Amid criticism that his move to determine minimum qualifications for journalists is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the profession, Press Council of India (PCI) chairperson, Markandey Katju, called for a ‘healthy debate’ on the issue and lashed out at ‘touchy journalists’. He has also expanded the mandate of the committee, meant to decide on educational standards for journalists, to suggest ways to regulate and supervise journalism institutes and departments.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr Katju said that since journalism was now a ‘developed profession’, it required ‘formal qualifications’.
“Journalism is a specialised field now. Areas of super-specialisations like legal, financial, labour, agricultural reporting are growing. This requires formal training.” He argued that even peons needed a high school certificate. “What is the justification for journalists not meeting any minimum standards?”
Responding to the fact that many established and successful journalists never went to journalism school, the PCI chairman said they were good journalists ‘despite that, and not because of it’. “Many others could have become great journalists and blossomed, but did not because they did not have formal training.”
He also countered the argument that there were no legal barriers to become a journalist in any other democracy with a free and independent media. “Just because nothing has happened in the past and elsewhere does not mean it cannot happen in the future.”
Mr Katju also dismissed the notion that employers must be left with the right to judge whether someone was qualified and indicated regulatory bodies could set minimum standards.
Elaborating on his desired model, Mr Katju said that anyone who became a full-time journalist, even if the person had a masters or PhD in an academic discipline, must go through a journalism school. “They must obtain a diploma or degree. And then, like the Bar Council gives licenses to lawyers, journalists must get licenses. In case of any professional misconduct, these licenses can be withdrawn.”
He clarified that since the Press Council’s mandate was limited to the print media, the committee would not look at minimum standards in television or new media journalism. “But these mediums, like any social activity, must be regulated too.”
Mr Katju added that he was just making a suggestion. “The committee will give a report. The Press Council may accept or reject it, or accept it with modifications. It will then go to the government, which may accept or reject it. The government will then present it to parliament, which will send it to a Select Committee. The Select Committee will come back to the parliament. Both houses will debate it, and only after it is approved by a majority and the president signs it, the bill will become a law. Why make such a hue and cry instead of engaging in a healthy debate?”
Journalists, Mr Katju said, sat on judgement on everyone else but whenever anyone made a suggestion to reform the profession, they launched ‘furious attacks’. “Are they above questioning and criticism?” he asked.
The PCI move continued to draw criticism from media organisations. The Delhi Union of Journalists, in a statement, called it ‘regressive’ and said institutionalising minimum standards would make the professional ‘restrictive’ and reflect the ‘bias of the privileged’.
The South Asia Media Commission said the decision was beyond PCI’s ‘jurisdiction’, and would lead to the ‘end of press freedom’.