Opinion » Readers' Editor

Updated: August 23, 2013 15:31 IST

Keep media space open to all

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The Hindu

Justice Katju has once again stirred up a hornet’s nest — this time by suggesting a minimum academic requisite for journalists. Somewhere he fails to understand that the unintended consequences of a well-meaning prescription may undermine the wellsprings of democratic entailments.

First let us look at Justice Katju’s template for improving journalistic quality as enunciated in a press release. He says: “For quite some time an issue has arisen about the need for a qualification for entry into the profession of journalism. In the lawyers profession an LLB Degree as well as registration in a Bar Council is required. Similarly, for entry into the medical profession the necessary qualification is an MBBS Degree and also registration with the Medical Council. For becoming a teacher a teacher’s training certificate/degree is required. Many other professions have the requirement of some qualification before one can enter that profession. However, at present there is no qualification for entry into the profession of journalism. Hence very often persons with little or inadequate training in journalism enter the profession, and this often leads to negative effects, because such untrained persons often do not maintain high standards of journalism. For quite some time, therefore, it has been felt that there must be some legal qualification before one can enter the profession of journalism. There are no doubt many institutions which impart teaching in journalism (some of which is very unsatisfactory) but there is as yet no legal requirement for having any qualification before entering the profession.”

Conceptually limited

This template is conceptually limited in its understanding of journalism and its societal role. Journalism as a profession cannot be compared to legal, medical or scientific jobs. Its sibling is politics. Journalism, like politics, is an arena for a larger democratic engagement. Politics and journalism have intrinsically inscribed multiple functions that bequeath them the special space in our societies and there cannot be an entry barrier to these professions. Does it mean we have perfect systems to make our journalism and politics excel in delivering for the people? We are very far from any such ideals.

Shun exclusivity

Let’s first list out some of the inalienable rights that need to be protected for journalism and politics. Both should be accessible to every one regardless of one’s class, caste, gender, linguistic and academic station in life. The governing term for these two professions is inclusion and both cannot have anything that suggests exclusivity or entry barrier. People shall have their choice of how they are going to be engaged with these democratic practices.

Like our polity, our media too is not a monolith. It operates in multiple levels, with multiple skills and having the task of simultaneously addressing the general requirements as well as particulars. The central element in this imagination is that any reader can be a writer articulating his or her view and any voter can be a potential political candidate representing the desires and aspirations of the people.

In his eminently readable book, India after Gandhi, historian Ramachandra Guha writes about the first general elections in detail. He says: “India’s first general election was among other things, an act of faith. A newly independent country chose to move straight into universal adult suffrage, rather than — as had been the case in the West — at first reserve the right to vote to men of property, with the working class and women excluded from the franchise until much later.”

Guha also quotes a visiting Turkish journalist Ahmed Emin Yalman’s observation about the first election: “The main credit goes to the nation itself; 176,000,000 Indians were left alone with their conscience in the face of the polling box. It was direct and secret voting. They had their choice between theocracy, chauvinism, communal separatism and isolationism on the one side; secularism, national unity, stability, moderation and friendly intercourse with the rest of the world on the other. They showed their maturity in choosing moderation and progress and disapproving of reaction and unrest.”

Enabling option

This is where we need to draw our lessons for media. It is true that journalism today is facing a crisis. So is our body polity. But, no corrective attempt should undermine the most enabling option provided by these two major interfaces between the populace and the instruments of governance.

Having said that, the focus should be on setting high professional standards, good ethical practices and having a series of refresher programmes for journalists to deal with the new challenges. Elsewhere I wrote that 30 years ago, LPG meant Liquefied Petroleum Gas and GDR meant German Democratic Republic. Today, LPG means Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation and GDR is the abbreviation for Global Depository Receipts. The changes were rapid, and they continue. There were few resources accessible for journalists to make sense of these major shifts in the policy framework and its impact on our livelihoods. There is a real need for on-the-job-training for journalists to keep in pace with the changing reality. And, this comes at the level of mid career and not at the entry level which may deny media space for the less privileged.

