‘Media should act as a body capable of self-correction'

Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily on Wednesday said the government would shortly introduce bills to enforce judicial accountability and tackle public corruption. It was seriously thinking of a solution to decriminalise defamation.

Speaking after awarding the International Press Institute-India Chapter Award for Excellence in Journalism to weekly newspaper Tehelka for its reportage on brutal custodial killings in Manipur, he said some pernicious tendencies like “paid news” had crept into the media.

He warned that there was a perception that the media was concerned only about the elite class. “The atrocities in rural India — where power, exploitation and casteism are more rampant than in cities — do not find space in the media,” he said.

Mr. Moily said the media should take upon itself the responsibility to act as a body capable of self-correction as it would not be proper on the part of the government to take up this role.

Editor of TheHindu N. Ravi, who is also chairperson of the India Chapter of the International Press Institute, in his welcome address, sought the immediate intervention of the Law Minister in decriminalising defamation. “Defamation should be treated as a civil wrong. Criminal defamation is against the freedom of expression. Even neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka have abolished it,” Mr. Ravi said.

He also sought Mr. Moily's intervention in the frivolous initiation of criminal proceedings against journalists, writers, activists and actors by intolerant persons.

“Though the Supreme Court and High Courts have laid down guidelines on what amounts to contravention of freedom of expression, lower courts continue to mechanically register cases without application of mind. Cases are registered in far-off places, forcing the defendant to appear in person, causing much inconvenience,” Mr. Ravi said.

Praising the Tehelka reports that forced the Manipur government to act, the former Chief Justice of India, A.S. Anand, who headed the jury that decided on the award, deplored custodial violence and torture, terming it “a naked violation of human dignity.”

Accepting the award, Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal said the publication's major achievement was its firm embedding into two of the major narratives in India in this period. “We have covered the Muslim question and the Naxalite-Maoist movement by sending our reporters to the ground. We are living in the most contentious period in India's history. If there is anything talismanic about India, it is the founding vision of the country that Nehru and Gandhi dreamt of,” Mr. Tejpal said.

The former Union Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani, Editor's Guild of India president T.N. Ninan, Managing Editor of The Week Philip Mathew, former Union Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, Press Trust of India CEO M.K. Razdan, and Resident Editor of The Week in Delhi K.S. Sachidananda Murthy were present .

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