Regulation of media in India – A brief overview

PRS LEGISLATIVE

Media in India is mostly self-regulated.  The existing bodies for regulation of media such as the Press Council of India which is a statutory body and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory organization, issue standards which are more in the nature of guidelines.  Recently, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, former Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. M. Katju, has argued that television and radio need to be brought within the scope of the Press Council of India or a similar regulatory body.  We discuss the present model of regulation of different forms of media.

1. What is the Press Council of India (PCI)?

The PCI was established under the PCI Act of 1978 for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.

2. What is the composition of the PCI and who appoints the members?

The PCI consists of a chairman and 28 other members.  The Chairman is selected by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a member elected by the PCI. The members consist of members of the three Lok Sabha members, two members of the Rajya Sabha , six editors of newspapers, seven working journalists other than editors of newspapers,  six persons in the business of managing newspapers, one person who is engaged in the business of managing news agencies, and three persons with special knowledge of public life.

3. What are its functions?

The functions of the PCI include among others (i) helping newspapers maintain their independence; (ii) build a code of conduct for journalists and news agencies; (iii) help maintain “high standards of public taste” and foster responsibility among citizens; and (iv) review developments likely to restrict flow of news.

4. What are its powers?

The PCI has the power to receive complaints of violation of the journalistic ethics, or professional misconduct by an editor or journalist.  The PCI is responsible for enquiring in to complaints received.  It may summon witnesses and take evidence under oath, demand copies of public records to be submitted, even issue warnings and admonish the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.  It can even require any newspaper to publish details of the inquiry.  Decisions of the PCI are final and cannot be appealed before a court of law.

5. What are the limitations on the powers of the PCI?

The powers of the PCI are restricted in two ways. (1) The PCI has limited powers of enforcing the guidelines issued.  It cannot penalize newspapers, news agencies, editors and journalists for violation of the guidelines.  (2) The PCI only overviews the functioning of press media.  That is, it can enforce standards upon newspapers, journals, magazines and other forms of print media.  It does not have the power to review the functioning of the electronic media like radio, television and internet media.

6. Are there other bodies that review television or radio?

For screening films including short films, documentaries, television shows and advertisements in theaters or broadcasting via television the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sanction is required.  The role of the CBFC is limited to controlling content of movies and television shows, etc.  Unlike the PCI, it does not have the power to issue guidelines in relation to standards of news and journalistic conduct. Program and Advertisement Codes for regulating content broadcast on the television, are issued under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.  The District magistrate can seize the equipment of the cable operator in case he broadcasts programs that violate these Codes. Certain standards have been prescribed for content accessible over the internet under the IT Rules 2011.  However, a regulatory body such as the PCI or the CBFC does not exist.  Complaints are addressed to the internet service provider or the host. Radio Channels have to follow the same Programme and Advertisement Code as followed by All India Radio.  Private television and radio channels have to conform to conditions which are part of license agreements.  These include standards for broadcast of content.  Non-compliance may lead to suspension or revocation of license.

7. Is there a process of self regulation by television channels?

Today news channels are governed by mechanisms of self-regulation.  One such mechanism has been created by the News Broadcasters Association.  The NBA has devised a Code of Ethics to regulate television content.  The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), of the NBA, is empowered to warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval and fine the broadcaster a sum upto Rs. 1 lakh for violation of the Code.  Another such organization is the Broadcast Editors’ Association. The Advertising Standards Council of India has also drawn up guidelines on content of advertisements.  These groups govern through agreements and do not have any statutory powers.

8. Is the government proposing to create a regulatory agency for television broadcasters?

In 2006 the government had prepared a Draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2006.  The Bill made it mandatory to seek license for broadcasting any television or radio channel or program.  It also provides standards for regulation of content.  It is the duty of the body to ensure compliance with guidelines issued under the Bill.

http://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/2011/11/16/regulation-of-media-in-india-a-brief-overview/

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Media Ethics Debate – Justice Markandey Katju clarifies

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, has issued the following clarification on his critical observations of the Indian media.

I have expressed my views relating to the media in several T.V. interviews I gave as well as in my articles in some newspapers.

However, many people, including many media people, wanted clarification and amplification of some of the issues I had raised. Many media people (including several T.V. channels) wanted interviews with me but I told them that I will not give interviews for some time, since it does not create a good impression if one keeps giving interviews frequently. However, since some controversy appears to have been raised about what I said a clarification is in order.

Today India is passing through a transitional period in our history, the transition being from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonizing period in history. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart, but the new modern industrial society has not been fully and firmly established. Old values are crumbling, but new modern values have not yet been put in place. Everything is in flux, in turmoil. What was regarded good yesterday, is regarded bad today, and what was regarded bad is regarded good. As Shakespeare said in Macbeth “Fair is foul and foul is fair”.

If one studies the history of Europe from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, when the transition from feudalism to modern society was taking place, one will know that this transitional period was full of turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, chaos, social churning, and intellectual ferment. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through that fire. We are going through a very painful period in our country’s history, which, I guess, will last another 15 to 20 years. I wish this transition would take place painlessly and immediately but unfortunately that is not how history functions.

In this transition period the role of ideas, and therefore of the media, becomes extremely important. At a particular historical juncture, ideas become a material force. For instance, the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, and of religious freedom (secularism) became powerful material forces during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and particularly during the American and French Revolutions. In the age of transition in Europe, the media (which was only the print media at that time) played a great, historical role in the transformation of feudal Europe to modern Europe.

Historically, the print medium arose as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time, the established organs of power were all in the hands of the feudal, despotic authorities (kings, aristocrats, etc.). Hence the people had to create new organs which could represent their interests. That is why the print medium became known as the Fourth Estate. In Europe and America it represented the voice of the future, as a contrast to the established feudal organs which wanted to preserve status quo.

Great writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, ‘Junius’ (whose real name we yet do not know) played an outstanding role in this connection (see Will Durant’s ‘The Age of Voltaire’ and ‘Rousseau and Revolution’). The Encyclopaedists like Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius, Holbach etc. created the Age of Reason, which paved the way for a modern Europe. Diderot wrote that “Men will be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. Voltaire, in his satirical novels ‘Candide’ and ‘Zadig’ lashed out at religious bigotry, superstitions, and irrationalism. Rousseau in his ‘Social Contract’ attacked feudal despotism by propounding the theory of the ‘general will’ (which broadly stands for popular sovereignty). Thomas Paine wrote about the Right of Man, and Junius attacked the corruption of the Ministers of the despotic George III. Dickens criticized the terrible social conditions in 19th Century England. These, and many others, were responsible for creating modern Europe.

