Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare is back in the news after hardly a week of post-fast recuperation at his Ralegan Siddhi abode. He has held a two-day meeting with core members of Team Anna and reportedly given 17 interviews to TV channels in 11 hours. However, the news from New Delhi does not appear encouraging in respect of the promised passage of the Lokpal Bill in the winter session of Parliament, at least not in the way Team Anna would want to have it.
The mass movement against corruption may need to cross many more hurdles before achieving the aim of having a strong and effective Lokpal in place. For instance, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), after a critical study of the government's Lokpal Bill and Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill, has claimed that both the Bills were “unworkable.” Presenting the agency's views on the two bills to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Law, Justice and Personnel recently, CBI Director A.P. Singh pleaded that the CBI should be retained as the premier investigating agency for corruption cases, in accordance with a Supreme Court judgment to that effect. The underlying principle behind the bills is to give more autonomy to the investigating agency in order to shield it from political interference. The CBI chief was also critical of any provision that would confer police powers on the Lokpal to empower it to supervise the anti-corruption wing and contended that such a move might result in a breach in the doctrine of separation of powers. The investigating agency also feared that some provisions of the bill might cause conflicts of jurisdiction and erosion of credibility of both the organisations. (The Hindu, September 15, 2011.) The issues raised by the CBI will no doubt be addressed before finalising the legislation.
More anti-corruption laws
The same day Union Ministers Salman Khursheed and V. Narayanasamy, members of the Group of Ministers on the media, unveiled the government's plans to bring in more anti-corruption laws. These would deal with electoral reform, public procurement policy, public disclosure, accountability of judges, and service delivery to citizens (citizen's charters). These laws would be in addition to the proposed law on the Lokpal. Another task before the Centre is to expedite disposal of about 10,000 corruption-related cases pending action for decades through fast-track courts and other measures. The government, the Ministers revealed, would soon form a committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to study cases that were pending trial for more than 10 years and arrange for speedy trials.
Media have a major role
Although a sort of grievance redressal system has been introduced at the Central and State levels in the last decade, most of them have remained on paper; and where they function, awareness among people about the functioning of the system is poor, according to studies. Besides, the officials in charge of the system ought to take greater interest in connecting ordinary people to the government. What also emerges from the studies is that a large number of officials do not specify the timeframe within which complaining citizens can expect redress. Here is an area where the news media can make a real difference: they can raise public awareness about the grievance redressal system, play an educative role on citizens' rights and entitlements, and also independently monitor the working of the system. There is great scope for insightful reporting and investigative journalism here.
A mixed response
The last column (“Print media do better than TV: coverage of Hazare fast,” September 5, 2011) has, by and large, received a good response from the readers.
Here are some excerpts:
M.K. Bajaj (Zirakpur) regretted in his e-mail that the news channels competed with each other to ridicule and humiliate the democratically elected government of the day. Even parliamentarians and politicians of all hues were not spared. However, he had a word of appreciation for The Hindu for its balanced coverage. S.V. Venugopalan (Chennai) felt the splendid range of cartoons by Keshav and Surendra deserved special mention in the column. Anoop S. (Thodupuzha) appreciated all the editorials on the subject in The Hindu for their “clarity and objectivity.” Akash Goyal (Yamuna Nagar) noted, in his brief mail, that the column had ignored “hours and hours” of debates provided by the news channels. C.G. Rishikesh (online) observed that the review “sadly” confined itself to “summarizing the editorials and articles,” already read by readers. If the heading had been ‘Coverage of Hazare fast by The Hindu,' that would have been nearer the truth, he commented.
Interestingly, the fight against corruption in India led by Anna Hazare received wide media coverage in the United States and Germany. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and several other newspapers published reports and articles. Kurt Waschnig from Oldenburg, Germany in his response to the The Hindu (online) noted that German newspapers, including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau, reported regularly on Anna Hazare's fast and his determination to curb corruption in India. “The coverage of Anna Hazare's movement in German newspapers was balanced and insightful,” Mr. Waschnig remarked, adding that The Hindu's editorials and articles showed that the newspaper as a national institution supported Anna in his legal and peaceful fight against corruption.