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Updated: December 13, 2011 14:07 IST

The debate on the Indian media deepens

S. Viswanathan
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S. Viswanathan
The Hindu S. Viswanathan

Discussion and debate over the key issues relating to media standards and performance — and in particular what is to be done about them — raised by the Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Markandey Katju continue in different places. Unsurprisingly, given his differences with Mr. Katju and also his chairmanship of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a ‘self-regulatory' mechanism set up by the News Broadcasters Association, J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India, has come out in support of self-regulation by the media — but has added a stern qualifier to this.

Speaking on “Content regulation in India” at the FICCI Media and Entertainment and Business Conclave 2011 in Chennai on December 3, Mr. Verma cautioned the media that failure to exercise self-restraint and regulate their performance would provide “a justifiable reason” for intervention from outside. He claimed that in the last couple of years there have been improvements in the performance of the broadcast media — which he attributed to compliance with the code of ethics framed by the NBA in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and also the advisories issued by it from time to time. It is unlikely that this assessment will find favour with large sections of public opinion.

Mr. Verma then seemed to argue against his own assessment by deploring “the lack of decency and public interest purpose” in private television news channels repeatedly telecasting visuals of an assault on a prominent public figure (Sharad Pawar), which was surely not an isolated instance. He also spoke out against media trials that seriously interfered with the cause of justice, citing the negative terms that were used in referring to someone in high office who had been named as an accused in a corruption case and “the lack of due diligence” that harmed the reputation of individuals.

Significantly, while he was critical of the “words” used by Mr. Katju, he conceded that the “bottom line” was the fact that a large section of public opinion was in favour of the PCI chairman's views on the Indian media.

What this signals perhaps is a subtle but significant shift of stand by a former Chief Justice of India who, like Mr. Katju, has an unimpeachable reputation for personal integrity.

Readers' response

The pattern of response to the last Readers' Editor column, “Media and key issues raised by Markandey Katju” (November 28, 2011), was instructive. Most of those who responded agreed with the PCI chairman that it was time to strengthen the governance and regulatory system for the Indian news media, broadcast as well as print.

A distinguished retired senior civil servant and former Governor, A. Padmanaban (Chennai), welcomed the fact that both Mr. Katju and Vice President of India Hamid Ansari had raised several questions that pointed to the need for building a healthy and more balanced media. Starting with the proposition that the freedom of the press must be preserved and protected and the standards of newspapers maintained, he commented that newspapers, barring a few, and news channels did not appear to maintain proper standards conducive to the public good and to the country's progress. Newspapers like The Hindu had a Readers Editor column that highlighted public issues and gave scope for readers to respond and reflect but most others did not have anything like this. Asserting that the position of TV channels was worse, he emphasised the need for an effective self-regulatory mechanism.

Mr. Padmanaban recalled a speech by President K.R. Narayanan at the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Supreme Court of India in January 2000. “It is heartening that under the leadership of the Chief Justice of India Dr. Anand,” Mr. Narayanan had reflected, “the conference of Chief Justices of India has adopted a statement of values of judicial life as a step toward self-reform of the judiciary. I hope that this statement of values by the judiciary would pave the way for accountable judiciary for India for dispensing quick, affordable and incorruptible justice to the people.” In Mr. Padmanaban's opinion, “a suitable statement of values and self-regulatory mechanism to make the media accountable” was “long overdue.”

V.J. Nambiar emailed from Jakarta to say that the question before the people was how the Indian media could regain their independence and objectivity in reporting. The people's response to the ongoing debate started by Mr. Katju, he noted, was on the following lines: Citizens wanted a media that put the people, the nation, and the planet above everything else, not serve the interests of corporate bodies and politicians; they needed a media that would emphasise the need for a holistic approach to development and the well-being of society as a whole, not economic growth merely for statistical purposes: they wanted the media to emphasise economic growth that would re-create a sense of community, trust, well-being, and environmental sustainability, not just GDP growth for the government to trumpet about.

J.P. Reddy (Nalgonda) observed that the debate triggered by Mr. Katju had opened a Pandora's box about media operations in India. A lot of criticism was seen from the public about the attitude, behaviour, and performance of mediapersons. The media appeared to have their own agenda: with selfish and commercial motives, they turned non-issues into major issues. A section of journalists was critical of the issues raised by the Press Council of India chief and a few among them had even asked for his removal. However, most readers and viewers, besides several senior journalists, supported Mr. Katju's stand. Amid arguments for and against self-regulation, the news channels repeatedly telecast the slapping of Union Minister Sharad Pawar by a miscreant. Where then was self-regulation, the reader wondered, commenting that Katju was perfectly right in arguing against self-regulation.

C.P. Chandra Das said in his e-mail that Mr. Katju was justified in pressing the media to allot more time and space for highlighting the burning issues before the common people. His approach to the overall media was highly balanced, this reader commented.

