Journalist B.G. Verghese has called for the country’s public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati, to be strengthened and granted greater autonomy.

He was speaking at a national conference on media ethics and social responsibility conducted by the communications department of St. Joseph’s College here on Friday.

Criticising mainstream journalism outlets for the extent to which they have compromised their editorial content to favour market forces, he said that editors have become “an unnecessary nuisance” in an environment where owners and advertisers provide colour to events. Mr. Verghese, however, differed from many commentators on the subject of social media as a truly democratic alternative to a profit driven media.

Referring to the role played by social media in stoking the recent riots at Muzaffarnagar and the exodus from Bangalore of people from the Northeast India last year, he said that the anarchy and the lack of accountability that defines social media makes it unsustainable as a credible news outlet.

It was against this backdrop that he said that Prasar Bharati is one of the last media outlets that can perform the public interest function of journalism.

He conceded that there is severe government interference in the functioning of the public broadcaster, but said that this problem could easily be overcome by placing certain safeguards that ensure autonomy. “Prasar Bharati has long been a trumpet of the government. But it need not be like that. The Supreme Court too enjoys great autonomy despite being closely linked to the government,” he said.

Earlier, the former Chief Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah said that technology in the 21st century will play a crucial role in enabling a truly free press that is not informed by petty commercial and political concerns.

Head of the Department of Communication of the St. Joseph’s College Francis Arackal expressed dismay at the fact that Tarun Tejpal had taken Tehelka down with him.

The Hindu Education Plus was the official media partner of the conference.

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