An external regulatory body for news media in the Indian context will very quickly slip or lapse into a body of censorship, said Sashi Kumar, Chairman of the Media Development Foundation.
Delivering a lecture on ‘Freedom of press or freedom from the press', organised by the Indian School of Social Sciences, Mr. Sashi Kumar quoted Italian philosopher Umberto Eco to support the argument that unlike the other three pillars of democracy, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, the fourth estate or the media, could not be made accountable to people constitutionally and institutionally.
If it were to be made accountable, then it was only one of the other pillars or combination of other pillars that could actually hold it accountable. “And such a media will not be a free media; it will be a guided media,” he said. “You cannot discuss the media in the same breath as you discuss other pillars of democracy.”
As regards Press Council Chairman Markandeya Katju's argument that when the US and other European countries could have strong regulatory bodies why not in India, he said in those countries there was no content regulation.
Stressing the need for differentiating the content regulation and the regulation of object situation in which the media operated, he said that while in the UK there was a long-evolved freedom of press, in the US the freedom of press was constitutionally guaranteed. “But, in India, there is no constitutionally guaranteed freedom. It is not a safe right. It is a fragile right and continues to be fragile because it is not guaranteed constitutionally. The press only enjoy the moral high ground.”
Mr. Sashi Kumar said that the lack of constitutional stipulation or descriptive rights as in the US context had created a situation in which the state had sought to erode the freedom of the press at every vulnerable point, including during the days of emergency.
Stressing the need to understand the consequences of acquisition of media by corporate houses within the country and abroad, he said in India many media houses were creating big properties so that these could be sold to foreign companies for huge money.