometimes taking to sensationalism, and at times purposely, people are spreading misinformation on social media. I am happy that because of PIB’s fact check unit, people are getting correct information.You mentioned ‘responsible freedom’.
A report by Reporters Without Borders recently observed that India has slipped in the global press freedom index. Recently, three Kashmiri journalists were booked. Do you think these instances interfere with the freedom of press? How do you see the government’s role in it?
The biggest weapon of freedom is to tell the truth. This is not only freedom of press but also the public’s freedom to get information… information meaning the ‘right information’. We (the ministry) just point out that a particular news item was wrong and provide the right information. They (the fact-check unit) correct it and write back to us.
Do you think the media in India is enjoying absolute freedom at this point?
What do you have to say about India slipping in the press freedom index and Kashmiri journalists being booked?
Where there is democracy — the largest democracy, — there are 200 news channels and over 1 lakh journals are published, where else can there be a stronger freedom of press? Who are we comparing with? In India, secularism is enshrined in the Constitution and democracy has been alive for 70 years.
The media has repeatedly appealed to the Centre and other state-owned bodies to clear advertisement dues to the print and electronic media. Will the ministry of consider this on priority basis?
Yes. There was a change in technology...because PSUs and ministries gave advertisements, there was some time taken in reconciliation for one or two years. We have cleared some dues and will do the rest.
The first case of Covid-19 was reported on January 30. The lockdown was on March 24. Could the situation have been handled better?
We have controlled the situation better than the rest of the world.
This is the third phase of lockdown. What are the next steps ahead?
India locked down at the right time and implementation was good... Compared to others, fatalities have been less here…We have done progressive relaxations and economic activities have also started.