There is serious need for codification of legislative privileges and contempt: N. Ram
NEW DELHI: Huge investments, the emergence of media conglomerates and their explosive growth have brought into focus new considerations that guide professional media decisions, Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Hamid Ansari said here on Wednesday.
“Today, the demands of professional journalists are carefully balanced with the interests of owners and stakeholders of media companies and their cross media interests. The interplay of these conflicting demands is evident and [a] subject of public debate,” he said inaugurating a three-day workshop on “Parliament and the Media” organised by the Rajya Sabha.
The amazing media growth had highlighted that the Fourth Estate was the only one among the pillars of democracy that had an identifiable commercial and explicitly for-profit persona.
He also stressed the need for proper training of media professionals in proportion to the media growth. Some media organisations give in-house training to improve the quality of output but “the results so far have not been encouraging.” Professional training of journalists could be imparted with greater ease and the difficult part was to resurrect the professional and ethical dimension of journalism.
Mr. Ansari also referred to The Hindu journalist P. Sainath’s exposure of extensive malpractice of “paid news” and “coverage packages” in the recent elections in some States. He pointed out that the Press Council of India’s guidelines to the media call for “not accepting or publishing any advertisement at the cost of the public exchequer regarding achievements of a party or government in power.” The Council had noted that paid news could cause double jeopardy to Indian democracy through a damaging influence on press functioning as well as on the free and fair election process, he said.
“Continue the debate”
Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan wanted the media to continue the debate on the codification of parliamentary privileges and said no privileges committee or presiding officer could say that they had unbound powers.
Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N. Ram said Parliament was “pre-eminent” and the Constitution was “supreme” in India. Referring to the declaration of a former Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly that he had “sky high powers” and the arrest of a [Tamil] journalist for publishing a cartoon criticising the legislators, he suggested there was serious need for codification of “legislative privileges and contempt.”
The legislators, by failing in their “historic and constitutional duty” to codify the legislative privileges, had left a suspicion on whether they too were supporting the “sky high powers” slogan.
He also criticised the “coverage package” in the recent elections in some States that was exposed by The Hindu, and hyper commercialisation of a few sections of the media.
The former Editor of Hindi daily Hindustan, Mrinal Pandey, sought a code of ethics for both print and visual media as well as “some kind of monitoring body.”
Political Editor of Hindustan Times Vinod Sharma regretted that “bad money” was invested in media by a section of people and referred to instances in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where two major political parties were being made to “kneel” before the media barons.