External regulation will hamper progress of democracy: Sashi Kumar

Amidst the calls for imposing an external mechanism to regulate the functioning of the media, noted journalist and Media Development Foundation chairman Sashi Kumar has cautioned that such a move could hamper the progress of democracy in the country.

He pointed out that media, when regulated by any of the three other pillars of democracy, will cease to exist as a free establishment and must, therefore, remain outside such systemic constitutional accountability. “A voluntary and consensual change is what is required in the media to bring about a self-regulation for greater accountability. Populism cannot be used to judge whether there should be regulation of the media. External regulation of the media is a dangerous concept, while self-regulation is much required,” he said.

He was speaking while inaugurating a debate on ‘Modern media practices and ethics,' organised here on Friday as part of the ruby jubilee celebrations of the Kottayam Press Club.

Mr. Sashi Kumar also sought to point out the “similarities” between the restrictions imposed upon the media during the Emergency and the proposed mechanism. “Any form of content regulation could only become a euphemism for censorship. During the Emergency, there were a number of efforts to muzzle the press. Tough, draconian laws against the press were mooted. However, because of the joint resistance of both the media and people, these moves did not come to be. Therefore, these freedoms have been salvaged through struggle in the Indian context. Moreover, despite attempts by the legislature and the judiciary to haul up the members of the press in the past in the name of breach of privilege and contempt of court respectively, the issue has never been forced, mainly due to the assumption that the freedom of the press is an essential ingredient of democracy.

Mr. Sashi Kumar also pointed out that the argument for regulation of media in India was not comparable to that in the other parts of the world. “In the United States, there are strong constitutional guarantees for the freedom of the press. The First Amendment of the US constitution states, specifically, that Congress shall make no laws which abridge the freedom of the press. In the United Kingdom, the liberties of the press have been fought and wrested through years of sacrifice. The freedom of the press is part of the genetic makeup of the socio-political environment there,” he said.

“However, the situation in India is different. The freedoms under which the media are operating are only those available to any citizen in the country. Hence, free press is not a constitutionally guaranteed right, but is inferred with respect to other rights,” he said.

Mr. Sashi Kumar was of the opinion that the powers of the Press Council of India should be expanded so as to cover the electronic, radio, and the online media in addition to the print media. “Technological convergence has made it necessary for all forms of media to come under a single umbrella. However, the body should only act as a public-grievance-hearing mechanism on the lines of the Press Complaints Commission of UK,” he said.

He also lamented the fact that there was a growing disconnect between media and journalism. “Much of the media has focused itself on mere business. This is an internal threat to the fourth estate. Journalism is being pushed to a corner of the media. Organisations in journalism are collapsing and journalists are gradually losing their sovereignty. Such a press does not deserve all the freedoms that are being debated about. What is required is a media that is driven and dominated by journalism,” he said.

He also dismissed the claims of certain newspaper establishments that the implementation of the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Board would threaten the freedom of the press. “Monopolies in the Indian media should be ascertained and brought to light. The structural inequalities in the market need to be smoothened so as to bring about greater pluralism operating in the media. This would ultimately prevent distortions and excesses of the necessary facts during the practice of journalism,” he added.

  • Says powers of Press Council should be expanded
  • ‘There is disconnect between media and journalism'