More bite for toothless PCI?

11 Nov,2011


By Akash Raha

Recently Chairperson of Press Council of India (PCI), Justice Markandey Katju triggered a volley of criticism and discussion after he lambasted the broadcast media, saying most of them suffer from “very poor intellectual level”. He went on to suggest that broadcast media should come under the purview of the PCI. MxM India asked some well-known media faces what they think.

Arnab Goswami, Editor in Chief, Times Now and Vice President, Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA) told MxMIndia: “I don’t know why Justice Katju is making these comments. There is absolutely no need to try and demolish the principle of self-regulation in TV news which ensures that electronic media is free and out of control of vested interests. Justice Katju should not make these sweeping generalizations.”

Upset over Justice Katju’s comments on the media, former Chief Justice of India J S Verma too is reported to have recently called the PCI an “ineffective” body and said it should wrap up if it does not meet its mandate. Verma chairs the News Broadcasting Standard Authority (NBSA), which is set up by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). In a recent statement Verma said that he is “deeply anguished” with the kind of language that Justice Katju uses which “sounds authoritarian”. NBA has requested the Prime Minister to stop the PCI from meddling with the dealings of broadcast media.

On whether broadcast media should come under the ambit of the PCI, Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor in Chief, IBN18 Network said “I believe that the self-regulation mechanism which has been put in place by major news broadcasters must be allowed to strengthen itself. The Press Council has been unable to curb pernicious practices in the print media such as ‘paid news’, so I don’t see how mandating it to now to oversee the electronic media will serve any purpose.”

Talking about whether he thinks electronic media should be brought under the purview of  PCI Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent journalist and critic, said, “The electronic media needs to be regulated independently – this is because self-regulation is inadequate and ineffective under certain extreme circumstances. The regulator should be independent of both media interests – including the interests of the big corporate media – as well as the government. Even if the regulator is funded by the government, it can be truly autonomous and/or independent if it is Constitutionally mandated thus – such examples include the Supreme Court of India, the Election Commission of India and the Comptroller & Auditor General of India. Ideally the electronic media should have a separate regulator. Even if the ambit of the Press Council of India is widened to include the electronic medium, it has to be made truly independent and autonomous and, most importantly, empowered. The Press Council in its current form has no punitive powers and is hence akin to a toothless tiger.”

To put things in perspective, PCI was established as a statutory print watchdog by an Act of Parliament in 1978. In recent times, PCI has come under question following chairperson Justice Markandey Katju’s recent remarks on the state of the media in India and its inability to keep a check on paid news.

When asked if Justice Katju was trying to police the media, Mr Guha Thakurta played down the suggestion, saying, “The Press Council of India is a quasi-judicial body set up an act of Parliament. The way it is supposed to function has been clearly laid down. There is no question of Justice Katju (or for that matter, any Chairman of the Press Council) acting as either a good cop or a bad cop.”

The question remains, should news broadcast come under the ambit of PCI? One of the reasons for opposing such a suggestion remains that since PCI has been unable to check the menace of paid news in print, there is no reason why it should make any positive change in the broadcast industry. Another argument says that the only reason why PCI has been unable to make a change is because it is still a toothless quasi-judiciary body and the government needs to empower it and give it some tooth. Either way, in this chatter and amidst much confusion is set Justice Katju and his criticism of media professionals as he sees them as naïve and stupid. Criticism which has obviously riled the veterans of the broadcast industry.

In the wake of this controversy, several discussion forums are being organized on the PCI, the question of paid news, etc. The Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) is organizing a panel discussion in collaboration with the Press Club of India on the topic ‘Media and Public Interest: Freedom vs Accountability’ on November 12 at Press Club of India, New Delhi. The panelists at this discussion will be Markandey Katju, Rajdeep Sardesai, Neelabh Mishra, Zoya Hasan, Pankaj Pachauri, Abheek Barman, Madabhushi Sridhar and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta with T R Ramachandran as moderator.

Later, on November 18, MxMIndia has partnered the event ‘Paid News: Fooling People all the Time’ organised by Moneylife Foundation and Citizens Action Network with the support of industrialist Cyrus Guzder to be held in Mumbai’s Madame Cama Hall. The evening will see the screening of the documentary ‘Brokering News’ followed by a panel discussion with senior journalists and the film-maker Umesh Aggarwal. The panelists at this discussion are Umesh Aggarwal, Ayaz Memon, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Bhawana Somaaya, and Sucheta Dalal. This panel plans to discuss the issue of paid news, which has been a bugbear even for regulatory bodies such as the PCI.

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