Council shall be given powers to take harsher steps where discussion and persuasion prove ineffective

Press Council of India Chairman Justice Markandey Katju has sought “more teeth” for the regulatory body and expansion of its ambit over the electronic media and the Internet for which, he suggested, a legislation should be introduced in Parliament.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now made public under the RTI Act, Justice Katju said the only power conferred on the Press Council under Section 14(1) of the Act is to “warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.”

“Experience has shown that a mere warning, admonition or censure does not ordinarily have any effect on the concerned newspaper, news agency editor or journalist, as they tend to ignore the same.”

“Some more teeth should be given to the Press Council. Among the various suggestion which have been made by the Press Council earlier for taking action against those who violate journalistic ethics are: imposition of fine, withdrawal of government advertisement, suspension/cancellation of license/accreditation,” he said.

He said legislation should have provisions for persuasion and discussion with the “delinquent” news organisation or news person. Only when such methods become ineffective, harsher steps should be initiated against them.

Justice Katju said: “This provision, in my opinion, is necessary because while the defects in the media should ordinarily be sought to be rectified by the democratic method of discussion and persuasion, there must be power in the Press Council to take harsher steps where discussion and persuasion has proved to be ineffective.”

In the letter, dated October 11, which has been provided to activist Subhash Agrawal, Justice Katju quoted his recent speech to say there is no freedom which is absolute and hence the freedom of the media cannot also be an absolute one.

Justice Katju said media must have freedom to perform its functions properly with a sense of responsibility.

“There is a growing perception in the public that sometimes the media goes overboard and acts irresponsibly only to sensationalise the matter,” he said.

On expanding the scope of the Press Council to the electronic media and the Internet, Justice Katju said both the national level parties in Parliament seemed to agree with this proposal.

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