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The press freedom bogey

December 15, 2008

…is raised every time there’s talk of a law “regulating” TV News channels in India. A rajya Sabha committee now says self-regulation is not enough, the media needs a set of rules from the government. I think that one shoudn’t necessarily view the idea of a law, or regulation, with suspicion. After the despicable 26/11 coverage and even before, many channels have lost the right to hide their TRP-driven sensationalism behind the free speech bogey. 

That may sound self-contradictory, but see what the committee has concluded on the subject:

The Committee is of the view that self-regulation is an ideal situation but it may not be effective to regulate the media particularly in the scenario of growing competition amongst the channels for supremacy in the business of ratings.  The Committee is, therefore, in favour of having statutory regulations in place covering the print and electronic media, in the larger interest of the society, on the model of the Press Council of India vested with more powers.  The Committee understands that the Government has proposed to put in place the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) under an Act of Parliament and a new Content Code to be issued thereunder. The Committee expects the Government to address all the issues raised by it, while going ahead with the proposed legislation. The Committee hopes that the proposed Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill will incorporate the views of all concerned and the same introduced in Parliament without further delay. [TheHoot.org] [Emphasis mine.]

Nobody knows what the Press Council of India does.

Or wait, some people do.

At the very least, the taxpayer’s money needs to be used to put in place a mechanism similar to the Press Council. Why have a regulatory mechanism for print bt none for TV news, when these TV guys are bigger morons any day!

The TV channel honchos are so influential they’re going to stonewall any such attempt. In the many versions of the doomed Broadcast Bill draft, the most significant alteration has been the removal of a clause against cross-media ownership, modelled on the lines of many other democracies. The media monster can’t have its cake and eat it too. Somebody needs to be on their case.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    December 17, 2008 10:16 AM

    I thought I would share here an experience with the Press Council of India that some of us from the Department of Political Science (Delhi University) have recently had – a very positive experience indeed. A Professor, and at the time Head of Department, Bidyut Chakrabarty (BC), was charged with sexual harassment, and was under investigation by a duly constituted committee of the University. After the committee found BC guilty of the charges of sexual harassment, and submitted its report to the VC, the university authorities, in collusion with BC, kept the report under wraps. A militant campaign began in the university community to implement the recommendation of the report, which included removal of BC from headship, and debarring from selection committees and research supervision for three years. During the course of the campaign, The Pioneer published a report claiming that BC was innocent and making allegations of forgery against some members of the faculty involved in the campaign, and generally imputing motives to us. A letter we wrote challenging factual errors and deliberate misrepresentations in the report was not published by The Pioneer. So we took up the case with the Press Council (PC). The PC sought representations from both parties as well as counter-responses to the representations. In the meanwhile, the university committee’s report was implemented and BC was removed from positions of power. We faculty members therefore, while filing our counter to The Pioneer’s response to our complaint (which included statements like “The complainants have mischievously claimed that our report used the word ‘forgery’, but this word was not anywhere used. The words used were ‘forged’ and ‘fake signatures’.”) informed the PC that we were no longer interested in following up the complaint, since The Pioneer’s motivated report attempting to protect Bidyut Chakrabarty had failed in its purpose. However, we added that the PC might like to take seriously the fact the editor of the Pioneer had had “published false and misleading information in a news report in order to protect a powerful person, and that he had taken the Press Council lightly in his response and furnished false information to the Council.”
    After a reasonable period of the complaint being filed, and responses and counter-responses being sought and provided, the Inquiry Committee set up by the PC, despite our withdrawing of our complaint, took express note of our latter request and therefore “expressed its unhappiness with the publication, but in view of of the assurance of the respondent that it would take care in the future, and the complainant’s desire not to pursue the matter any more”, closed the case with “an advice to be more careful in the future.”
    The only thing that kept the PC from dealing more toughly with the Pioneer was our own disinclination to follow up on the case, which we had incorrectly assumed would take up too much of our time, and drag on forever.
    I’m sorry if this has been a boring account, but if anybody is contemplating going to the Press Council over media’s bad behaviour, I thought it might encourage them to know that it appears to be a fair and straightforward process, concluded within a reasonable period of time.

  2. ranju radha permalink
    December 17, 2008 3:04 PM

    It was indeed nice to read the experience with the Press Council. But the question remains:, will it lead to any change in attitude from the corporatised media or not? Is PC powerful enough to control media other than giving advice like “be careful in future”.. this may further lead to the question “who will monitor media or do we need an agency to monitor media? Can self-proclaimed self-censorship make media accountable? or is it enought? PC is a toothless agency, but can function as to restrict media misdemeanour to some extent.
    thanks for sharing the experience

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