In my opinion the Indian media too should play a progressive role similar to the one played by the European media. This it can do by attacking backward and feudal ideas and practices like casteism, communalism, superstitions, oppression of women, etc. and propagating modern rational and scientific ideas, secularism, and tolerance.

At one time a section of our media played a great role in our country. Raja Ram Mohan Roy courageously attacked backward customs like sati, child marriage, purda, etc in his newspapers ‘Miratul Akbhar’ and ‘Sambad Kaumudi’. Nikhil Chakravarty wrote about the horrors of the Bengal Famine of 1943. Munshi Premchand and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya wrote against feudal practices and oppression of women. Saadat Hasan Manto wrote about the horrors of Partition.

When I criticized the Indian media, and particularly the electronic media for not playing such a progressive and socially responsible role, I was furiously attacked by a section of the media for my views. Some even launched a personal attack on me saying that I was an agent of the government.

I could have retaliated back in the same tone by saying that most media persons are agents of the corporates who have hired them, but I refrained from doing so as I did not want to stoop down to their level. When serious issues are raised about the functioning of the media it was expected that those issues would be addressed seriously instead of launching personal attacks on me, or simply dismissing me as ‘irresponsible’ (as one Exalted Person has done).

By criticizing the media I wanted to persuade the media to change its manner of functioning and not that I wanted to destroy it. The Indian media has a historical role to play in the age of transition, and I wanted to remind the media persons of their historical duty to the nation. Instead of taking my criticism in the correct spirit, a veritable diatribe was launched against me by a section of the media, which painted me as some kind of dictatorial monster.

The great Hindi poet Rahim has written:

“Nindak nearey raakhiye

Aangan kuti Chawaye”

The media should regard me as their well wisher. I criticized them because I wanted media persons to give up many of their defects (some of which I had mentioned in my T.V. interviews and articles) and follow the path of honour which the European media was following, and which will give them the respect of the Indian people.

I mentioned that 80% of our countrymen are living in horrible poverty, there is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, lack of medical care, education etc. and barbaric social practices like honour killing, dowry death, caste oppression, religious bigotry, etc. Instead of seriously addressing these issues 90% of the coverage of our media goes to entertainment, e.g., lives of film stars, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, cricket etc, or showing superstitions like astrology.

No doubt the media should provide some entertainment also to the people, but if 90% of its coverage is devoted to entertainment, and only 10% to all the socio-economic issues put together, then the sense of priorities of the media has gone haywire. The real issues before the people are the socio-economic issues, and the media is seeking to divert their attention to the non issues like film stars, fashion parades, disco, pop, cricket etc. Does a hungry or unemployed man require entertainment, or food and a job? It is because of this lack of a sense of priorities and for showing superstitions, that I criticized the media.

One should not be afraid of criticism, nor should one resent it. People can criticize me as much as they like, I will not resent it, and maybe I will benefit from it. But similarly the media too should not mind if I criticize them. My aim in doing so is to make them better media people. While criticizing, however, fairness requires that one should report the words of one’s opponent accurately, without twisting or distorting them. That was the method used by our philosophers. They would first state the views of their opponent, in what was called as the ‘purvapaksha’. This was done with such accuracy and intellectual honesty that if the opponent were present he could not have stated his views better. Thereafter it was sought to be refuted. In this connection one may read Madhavacharya’s ‘Sarva Darshan Sangrah’ (Madhavacharya was the founder of the Dvait school of Vedanta). The views of the Charvaks (Materialist thinkers), the Buddhists, Jains, etc are stated in the ‘purvapaksha’ with such accuracy that if they were present they could not have put them better.

Unfortunately, this practice is often not followed by our media, and my words were distorted by many, and then I was furiously attacked. To give only two examples: (1) In my interview to Mr. Karan Thapar, I stated that in my opinion the majority of media people are of a poor intellectual level. This statement of mine was twisted and distorted by several persons on T.V. channels who quoted me as saying that all media persons are ‘uneducated’ and ‘illiterate’. I telephoned the lady journalist who anchored one of such T.V. panel discussions and asked her why she had distorted my words. She had begun the panel discussion by saying “Katju called journalists uneducated”. She said she only interpreted what I said. I told her that first she should have quoted my exact words, and then only should she have interpreted them. I would like to clarify this further.

Firstly, I did not make a statement about all media people but only of the majority. There are many media people for whom I have great respect. I had mentioned the name of Mr. P. Sainath, whose name should be written in letters of gold in the history of India journalism (for highlighting farmer’s suicides and other farmers issues). I can name several others. Mr. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Mr. Shreenivas Reddy did a commendable job in exposing in detail the scandal of paid news. I also have high respect for Mr. Vinod Mehta, Mr. Vinod Sharma, Mr. N. Ram and many others.

I may also mention that before my interview with Mr. Karan Thanpar I sat for about 10 minutes in his office having a cup of coffee with him. At that time I mentioned the name of Emile Zola to him, and he immediately said ‘J’ Accuse’. That one word made him go up high in my esteem. I earlier did not have a very high opinion of him, but that single word completely changed my opinion, and I realized I was in the presence of a highly educated man.

So I wish to clarify have that I did not paint the entire media with the same brush, but my words were totally distorted. Secondly, I did not say that this majority was uneducated or illiterate. This again was a deliberate distortion of what I said. I never used the word ‘uneducated’. I said that the majority is of a poor intellectual level. A person may have passed B.A. or M.A. but yet may be of a poor intellectual level.

Thirdly, even if one did not agree with my view, he could have coolly and patiently disagreed in a civil tone and expressed his own views instead of shouting and raving on the TV screen and giving an ugly display of temper. And this by a person who belongs to a profession a large section of which is accused of the scandal of paid news, Radia tapes, etc. Really, the Lady doth protest too much! (Shakespeare: Hamlet).

