Do journalists need to be qualified?

18 Mar,2013

 

By Ananya Saha and Meghna Sharma

 

Press Council Chairman Justice Markandey Katju recently issued a press note that said, “Since the media has an important influence on the lives of the people, the time has now come when some qualification should be prescribed by law”. Justice Katju announced a committee mandated to “consider all aspects of the matter” and submit a report to him “suggesting the qualifications a person should have before he can be allowed to enter the profession of journalism”.

 

The committee constituted by him, in addition to its mandate of recommending qualifications for journalists, will also recommend in what manner the Press Council can supervise and regulate the functioning of the institutions and departments of journalism in India so that high standards of imparting knowledge in journalism are maintained.

 

MxMIndia spoke to senior journalists, academics and industry observers for their views on this (in alphabetical order of their last names).

 

Prof Chandan Chatterjee, Director, Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication

The role of education in building a foundation for thinking as well as building an worldview is well-accepted. More so for professions that have an ability to shape the thinking and beliefs of a society

 

Journalists are the scribes and opinion leaders of modern society and culture which can impact a nation’s destiny, or the adoption of a new way of doing things. Hence, journalists ought to have capabilities and skills of recording facts and events and also analyse and interpret their observations.

 

The role of upgrading curriculum of post-graduate Journalism courses, to reflect the current trends and thinking becomes equally important. And, like most other professions, journalists too need to be re-skilled and upgraded in their specific areas, periodically.

 

After all, every point of view has two sides. It takes a balanced and educated mind to get the breadth and depth of issues involved. Else, we will have to learn with just one point of view!

 

Deepa Gahlot, Film Critic

To be a journalist or a film critic one needs to have certain attributes – ability to write and passion for the medium. If one has aptitude for it then qualification only adds to it. Therefore, both training and education go hand-in-hand.

 

Today, a lot of newspapers carry articles written by people who have nothing to do with journalism too. Having said that, I do believe that a degree will only help the person. Also, it depends on an organization, what are they looking for – someone with good skills but no degree or someone with a degree and good skills.

 

I won’t say that Katju’s recommendations are harsh because even if one is passionate about law but he/she still can’t practice without a law degree, why not for journalism?

 

 

Arati Jerath, Senior Journalist

I think journalists need qualifications, which are not necessarily taught in journalism school. A good journalist should have the nose for news especially in a war or terrorist situation, extract right information, should be a sensitive human being when reporting on a rape case or terrorist attack. It cannot be taught in any institution. These are the values that they imbibe from their parents, schools, colleagues, mentors.

 

Most media houses are very professional and hire talent based on their requirements. If the new hire does not perform, irrespective of their qualification, they are let go. A journalist needs to be a good reader, researcher but mostly, they learn on the job outside of the formalized structure.

 

The Press Council’s role is of being an ombudsman and a watchdog in case media oversteps. Frankly, the council is trying to impose professional qualification on a person who wants to become a journalist.

 

Chandramohan Puppala, Senior Journalist

This is debatable. Yes, the basic qualification is necessary but not necessarily in journalism; it could be any basic qualification that would equip a person to make them capable of understanding situations or aspects. In my career, I have hired many new people as journalists who are far more knowledgeable and equipped than journalists who have spent years in journalism or have earned degrees in journalism. It is important, however, that a crime-beat reporter has orientation towards the subject. A reporter who covers economy will be more equipped if he has a degree in economics but it is not necessary that if they have a degree, they will turn out to be a good journalists!

 

There are, in any case, very few specialized beats; journalists are all-rounders, and that happens over a period of time: during school, on field, the right sources, and is not dependent on a single qualification.

 

Prof Dr Kiran Thakur, Journalist-turned media teacher

Justice Markandey Katju’s plan to prescribe qualifications for journalists is absurd and Utopian. By his logic, politicians should be qualified in political science and NGO founders should be trained in social work. If he wants legal beat reporters to be law graduates, war correspondents will have to be trained in military science if not in warfare, health reporters in medicine, farm journalists in agriculture and so on.

 

He will do well to realize that qualifications for reporters and sub-editors alone would not suffice. The owners of media houses, print and electronic, should also possess qualifications. The owners should be trained particularly in media ethics and their social responsibility. Justice Katju should recall the fate of the report of the Press Council committee on paid news. The representatives of owners in the Council opposed the committee and its recommendations.

 

I do not understand why the PCI should be burdened with responsibilities to supervise and regulate media schools. There are bodies in the university system to look into these aspects. Let them discharge these responsibilities with efficiency. In the meantime, Justice Katju should find ways how the PCI can function effectively.

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Independent Journalist and Educator

The idea is ridiculous. It is like saying that if you want to become a politician, one must have a BA or a MA degree. The issue of lowering standards of journalism, values or journalism ethics becoming less important or declining quality is very separate. Mr Vinod Mehta himself said that he flunked his graduation exam, and look at him today. Pritish Nandy flunked his exams, and they were not even studying journalism, and look at them today. There is no dearth of examples of journalists who have succeeded without degrees much as journalists with degrees such as Dr Chandan Mitra. The ability to communicate, write or express articulately is nothing to do with a qualification in journalism.

 

The Press Council should be concerned much more about its own role and duties than all of this.

 

 

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