Deeply concerned over the ‘erosion of values' in the media, Justice (retd) G.N. Ray, chairman of the Press Council of India, on Thursday said it was time the government directly regulated its functioning, including that of the electronic media.

Talking to The Hindu during an interaction with members of communities with different sexual preferences and those affected by HIV, Justice Ray said it was an accepted fact that there was erosion of values in the media; that guidelines and ethics were not being followed, which was not good for a healthy society.

Not making any direct reference to the Niira Radia tape controversy on the grounds that the matter was being looked into by the Supreme Court, Justice Ray said it embarrassed the government, legislators and regulatory bodies such as the Press Council of India to have to criticise the media — which is meant to act as a watchdog — for violation of ethics. “When the media is criticised, there is sadness,” he said, while reiterating the demand for amending the Press Council Act, 1978.

Pointing out that self-regulation in the media had failed the world over, Justice Ray said regulation of some kind had to be there, voluntary or legislated, for the benefit of society. “But self-regulation and a sense of responsibility are a must at the individual level too,” he said.

Stressing the need for sensitising journalists, Justice Ray suggested that journalism schools should have chapters, each dedicated to an issue — such as HIV/AIDS, financial news, and so on.

Justice Ray said the Press Council of India had issued guidelines for the coverage of HIV/AIDS-related issues in 1993, but these were not being followed strictly. Names, identities and other issues related to people from these communities were being given out without their consent, which resulted in discrimination and added to the social stigma they already faced.

After lending a patient ear to representatives from the different groups — transgender people, men having sex with men, male commercial sex-workers, injecting drug-users, female sex-workers, and people living with HIV/AIDS — who narrated experiences of discrimination, harassment, and lack of access to healthcare, Justice Ray said the Council would soon write to the State Health Departments to ensure that they had access to healthcare.

This was the first of its kind of interactions where ‘marginalised' communities brought out their concerns regarding media coverage before the regulatory body. “Journalists must ensure that their story is objective, factual and sensitive, more so when they are reporting on HIV and AIDS. The voices of people with HIV and AIDS must be heard more strongly and must include vulnerable and marginalised people's,” the guidelines suggest.

In the context of HIV and AIDS, the press should take care not to promote myths related to prevention and transmission of HIV or to claims that advertise protection from the infection.

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