(2) I have again and again said in my articles, speeches and TV interviews that I am not in favour of harsh measures against the media. In a democracy, issues are ordinarily resolved by discussion, persuasion, consultation, and dialogue, and that is the method I prefer, rather than using harsh measures. If a channel/newspaper has done something wrong I would prefer to call the persons responsible ad patiently explain to them that what they have done is not proper. I am sure that in 90% or more cases that would be sufficient. I strongly believe that 90% of people who are doing wrong things can be reformed and made good people.

It is only in extreme cases, which would only be about 5 to 10%, that harsh measures would be required, and that too after repeated use of the democratic method has failed and the person proves incorrigible.

This statement of mine was again distorted and a false impression created that I wanted to impose emergency in the country, cartoons were published in some newspapers showing me as some kind of dictator, etc., etc.

The truth is that I have always been a strong votary for liberty, and the proof of this is my judgments in the Supreme Court and the High Court in which I have consistently held that judges are guardians of the liberties of the citizens, and they will be failing in their duties if they do not uphold these liberties. However, liberty does not mean license to do anything one wishes. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest, and are coupled with responsibilities.

We may now discuss the question of self regulation.

Self regulation by electronic media

At present, there is no regulatory authority to cover the electronic media. The Press Council of India governs only the print media, and even in cases of violation of journalistic ethics by the latter the only punishment which can be given is admonition or censure.

I have written to the Prime Minister requesting him to initiate legislation to amend the Press Council Act by (1) bringing electronic media also under the ambit of the Press Council, and (2) giving more teeth to the Press Council.

The electronic media has strongly opposed bringing it under the Press Council. Their claim is of self regulation. But even Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts do not have such an absolute right. They can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. Lawyers are under the Bar Council, who can suspend or cancel their license for professional misconduct. Doctors come under the Medical Council who can suspend/cancel their license. Auditors are in the same position. Why then is the electronic media shy of coming under any regulatory authority? Why these double standards? If they do not wish to come under the Press Council (because the present Chairman is a wicked and/or undesirable person) then the N.B.A., and B.E.A. should indicate under which regulatory authority they wish to come. Are they willing to come under the proposed Lokpal? I have repeatedly raised this question in several newspapers, but my question has always been met either by stony silence on the part of the N.B.A., and B.E.A. or dismissing the very question as ‘irresponsible’.

T.V. news and shows have a large influence on a wide section of our public. Hence in my opinion T.V. channels must also be made accountable to the public.

If the electronic media insists on self regulation, then by the same logic politicians, bureaucrats, etc., must also be granted the right of self regulation, instead of being placed under the Lokpal. Or does the electronic media regard itself so holy, so ‘doodh ka dhula’ that nobody should regulate it except itself. In that case, what is paid news, Radia tapes, etc? Is that the work of saints?

In fact there is no such thing as self regulation, which is an oxymoron. Everybody is accountable to the people in a democracy, and so is the media.

JUSTICE KATJU- MEDIA ETHICS DEBATE ‘Every particle is in a condition of half night’

topographic map of India

Image via Wikipedia

Nirupama Subramanian in The Hindu

Justice Katju’s criticism has triggered a welcome debate and introspection in the media but it is also expected of the Press Council chairman to take a more nuanced view of the complex terrain before him.

A Pakistani columnist once asked me: “What is it with you all? You claim to have a free media and yet, when I was in Delhi last year, it took me less than 15 minutes to run through some six or seven papers. They’re full of trivia. There’s nothing to read in them, not even on the front pages.” His words came back to me after Justice Markandey Katju‘s outburst against Indian journalism. It is not just the two of them either.Some months ago, a well-known Delhi-based Bharatanatyam dancer told me how “sad” she felt about the Indian media scene. She was an aggrieved party: “I cannot understand this,” she said, “no paper will review my performances. They have all done away with their review pages. Yet journalists call me all the time to find out what my favourite restaurant is, or what my favourite food is. There is an excessive focus on me, and none on my work.”

Let’s face it: plenty of journalists too would agree that both Indian electronic and print media are obsessed with celebrity and trivia and are given to sensationalism. In fact, journalists have long been concerned — much before the Press Council chairman voiced his criticism — about the amount of journalistic energies and space/time devoted to the coverage of fluff, and the shallow treatment meted out to what Justice Katju described as the “real” issues.

The impulse to dumb down is only increasing under the pressure of 24×7 news cycles, and as the competition to snare young readers and viewers grows. On television, all news is spectacle, and even the irrelevant gains importance as ‘breaking news.’ I remember switching on the television in my hotel room in Jaisalmer some years ago, to be greeted by this important Breaking News: “Jail mey karva chauth” — a report about women prisoners celebrating this north Indian festival of wifely piety.

Journalists get constantly told by those who claim to know better to ‘lighten up,’ that Indian readers are getting younger, they have short attention spans, and they do not want to read gloom and doom stories about India not shining; if these stories have to be covered, they must be delivered to these attention-deficit readers/viewers in bite-sized pieces; coverage must be about personalities, even if about politicians; the coverage must cater to young, aspirational India’s race for upwardly mobile lifestyles rather than the multiple crises in the country, even if these crises will ultimately work towards thwarting those very aspirations.

So bring in the beautiful people, go easy on farmers’ suicides and rural employment generation. In this model, science journalism cannot get more cerebral than whether mobile phones give you cancer; international news would ideally feature breaking up — or breaking down — teenage pop stars, film stars, and supermodels, and the Jasmine Revolution would fare better as a new line of perfume, and Arab Spring a brand of sparkling mineral water that Angelina Jolie drinks on her UNHCR trips.

“This is what young people want today” is the market mantra. If that is correct, and we do not know that, the question is, as media — presuming that media are a substantially different entity from a fizzy drink — do we lead our ‘consumers,’ or should we allow ourselves to be led by what sections of these consumers consider ‘boring’ or ‘interesting’? Steve Jobs, whose market strategies are much admired by the pundits, is said to have nursed a healthy disrespect for market research, saying “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

Dumbing down aside, in the past couple of years, the gory stories of media corruption, paid news, and the Radia tapes controversy have all taken the sheen off Indian journalism.

