Self-regulation in the broadcast media is the best way forward in achieving a balance between the media's duty to empower the participatory role of the people in governance and the reasonable restrictions that prevent the abuse of its immense strength, said Justice J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India, and Chairman of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory mechanism of the News Broadcasters Association.

In his keynote address on content regulation in India at the FICCI Media and Entertainment Business Conclave 2011 here on Friday, Justice Verma said one thing that the media needed to remember was if it failed to exercise self-restraint and regulate its own conduct, then that would provide a justifiable reason for intervention from outside.

While in a democracy, it was the media's duty to inform the people of everything of significance so that they could effectively discharge their participatory role in governance, this right to inform excluded the right to misinform as the media's right was no greater than an individual's right, which was again subject to reasonable restrictions.

“When you acquire great strength you should also realise that there is the danger of its misuse. Therefore, self-regulating is the best way so that there is no justification for any outside intervention to regulate,” he said.

Justice Verma also noted that there had been improvements over the last couple of years and cited the compliance of the media with the code of ethics framed by the National Broadcasters Association in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks and the advisories issued from time to time.

Justice Verma, while being critical of the words used by Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju in his remarks against the media, said the bottom line that should not be overlooked was the fact that a large tract of public opinion was in favour of the PCI chairman's views.

Justice Verma's issues with the practice of journalism, especially by the electronic media, included the lack of decency and public interest purpose in airing repeated visuals of an assault on a prominent public figure. and the media trials that seriously interfere with the cause of justice, the negative terms used in referring to someone in high office who had been named an accused in a corruption case and the lack of due diligence that harmed the reputation of an individual.

While the freedom of the press must remain to help the people discharge their participatory role in governance, the media should use its vast strengths to protect and not harm someone, he said.

Recalling that in his 25 years as judge, he had only once pulled up someone for contempt of court, and even then refrained from sending the person to jail, Justice Verma said: “Today, I'm not sure I would have left things at that.”

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