There can be little doubt where those among the reading and viewing public who take the trouble to respond stand on these media and society issues — and the question of governance and regulation. Trust in media self-regulation, it seems, is at a very low point.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

Why are the media barons, Editors Guild , PCI members & journalists groups within the country, afraid to call for a public debate titled "INDIAN MEDIA NEEDS EXTERNAL REGULATION OR NOT ", similiar to the ones held on bbc ? Hold one in each metro . Let the public -the readers & viewers ,who are the ultimate consumers, participate and express their views and let the stalwarts of Indian media listen . It is a healthy practise to debate such issues and a good precedence for media -consumer interaction in future too .

from:  VJ NAMBIAR
Posted on: Dec 13, 2011 at 09:36 IST

these days it is becoming quite fashionable to condemn media on higher moral grounds but this self righteous condemnation is often devoid of integral critique of institutional arrangements so this condemnation of media may gratify intellectuals recognition urges who enjoy their own ferocious dismissal of media. But this dismissive so called analysis of media lands us no where and this really blinds us in developing critique of media and popular culture. these justice(S) never discuss the the state of judiciary, the current state of political economy, current governance , demolition of the promises made in the constitutional preamble by the current pro glottalization legal frame-work, falling human development index, increasing rich -poor divide, loss of welfare spirit in the governance etc. isolationist and fragmentary condemnation of media is propelled by shallow hedonism which deny the fundamental critique of political economy to preserve status -quo of elitist order

from:  Deependra Baghel
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011 at 21:47 IST

News broadcasting is a consumer good, like toothpaste or comb.
However, we regulate the quality of toothpaste because we know what
harms our body, but we have no such idea of what harms our society.
So, we cannot impose outside regulation on Media. Remember what it was
like when there was no private news media in India. Private news media
showing pawar slap 100 times is 1000000’s of times better than
Doordarshan under the govt regulations. India is not a mature
democracy. In the process of becoming a mature and vibrant democracy,
there will be problems, but you cannot put regulations on media or
freedom of expression, just because people don’t like it. Remember,
India is also a REPULIC. We have fundamental rights, not just laws
imposed by masses (democracy). Fundamental rights are superior. I
agree with Katsu but, imposing outside regulations because many people
want is against fundamental rights.

from:  srinivas
Posted on: Dec 8, 2011 at 21:52 IST

Self regulation is just an euphemism for status quo and inaction. While the electronic media is still in a nascent phase and will take >time to evolve its own standards but given the diversity of interests in India, should we wait till that time? Ideally, proactive intervention (outside or inside) would be welcome. Media should also be accountable to people of India just like the executive, legislature, judiciary and other constitutional bodies are accountable. Apart from news, there has to be a regulation of content too. A recent example is the presence of a pornographic actress in BigBoss, I am surprised none of the 'social watchdogs' in media or outside have raised it yet. Self regulation is a clear failure and Mr. Katju's assertion regarding a regulatory mechanism is well justified.

from:  sanjay
Posted on: Dec 7, 2011 at 11:59 IST

The need for stringent means of protecting national interests , SOCIETY and citizens from the unethical excesses of some sections of the media is now strong. Calls for more media control are already being heard from the readers and viewers , who are ultimately the consumers for the media .
Finding a way to preserve media freedom, while at the same time expecting, and monitoring, ethical standards will not be easy, but it is undoubtedly the challenge which the STALWARTS of Indian media should debate and find a solution under leadership of Justice KATJU in the PCI .

from:  RALPH PAUL
Posted on: Dec 6, 2011 at 16:40 IST

More than a few in the Indian media are guilty but all are responsible for being complicit in the 'conspiracy of silence' they maintain regarding the ills in the Indian media today . When the NOW controversy broke out in UK over phone hacking , a debate should have been initiated in India - atleast by the 'still independent & unbiased' media -if any . The readers and viewers in India know the truth already . Many would prefer some media houses be shut down like the NOW in the UK. Reason why there is so much outpouring of support for Justice Katju's views. Instead of hypocritically pretending to occupy a high moral ground , its high time , the media barons, Editors Guild , PCI members & journalists within the country realise & take note on what the citizens think about INDIAN MEDIA TODAY and initiate moves to build credibility and for a course correction rather than opposing it .

from:  VJ NAMBIAR
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 14:43 IST

The citizens are the consumers for the print and visual media . The media is there for the consumers and only because of the consumers. Media must necessarily take into consideration their views. If those in the media have any doubts about what the consumer is looking for in the Indian media , please hold public debates in Chennai , Delhi , Bangalore, Mumbai etc under the aegis of PCI . You will get a feel of what the people think about Indian media today and what you must deliver .

from:  VJ NAMBIAR
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 11:49 IST

If the Indian media wants only self-regulation , let them first declare their ownership to the readers & viewers. The media is expected to be neutral and free of political or corporate biases. That is how [the media] serves public interest or its role of informing the public. Can it deliver such values,under the current trend of being 'politicized'or 'corporatized' through ownerships? OR as long as the media [affiliated with political parties or Corporates ] upholds journalistic ethics and covers all sides and gives voice to different views, there is no problem. Question is : DOES IT ?? What does 'radia tapes' and 'paid-news' scandal and 2 member sub-committe report now on PCI website prove ? Instead of culpable silence, did the the media barons, Editors Guild , PCI members & journalists groups punish the offenders to uphold the integrity of Indian media ? Does it not mean then that 'self-regulation' will not work and Indian media requires a watchdog ?

from:  RALPH PAUL
Posted on: Dec 5, 2011 at 09:03 IST
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