Yet I find myself disagreeing with Justice Katju’s broad swipe. It is easy to tar the entire media with one broad brush of criticism. But not all journalists are the same, just as not all judges are the same. There are many journalists who are doing exactly what Justice Katju thinks journalists should be doing, and they are not necessarily all high-profile. It also needs to be said that the media have made a lot more positive contribution than they are given credit for. Much of the corruption that has come to light over the last one year, all the scams that are currently churning the Indian polity, would have gone unnoticed had it not been for exposés by news organisations. Just in the last year, the government has had to sack Cabinet Ministers and Chief Ministers in response to the great 2G heist, the CWG and the Adarsh scams, all of which were unearthed by the media.

We are living through a complex period of economic, social and demographic change. Even Justice Katju, in an article inThe Hinduon the media that was a forerunner to his interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN‘s Devil’s Advocate programme, quoted his favourite Firaq Gorkahpuri couplet to make this point:Har zarre par ek qaifiyat-e-neemshabi hai, Ai saaqi-e- dauraan yeh gunahon ki ghadi hai. Translating this literally as “every particle is in a condition of half-night; it’s a time of sin,” Justice Katju spoke of the pains of living through an era of transition.

It is a nice thought that the media must separate themselves from the flux in which they exist, but the truth is that the media, and the people who work in them, are also a reflection — a snapshot — of society at any particular time. My Pakistani columnist friend who complained about the lightness of Indian newspapers is used to the steady high-fibre fare of strategic and political analyses offered up in the Pakistani papers. But that is a reflection of Pakistan’s country situation.

India’s situation is a bit more mixed than that. For that reason, any newspaper or television channel has the challenging job of accommodating a wide variety of interests, and there is no point being in denial about this. At one end is the need to cater to a mass of people who seem to be on an endless buying spree, from cars to clothes and everything in between; at the other, the need to remind them that there are people who cannot buy even one square meal a day. The challenge for media organisations is to get the mix right, without compromising on the essentials of journalism. The world’s best newspapers (not necessarily the ones with the largest circulation) are the ones that have mastered this mix.

For instance, the visit of the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, excited much criticism that the coverage focussed more on her looks, clothes, Birken bag, and her glasses than on the substance of her discussions with her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna. From a reporter’s perspective, when a Minister of a country with a worse Human Development Index than yours lands at your airport with a $10,000 handbag, pricey shades, and “classy pearls,” it is bound to attract media comment. This is not trivialising news. It is news. The criticism that the coverage of her film star looks was excessive and breathless may not be misplaced. But there is nothing startlingly wrong if a newspaper’s fashion reporter dissects the pearls, and a foreign affairs reporter covers the substance of the visit, as most mainline newspapers did.

Yes, it is true that journalists could be better informed about the subjects they cover, and could be possessed of more general knowledge. But that is more a commentary on our education system than on journalism itself. Some of the best journalists may not know their Shakespeare or Emile Zola, but that has not been known to affect the quality of their work.

It must also be said in defence of my tribe that journalism is far more open to criticism than some other professions. Who can criticise the judiciary this way and get away with it? Partly, this is in the nature of the work we do — the ‘product’ of our labour and its authors are out there in the public realm, for everyone to evaluate. There is no hiding.

Journalism may lack a capacity for introspection, though that too is not entirely true. But there is absolutely no doubt that outside regulation, such as by using government advertisements as a weapon against media organisations as Justice Katju suggests, is dangerous. It is already used by the government to silence media criticism, and it is hardly a solution that one would expect someone of Justice Katju’s calibre to come up with. To the extent his comments have triggered debate and introspection in the media and jolted us out of smug back-slapping complacency, he has made a positive contribution. But it is also expected of the chairman of the Press Council to separate himself from Everyman, and take a more nuanced view of the complex terrain before him.

SOURCE:  http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2630733.ece

JUSTICE KATJU- MEDIA ETHICS DEBATE ‘I am a votary of liberty; my criticism of the media is aimed at making them better’

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

OPED ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU – JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

‘There is no such thing as self-regulation, every institution is accountable to the people.’ We publish here an edited excerpt from a clarification issued by Press Council chairman Markandey Katju. The full text of his clarification can be read at http://www.thehindu.com. ‘No doubt, the media should provide some entertainment also to the people. But if 90 per cent of their coverage is devoted to entertainment, and only 10 per cent to all the socio-economic issues put together, then the sense of priorities of the media has gone haywire.’

I have expressed my views relating to the media in several TV interviews I gave as well as in my articles in some newspapers. However, many people, including media people, wanted clarification and amplification of some of the issues I had raised. Since some controversy appears to have been raised about what I said, a clarification is in order.

Full Text

Today India is passing through a transitional period in our history, the transition being from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period in history. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart, but the new modern industrial society has not been fully and firmly established. Old values are crumbling, but new modern values have not yet been put in place. Everything is in flux, in turmoil. As Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

If one studies the history of Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, when the transition from feudalism to modern society was taking place, one realises that this transitional period was full of turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, chaos, social churning, and intellectual ferment. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through that fire. We are going through a very painful period in our country’s history, which, I guess, will last another 15 to 20 years. I wish this transition would take place painlessly and immediately but unfortunately that is not how history functions.

In this transition period, the role of ideas, and therefore of the media, becomes extremely important. At a particular historical juncture, ideas become a material force. For instance, the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, and of religious freedom (secularism) became powerful material forces during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, and particularly during the American and French Revolutions. In the age of transition in Europe, the media (which were only the print media at that time) played a great, historical role in the transformation of feudal Europe to modern Europe.

In my opinion, the Indian media too should play a progressive role similar to the one played by the European media [during that age of transition]. This it can do by attacking backward and feudal ideas and practices like casteism, communalism, superstitions, women’s oppression, etc. and propagating modern, rational and scientific ideas, secularism, and tolerance. At one time, a section of our media played a great role in our country.

Manner of functioning

When I criticised the Indian media, and particularly the broadcast media, for not playing such a progressive and socially responsible role, I was furiously attacked by a section of the media for my views. Some even launched a personal attack on me saying that I was an agent of the government. When serious issues are raised about the functioning of the media, it was expected that those issues would be addressed seriously.