This article has been corrected for an editing error.

Justic Katju is absolutely right in calling for basic qualifications for journalists. Too many have started masqurading as journalists with the only qualification of being rabble rousers and raking up issues out of proportion to the context. The ability to stand up to the number of pegs served in parties has become the basic qualification for journalistic ability. A journalist's job is sought after for the perks the job offers rather than analytical ability and ability to present a balanced view in keeping with the multilingual and cultural social fabric that exists in the country of ours. Let not journalist rogues destroy the unity in diversity of this great nation by running after trophies by mailing sensational news without verification of the authenticity. Justic Katju's call is at the right time when news media has exploded in the manner of a nuclear fission.

from:  R.Vijaykumar
Posted on: Mar 20, 2013 at 07:38 IST

The point put by reader's editor is acceptable as journalism like politics should be open to all, which is also in line with the right to freedom of speech and expression available to all citizens. Mr. Katju's intentions and Reader's editor's concerns are same but the means recommended by the two are different. There should be a healthy debate on this as declining media standards and sensationalism cannot be ignored now.

from:  brijesh
Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 15:51 IST

Like a lawyer or doctor, the journalist too should have proper and relevant qualification to enter into the job of journalist. The absence of qualification will result in incorrect, substandard reporting and write ups. Katju's views deserve consideration

from:  K.C.Thomas
Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 15:42 IST

The argument that having eligibility criteria in form of academic qualitification makes journalism inaccessible to all is laughable.

The same is the case with any profession. For all the professions, the on field knowledge is more important than what is taught in colleges. Do we argue that we should close all schools/colleges and make every field open to all.

If somebody is a successful journalist, the academic qualification will enable him to greater success by making him equipped for the changes which as you claim is rapid.

For once Mr.Katju is right but the journalists see this as an attempt to frisk their freedom.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 15:30 IST

I would like to suggest that the need of the hour is to urgently fix the educational qualifications required for contesting elections to the Municipalities, State Legislatures, Lok Sabha, etc. This needs to be done well before the notification of elections to the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. The minimum qualifications should be prescribed as under: Municipalities: 10th Standard Pass, State Legislatures: 12th Class Pass and Lok Sabha: Any Bachelor Degree Pass. The same qualifications should be made applicable to the upper houses of state legislatures and Rajya Sabha too. I request Justice Katju to take up this cause also.

from:  Kannan R
Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 15:24 IST

1) How does justice Katju intend to regulate those who wish to write and do not meet
the minimum educational requirements? with blogs, social media sites and online
comments section, journalism isn't really restricted to the traditional mediums.

2) I do understand where he is coming from, in the sense that journalists wield a lot
of power as they can influence the thoughts and actions of a large number of people,
but then does more education always imply more conscientious and responsible
actions. Maybe not.

3) The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, hence such a law
or act goes directly against the foundations of our democracy.

from:  venayak
Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 11:31 IST

There are always two sides of a coin. What Justice Katju means is to ensure that the profession of journalism should be of high standards like any other.Its a commandment to qualitatively improve the roots and superstructure. There is no denying the fact that there is a lot of field-training that goes with nurturing the journalists, but the theory of knowledge has its own legitimacy. The need of the hour is to create a balance between cognition and cultivation of the professionals.

from:  Neha Pandey
Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 10:53 IST

This is not a fitting defense against Justice Katju's observations about journalism. Whatever be the profession, certain basic qualification is mandatory apart from aptitude. The learned among the readers are often finding lots of report(even in the reputed newspapers) historically incorrect, ignorant of bare-truths, omission of the crux of the matter, deviation from the main subject of discussion, intentional inclusion of details with wrong leading,etc. Instead of reading the news, the readers are amused to read the reporters.

from:  seetharaman.j
Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 07:57 IST
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