In a move that could significantly alter the nature of professional journalism in the country, Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Justice Markandey Katju has set up a committee to determine the minimum qualification for a journalist. The move has drawn sharp reactions from media practitioners and experts.
In a press note issued on Tuesday, Justice Katju stated that in contrast with other professions such as medicine, law and teaching, there was no qualification for entry into journalism. “Hence, very often persons with little or inadequate training in journalism enter the profession, and this often leads to negative effects, because such untrained persons often do not maintain high standards of journalism.”
Given the media’s importance, Justice Katju asserted the time had come ‘when some qualification should be prescribed by law’. He had constituted a committee ‘to consider all aspects of the matter’ and suggest ‘the qualifications a person should have before he can be allowed to enter the profession of journalism’.
The committee consists of two PCI members, Shravan Garg and Rajeev Sabade, and an associate professor of journalism at Pune University, Ujwala Barve. Its report will be submitted to the full Press Council for approval, and then forwarded to the government ‘for suitable legislation’.
“Absolute rubbish,” said Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of the Outlook Group, when asked for his reaction to the move. “Some of the greatest journalists the world has produced have been without university degrees.” Giving his own example, Mr. Mehta told The Hindu, “I am a B.A fail and was academically the most undistinguished student in school and college. And I haven’t done too badly.”
Despite having two master’s degrees in media from, in her words, ‘among the best schools globally’, NDTV Group Editor Barkha Dutt had a similar take. “The best training is on the field.” Ms. Dutt said while she could see the arguments about ‘declining standards and quality in journalists’, she did not believe the answer was in ‘more degrees’.
Journalism teachers too shared the sentiment.
Sashi Kumar, chairperson of Chennai’s Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), felt journalists did not need to be educated to become journalists. “Most hard-nosed reporters who do unconventional beats, break scoops and exposes, are in the regional language press. And they are not necessarily MAs or PhDs. This is an ill-considered move and reflects Justice Katju’s ignorance about the field, and strikes at the root of freedom of expression.”
He added that while qualifications help and were desirable, making it ‘mandatory’ would be very unfortunate. Journalism, the ACJ head emphasised, required a different set of skills like cultivating sources, keeping one’s ear to the ground, having a pulse for news, and contextual reporting which did not necessarily come from academic training