By criticising the media, I wanted to persuade them to change their manner of functioning — not that I wanted to destroy them. The Indian media have a historical role to play in the age of transition, and I wanted to remind media persons of their historical duty to the nation. Instead of taking my criticism in the correct spirit, a veritable diatribe was launched against me by a section of the media, which painted me as some kind of dictatorial monster.

More focus on entertainment

The media should regard me as their well-wisher. I criticised them because I wanted media persons to give up many of their defects and follow the path of honour which the European press was following, and which will give them the respect of the Indian people.

I mentioned that 80 per cent of our countrymen are living in horrible poverty; there is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, lack of medical care, education, etc. and barbaric social practices like honour killings, dowry deaths, caste oppression, and religious bigotry. Instead of seriously addressing these issues, 90 per cent of the coverage of our media goes to entertainment, for example, the lives of film stars, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, cricket, etc, or showing superstitions like astrology.

No doubt, the media should provide some entertainment also to the people. But if 90 per cent of their coverage is devoted to entertainment, and only 10 per cent to all the socio-economic issues put together, then the sense of priorities of the media has gone haywire. The real issues before the people are socio-economic, and the media are seeking to divert their attention to the non-issues like film stars, fashion parades, disco, pop, cricket, and so on. It is for this lack of a sense of priorities, and for showing superstitions, that I criticised the media.

What I said

One should not be afraid of criticism, nor should one resent it. People can criticise me as much as they like, I will not resent it, and maybe I will benefit from it. But similarly the media should not mind if I criticise them. My aim in doing so is to make them better media people.

While criticising, however, fairness requires that one should report the words of one’s opponent accurately, without twisting or distorting them. That was the method used by our philosophers. They would first state the views of their opponent, in what was called as the ‘purvapaksha.’ This was done with such accuracy and intellectual honesty that if the opponent were present, he could not have stated his views better. Thereafter it was sought to be refuted.

Unfortunately, this practice is often not followed by our media.

First, I did not make a statement aboutallmedia people but only of the majority. There are many media people for whom I have great respect. So I wish to clarify here that I did not paint the entire media with the same brush. Second, I did not say that this majority was uneducated or illiterate. This again was a deliberate distortion of what I said. I never used the word ‘uneducated.’ I said that the majority is of a poor intellectual level. A person may have passed B.A. or M.A. but yet may be of a poor intellectual level.

I have again and again said in my articles, speeches, and TV interviews that I am not in favour of harsh measures against the media.

In a democracy, issues are ordinarily resolved by discussion, persuasion, consultation, and dialogue, and that is the method I prefer, rather than using harsh measures. If a channel or newspaper has done something wrong I would prefer to call the persons responsible and patiently explain to them that what they have done is not proper. I am sure that in 90 per cent or more cases that would be sufficient. I strongly believe that 90 per cent of people who are doing wrong things can be reformed and made good people.

It is only in extreme cases, which would only be about five to 10 per cent, that harsh measures would be required, and that too after repeated use of the democratic method has failed and the person proves incorrigible. This statement of mine was again distorted and a false impression created that I wanted to impose emergency in the country. Cartoons were published in some newspapers showing me as some kind of dictator.The truth is that I have always been a strong votary for liberty, and the proof of this is my judgments in the Supreme Court and the High Court in which I have consistently held that judges are guardians of the liberties of the citizens, and they will be failing in their duties if they do not uphold these liberties. However, liberty does not mean licence to do anything one wishes. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest, and are coupled with responsibilities.

We may now discuss the question of self-regulation.

Self-regulation by broadcast media

At present, there is no regulatory authority to cover the electronic media. The Press Council of India governs only the print media, and even in cases of violation of journalistic ethics by the latter, the only punishment that can be given is admonition or censure. I have written to the Prime Minister requesting him to initiate legislation to amend the Press Council Act by (1) bringing the electronic media also under the ambit of the Press Council, and (2) giving more teeth to the Press Council.

The electronic media have strongly opposed bringing them under the Press Council. Their claim is of self-regulation. But even Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts do not have such an absolute right. They can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. Lawyers are under the Bar Council of India, which can suspend or cancel their licence for professional misconduct. Doctors come under the Medical Council of India, which can suspend or cancel their licence. Auditors are in the same position. Why then are the electronic media shy of coming under any regulatory authority? Why these double standards? If they do not wish to come under the Press Council of India (because the present Chairman is a wicked and/or undesirable person) then the NBA (News Broadcasters Association), and BEA (Broadcast Editors Association) should indicate which regulatory authority they wish to come under. Are they willing to come under the proposed Lokpal? I have repeatedly raised this question in several newspapers, but my question has always been met either by stony silence on the part of the NBA and the BEA or by dismissing the very question as ‘irresponsible.’

TV news and shows have a large influence on a wide section of our public. Hence in my opinion, TV channels must also be made accountable to the public. If the broadcast media insist on self-regulation, then by the same logic, politicians, bureaucrats, and so on must also be granted the right of self-regulation, instead of being placed under the Lokpal. Or do the broadcast media regard themselves so holy that nobody should regulate them except themselves? In that case, what is paid news, the Radia tapes, etc? Is that the work of saints?

In fact there is no such thing as self-regulation, which is an oxymoron. Everybody is accountable to the people in a democracy — and so are the media

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2630600.ece

 

Press Council has failed: Justice Verma

PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

J.S. Verma fires latest salvo in the war against Markandey Katju‘s comments.The former Chief Justice of India and current head of the television news media’s self-regulatory mechanism, J.S. Verma, has fired the latest salvo in the war of words following the recent controversial comments of Markandey Katju, the former Supreme Court judge and new head of the Press Council of India (PCI).“Everyone knows the Press Council has failed in its mandate, and how ineffective it has been. So why not wind it up or scrap it?” Mr. Justice Verma said in an interview to Outlook magazine. “[PCI] is run on public money, so why not save some money?”

While he was reportedly criticising the institution itself and not any particular individual, Mr. Justice Verma was dismissive about Mr. Justice Katju’s recent statements. “As far as the comments of [Katju] go, all irresponsible talk is best ignored,” he said.

Mr. Justice Verma heads the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), the self-regulatory initiative of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). Since his appointment as PCI chairman a month ago, Mr. Justice Katju has been demanding an expansion of his mandate to include regulation of the television channels as well as newspapers, to create a comprehensive new Media Council.

On Friday, Information and Broadcasting Minister told news agency PTI that such a suggestion was before a Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

In a recent interview, Mr. Justice Katju dismissed the electronic media’s attempts at self-regulation, saying that that it “simply isn’t working” and that a “danda” is needed to put some “fear in the media.” He also made a series of criticisms on the shallow quality of news reporting, and the intellectual calibre of Indian journalists. His comments have triggered condemnation from various TV industry associations, with the NBA shooting off a letter to the Prime Minister, asking him “to intervene and request the Chairman, Press Council of India to engage himself constructively with print media matters, which is the mandate he has under the Press Council Act and not to exceed his remit and to exercise restraint on commenting upon areas which are outside his jurisdiction.”

Mr. Justice Verma warned against a casual dismissal of the NBSA. “We work pro bono, ours is not a body that involves public expense,” he said, contrasting it to the Press Council which is run on the tax-payer’s money.

Meanwhile, the first signs of dissent within the PCI itself have now been expressed, with two Council members issuing the Press Association‘s (PA) objections.

The PA — a group of journalists accredited by the Central government which includes PCI members Kalyan Barooah and Rajeev Ranjan Nag — denounced Mr. Justice Katju’s remarks against journalists, arguing that “to paint the entire media with the same brush also reflects his lack of knowledge about the fourth estate and its contributions and impact.”

“We wish to point out to Justice Katju that the PCI was not only set up to penalise the media by functioning as a regulatory body, but also to protect the rights and freedom of working journalists. But his recent utterances reflect his strong bias against the Indian media,” said the PA statement. It urged the PCI chairman to return his focus to the business of the Council and the long list of pending complaints dating back to several years.

JUSTICE KATJU – MEDIA DEBATE : Justice Markandey Katju on the role of media in India

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, argues that the media has a very important role to play in helping the country make the transition from an old feudal society to a modern industrial one quickly, and without much pain.

The Role the Media should be playing in India

by Justice Markandey Katju, (former Judge, Supreme Court of India), Chairman, Press Council of India

To understand the role which the media should be playing in India we have to first understand the historical context. India is presently passing through a transitional period in its history, transition from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society.

This is a very painful and agonizing period in history. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart, but the new, modern, industrial society has not yet been entirely established. Old values are crumbling, everything is in turmoil. We may recollect the line in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth: “Fair is foul and foul is fair”. What was regarded good earlier e.g. the caste system is regarded bad today (at least by the enlightened section of society), and what was regarded bad earlier, e.g. love marriage, is acceptable today (at least to the modern minded persons). One is reminded of Firaq Gorakhpuri’s Urdu couplet:

“Har zarre par ek qaifiyat-e-neemshabi hai  – Ai saaqi-e- dauraan yeh gunahon ki ghadi hai”

In a marvel of condensation this sher (couplet) reflects the transitional age. Zarra means particle, qaifiyat means condition, e means of, neem means half, and shab means night. So the first line in the couplet literally means

“Every particle is in a condition of half night”.

Urdu poetry is often to be understood figuratively, not literally. So this line really means that (in the transitional age) everything is in flux, neither night nor day, neither the old order nor the new. Also, in the middle of the night if we get up we are dazed, in a state of mental confusion, and so are people in a transitional age. In the second line, saaqi is the girl who fills the wine cup, but she is also the person to whom one can confide the innermost thoughts in one’s mind. The poet is imagining a girl, to whom he is describing the features of the transitional era. ‘Yeh gunahon ki ghadi hai’, i.e. it is the time of sin. In this transitional age it is a ‘gunahon ki ghadi’ from both points of view. From the point of view of people of the old, feudal order it is a sin to marry according to your choice, and particularly outside one’s caste or religion, it is a sin to give education to women, it is a sin to treat everyone as equal. At the same time, from the point of view of modern minded people the caste system is a sin, denying education to girls is a sin, and love marriage is quite acceptable. Thus old and new ideas are battling with each other in the transitional age.

It is the duty of all patriotic people, including the media, to help our society get over this transition period quickly and with less pain. The media has a very important role to play in this transition period, as it deals with ideas, not commodities. So by its very nature the media cannot be like an ordinary business.

If we study the history of Europe when it was passing through its transition period, i.e. from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, we find that this was a terrible period in Europe, full of turbulence, turmoil, revolutions, wars, chaos, social churning and intellectual ferment. It was only after passing through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through this fire. We are passing through a very painful period in our history. Historically, the print media emerged in Europe as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time the established organs were all in the hands of the feudal despotic authorities (the king, aristocrats, etc). Hence the people had to create new organs which could represent them. That is why the print media became known as the fourth estate. In Europe and America it represented the voice of the future, as contrasted to the established feudal organs which wanted to preserve the status quo. The media thus played an important role in transforming feudal Europe to modern Europe.

In the Age of Enlightenment in Europe the print media represented the voice of reason. Voltaire attacked religious bigotry and superstitions, and Rousseau attacked feudal despotism. Diderot said that “Man will be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. Thomas Paine proclaimed the Rights of Man, and Junius (whose real name we still do not know) attacked the despotic George III and his ministers (see Will Durant’s ‘The Story of Civilization: Rousseau and Revolution’). Louis XVI, while in the Temple prison saw books by Voltaire and Rousseau in the prison library and said that these two persons have destroyed France. In fact what they had destroyed was not France but the feudal order. In the 19th Century the famous writer Emile Zola in his article ‘J’ Accuse’ accused the French Government of falsely imprisoning Captain Dreyfus in Devil’s Island only because he was a Jew.

In my opinion the Indian media should be playing a role similar to the progressive role played by the media in Europe during the transitional period in Europe. In other words, the Indian media should help our country get over the transition period and became a modern industrial state. This it can do by attacking backward, feudal ideas and practices e.g. casteism, communalism and superstitions, and promoting modern scientific and rational ideas. But is it doing so?

In my opinion a large section of the Indian media (particularly the electronic media) does not serve the interest of the people, in fact some of it is positively anti-people.

There are three major defects in the Indian media which I would like to highlight.

1. The media often diverts the attention of the people from the real issues to non issues. The real issues in India are socio-economic, the terrible poverty in which 80% of our people are living, the massive unemployment, the price rise, lack of medical care, education, and backward social practices like honour killing and caste oppression and religious fundamentalism etc. Instead of devoting most of its coverage to these issues the media focuses on non issues like film stars and their lives, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, astrology, cricket, reality shows, etc. There can be no objection to the media providing entertainment to the people, provided this is not overdone. But if 90% of its coverage is related to entertainment, and only 10% to the real issues facing the nation (mentioned above) then there is something seriously wrong with the media. The whole question is of proportion. In the Indian media the sense of proportion has gone crazy. Entertainment got 9 times the coverage that health, education , labour, agriculture and environment together got. Does a hungry or unemployed man want entertainment or food and a job? To give an example, I switched on the T.V. yesterday and what did I see? Lady Gaga has come to India, Kareena Kapoor standing next to her statue in Madame Tussand’s, tourism award being given to a business house, Formula one car race etc. etc. What has all this to do with the problems of the people?

Many channels show cricket day in and day out. Cricket is really the opium of the Indian masses. The Roman Emperors used to say “If you cannot give the people bread give them circuses”. This is precisely the approach of the Indian establishment, duly supported by our media. Keep the people involved in cricket so that they forget their social and economic plight. What is important is not poverty or unemployment or price rise or farmers suicides or lack of housing or healthcare or education, what is important is whether India has beaten New Zealand (or better still Pakistan) in a cricket match, or whether Tendulkar or Yuvraj Singh have scored a century. The Indian media so much hyped up the cricket match at Mohali between India and Pakistan that it became a veritable Mahabharat War!

Enormous space is given by our media to business, and very little to social sectors like health and education. Most media correspondents attend the film stars, fashion parades, pop music, etc. and very few attend to the lives and problems of workers, farmers, students, sex workers, etc. Recently ‘The Hindu’ published that a quarter million farmers committed suicide in the last fifteen years. A Lakme Fashion week was covered by 512 accredited journalists. In that fashion week women were displaying cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves an hour’s flight from Nagpur in the Vidarbha region. Nobody told that story except one or two journalists locally. The media coverage of the education field concentrates (if at all) on the elite colleges like the I.I.Ts, but there is very little coverage of the plight of the tens of thousands of primary schools, particularly in rural areas where education begins.

In Europe the displaced peasants got jobs in the factories which were coming up because of the Industrial Revolution. In India, an the other hand industrial jobs are now hard to come by. Many mills have closed down and have become real estate. The job trend in manufacturing has seen a sharp decline over the last 15 years. For instance, TISCO employed 85,000 workers in 1991 in its steel plant which then manufactured 1 million tons of steel. In 2005 it manufactured 5 million tons of steel but with only 44,000 workers. In mid 90s Bajaj was producing 1 million two wheelers with 24,000 workers. By 2004 it was producing 2.4 million units with 10,500 workers.

Where then do these millions of displaced peasants go? They go to cities where they became domestic servants, street hawkers, or even criminals. It is estimated that there are 1 to 2 lac adolescent girls from Jharkhand working as maids in Delhi. Prostitution is rampant in all cities, due to abject poverty. In the field of health care, it may be pointed out that the number of quacks in every city in India is several times the number of regular doctors. This is because the poor people cannot afford going to a regular doctor. In rural areas the condition is worse. The government doctors posted to primary health centres usually come for a day or two each month, and run their private nursing homes in the cities the rest of the time.

In ‘Shining’ India, the child malnutrition figures are the worst in the world. According to U.N. data, the percentage of under weight children below the age of 5 years in the poorest countries in the world is 25 per cent in Guinea Bissau, 27 per cent in Sierra Leone, 38 per cent in Ethiopia, and 47 per cent in India. The average family in India is consuming 100 kilograms of food grains less than it did 10 years ago (see P. Sainath’s article ‘Slumdogs and Millionaires’). All this is largely ignored by our media which turns a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities facing upto 80 per cent of our people, and instead concentrates on some Potempkin villages where all is glamour and show biz. Our media is largely like Queen Marie Autoinette, who when told that the people have no bread, said that they could eat cake.

2. The media often divides the people:

Whenever a bomb blast takes place anywhere in India (whether in Bombay or Bangalore or Delhi or anywhere) within a few hours most T.V. channels starts showing that an e-mail or SMS has been received from Indian Mujahideen or Jaish-e-Muhammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam claiming responsibility. The name will always be a Muslim name. Now an e-mail or SMS can be sent by any mischievous person who wants communal hatred. Why should they be shown on T.V. screens, and next day in print (the T.V. news at night often sets the agenda for the print media news next morning)? The subtle message being sent by showing this is that all Muslims are terrorists or bomb throwers. In this way the entire Muslim community in India is demonized, when the truth is that 99 per cent people of all communities are good, whether they are Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or Christians, and of whatever caste, region or language.

India is broadly a country of immigrants. About 92 to 93 per cent people living in India today are descendants of immigrants, and not the original inhabitants (who are the pre-Dravidian tribals or adivasis, comprising of only 7 to 8 per cent of our population). Because we are broadly a country of immigrants there is tremendous diversity in India – so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, etc. Hence it is absolutely essential if we wish to keep united and prosper that there must be tolerance and equal respect to all communities living in India. Those who sow seeds of discord among our people, whether on religious or caste or lingual or regional lines, are really enemies of our people.

The senders of such e-mails and SMS messages are therefore enemies of India, who wish to sow the seeds of discord among us on religious lines. Why should the media, wittingly or unwittingly, become abettors of this national crime?

3. The media promotes superstitions

As I have already mentioned, in this transitional age, the media should help our people to move forward into the modern, scientific age. For this purpose the media should propagate rational and scientific ideas, but instead of doing so a large section of our media propagates superstitions of various kinds. It is true that the intellectual level of the vast majority of Indians is very low, they are steeped in casteism, communalism, and superstitions. The question, however, is whether the media should try to lift up the intellectual level of our people by propagating rational and scientific ideas, or whether it should go down to that low level and seek to perpetuate it?

In Europe during the Age of Enlightenment the media (which was only the print medium at that time) sought to uplift the mental level of the people and change their mindset by propagating ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity and rational thinking. Voltaire attacked superstitions, and Dickens criticized the horrible conditions in jails, schools, orphanages, courts, etc. Should not our media be doing the same?

At one time courageous people like Raja Ram Mohan Roy wrote against sati, child marriage, purdah system etc. (in his newspaper ‘Miratul Akhbar’ and ‘Sambad Kaumudi’). Nikhil Chakraborty wrote about the horrors of the Bengal Famine of 1943. Munshi Premchand an d Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya wrote against feudal practices and women’s oppression. Manto wrote about the horrors of Partition.

But what do we see in the media today?

Many T.V. channels show astrology. Astrology is not to be confused with astronomy. While astronomy is a science, astrology is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense can tell us that there is no rational connection between the movements of the stars and planets, and whether a person will die at the age of 50 years or 80 years, or whether he will be a doctor or engineer or lawyer. No doubt most people in our country believe in astrology, but that is because their mental level is very low. The media should try to bring up that level, rather than to descend to it and perpetuate it.

Many channels mention and show the place where a Hindu god was born, where he lived, etc. Is this is not spreading superstitions.

I am not saying that there are no good journalists at all in the media. There are many excellent journalists. P. Sainath is one of them, whose name should be written in letters of gold in the history of Indian journalism. Had it not been for his highlighting of the farmers suicides in certain states the story (which was suppressed for several years) may never have been told. But such good journalists are the exceptions. The majority consists of people who do not seem to have the desire to serve the public interest.

To remedy this defect in the media I have done two things (1) I propose to have regular meetings with the media (including electronic media) every two months or so. These will not be regular meetings of the entire Press Council, but informal get-togethers where we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to resolve them in the democratic way, that is, by discussion, consultation and dialogue. I believe 90% problems can be resolved in this way (2) In extreme cases, where a section of the media proves incorrigible despite trying the democratic method mentioned above, harsher measures may be required. In this connection I have written to the Prime Minister requesting him to amend the Press Council Act by bringing the electronic media also under the purview of the Press Council (which may be renamed the Media Council) and by giving it more teeth e.g. power to suspend government advertisements, or in extreme cases even the licence of the media houses for some time. As Goswami Tulsidas said ‘Bin bhaya hot na preet’. This, however, will be resorted to only in extreme cases and after the democratic method has failed. It may be objected that this is interfering with the freedom of the media. There is no freedom which is absolute. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions, and are also coupled with responsibilities. In a democracy everyone is accountable to the people, and so is the media.

To sum up: The Indian media must now introspect and develop a sense of responsibility and maturity.That does not mean that it cannot be reformed. My belief is that 80 per cent people who are doing wrong things can be made good people by patient persuasion, pointing out their errors, and gently leading them to the honourable path which the print media in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment was following.

JUSTICE KATJU – MEDIA DEBATE : Press freedom must be examined

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

As I have already mentioned, in this transitional age, the media should help our people move forward into the modern, scientific age. For this purpose the media should propagate rational and scientific ideas, but instead of doing so, a large section of our media propagates superstitions of various kinds. It is true that the intellectual level of the vast majority of Indians is very low — they are steeped in casteism, communalism and superstition. The question, however, is: Should the media try to lift up the intellectual level of our people by propagating rational and scientific ideas, or should it should go down to that low level and seek to perpetuate it? In Europe, during the Age of Enlightenment, the media (which was only the print medium at that time) sought to uplift the mental level of the people and change their mindset by propagating ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity and rational thinking. Voltaire attacked superstition and Dickens criticised the horrible conditions in jails, schools, orphanages, courts etc. Should not our media be doing the same?

At one time, courageous people like Raja Ram Mohun Roy wrote against sati, child marriage and the purdah system in his newspapers Miratul Akhbar and Sambad Kaumudi. Nikhil Chakravartty wrote about the horrors of the Bengal Famine of 1943. Munshi Premchand and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote against feudal practices and women’s oppression. Saadat Hasan Manto wrote about the horrors of Partition.

But what do we see in the media today?

Many TV channels show astrology-based programmes. Astrology is not to be confused with astronomy. While astronomy is a science, astrology is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense can tell us that there is no rational connection between the movements of the stars and planets, and whether a person will die at the age of 50 or 80, or whether he will be a doctor or engineer or lawyer. No doubt most people in our country believe in astrology, but that is because their mental level is very low. The media should try to bring up that level, rather than to descend to it and perpetuate it. Many channels mention and show the place where a Hindu god was born, where he lived, etc. Is this is not spreading superstition?

I am not saying that there are no good journalists at all in the media. There are many excellent journalists. P. Sainath is one such, whose name should be written in letters of gold in the history of Indian journalism. Had it not been for his highlighting of farmers’ suicides in certain states, the story (which was suppressed for several years) may never have been told. But such good journalists are the exceptions. The majority consists of people who do not seem to have the desire to serve the public interest.

To remedy this defect in the media, I have done two things. First, I propose to have regular meetings with the media (including the electronic media) every two months or so. These will not be regular meetings of the entire Press Council, but informal get-togethers where we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to resolve them in a democratic way, that is, by discussion, consultation and dialogue. I believe 90 per cent of the problems can be resolved in this way. Second, in extreme cases, where a section of the media proves incorrigible despite trying the democratic method mentioned above, harsher measures may be required. In this connection, I have written to the prime minister requesting him to amend the Press Council Act by bringing the electronic media also under the purview of the Press Council (which may be renamed the Media Council) and by giving it more teeth — for example, the power to suspend government advertisements or in extreme cases, even the licence of the media houses for some time. As Goswami Tulsidas said: “Bin bhaya hot na preet.” This, however, will be resorted to only in extreme cases and after the democratic method has failed.

It may be objected that this is interfering with the freedom of the media. There is no freedom which is absolute. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions, and are also coupled with responsibilities. In a democracy everyone is accountable to the people, and so is the media.

To sum up: The Indian media must now introspect and develop a sense of responsibility and maturity. That does not mean that it cannot be reformed. My belief is that 80 per cent of those who are doing the wrong thing can be made good people by patient persuasion, pointing out their errors and gently leading them to the honourable path which the print media in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment was following.

(Concluded)

The writer is a former Supreme Court judge and chairman of the Press Council of India