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Regulate Governance, Not Media!
by Dr. Rajinder Puri Bookmark and Share

After Congress leader Ms. Meenakshi Natarajan proposed a draconian Private Member’s Bill in parliament to regulate the media there was controversy. Ms. Natarajan is reputedly close to Mr. Rahul Gandhi. The Congress Party distanced itself from the proposed Bill and clarified that it had not been endorsed by Mr. Gandhi. This episode need not concern us. What do attract attention are the views expressed on the subject by the Press Council of India Chairman Justice Mr. Markandey Katju through a newspaper article in a national daily.

Without going into the merits of the proposed Bill, which Justice Katju acknowledged he had not read, he supported in principle the need to regulate the media. He drew a distinction between control and regulation. He also opined that regulation should not be done by the government but by an independent statutory body like the Press Council of India. In support of his view Justice Katju drew attention to Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution stating that the right to freedom of speech and expression was subject to reasonable restriction. Justice Katju wrote: “Thus, while there should be freedom for the media and not control over it, this freedom must be exercised in a manner not to adversely affect the security of the state, public order, morality, etc. No right can be absolute; every right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest.” 

Justice Katju rubbished the view that self regulation by the media would work. Further in his article he wrote: “If the broadcast media claims self-regulation, then on the same logic everyone should be allowed self-regulation. Why then have laws at all, why have a law against theft, rape or murder? Why not abolish the Indian Penal Code and ask everyone to practise self-regulation?” Clearly the thrust of his argument was that self-regulation was not required where laws of the Indian Penal Code were operating. He seemed to imply that laws to restrict the media were absent. 

One is truly astonished how a former Supreme Court Judge can display such confusion and muddled thinking. Has the honourable Judge forgotten the existence of Section 499 of the Indian penal Code (IPC) that renders defamatory expression as a punishable crime; or Section 292 of the IPC that rules obscenity as a punishable crime; or Section 124A of the IPC that considers attempts to bring into hatred or contempt the government to be sedition and punishable as crime; or Section 506 of the IPC that considers all forms of intimidation to be punishable as crime; or Section 153A of the IPC that considers all attempts to create hatred and disaffection among communities to be a punishable crime…?

Justice Katju betrays the commonest failing of India ’s ruling class. There is more than a surfeit of laws to compel proper public conduct including performance by the media. But these laws are seldom implemented. Instead with each mini crisis there is a knee jerk reaction to create a new law or a new institution to further clutter up an already overcrowded bunch of laws, rules and institutions. All laws to ensure that the media remains suitably restrained are already in place. What is absent is the will to enforce laws. Frequent media violations of contempt and defamation laws are unchecked. Freedom of the media should not be inhibited by busybodies like the Press Council of India with its gratuitous, non-enforceable advice. Instead of contemplating a new set of regulation guidelines for the media, Justice Katju should seriously consider whether he is serving any public interest by his frequent bouts of pontification. He should seriously reflect whether the Press Council of India serves any purpose or should it be wound up.   

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Comment I read that article by Mr. Katju in 'The Hindu" paper, I left it after reading 2/3rd of it, reason - it did not interest me to read it to completion.

But, I would like to draw attention to very significant point to all readers.

Media is today far more powerful than it is understood. It reaches directly inside our bedrooms and living rooms. There are many programs aired by news channels and entertainment channels that work in legal boundaries yet against social or culture and/or national interests. By enforcing existing laws, such activities cannot be stopped, simply because there is no law to check them.

For example, last year around Arp 2011, Times Now news channel 'chose' to portray Baba Ramdev’s announcement to conduct 'anshan' in New Delhi to get black money abroad illegal - as an action purely driven by his political ambitions !!!

Further, otherwise so vocal and digging depth of an issue, the channel chose not to conduct any debate on the issue of black money !! Certainly it is not illegal and certainly it is against national interest - the stands seems to be taken purposely and knowingly.

There is a 'newly introduced' Hindi local newspaper - 'Patrika' in many parts of Hindi belt in the country. It is practically distributed free in some places - the distributor does not come to collect dues from customer, although there is a price printed on it. When petrol price was hiked some time in Oct/Nov 2011, the news paper covered the news on front page in Chhattisgarh state and gave an impression that the state govt (BJP !) was responsible for the fuel price hike (rather than UPA govt at the center). It further failed to convey the fact that nearly 40% of fuel price was various taxes which automatically increase when fuel price is increased. Which kind of law today prevents such misleading news ?

Let's take a bit old example, from 1997-98. When BJP came to power and had 'nuclear test' promised in manifesto. Several 'serious' articles were published in ‘opinion page’, including editorial on this topic in TOI over several weeks. I was avid reader of TOI then. The articles gradually lead the reader(s) to a conclusion that conducting 'nuclear test' was against national interest and that it was merely a political gimmick to declare it on BJP’s manifesto. Well, the nuclear test happened indeed, we all know how well it fit into the national interests. Well, TOI and so many senior idiots merely 'expressed' there opinion. It is the other matter that millions read them and believed them. But, in democracy people's opinion brings one govt down or lifts opposition to power and these idiots frame people's mindset that brings a political party down or up.

Let's take another example, merely 10 years back, 'bindi' was our culture. It's no more in metros and urban areas. Those entertainment channels decided to make it go ! Such is the power of media - no one preached directly not to put 'bindi' on forehead, they just tried to imitate western style.

We just lost 'namste/namaskar' and gave in to 'hi' because of this media. Although even small countries have preserved their identity despite engaging themselves in globalization in bigger way than India. In Israel they greet with 'shalom', in Finland it's 'moi' and 'hua minta', in Malaysia & Indonesia they say 'terimakasih' for good bye and so on. But in India, we just moved to 'hi' & 'bye' as TV channels grew their business just in 1,5 decades.

One can say that it's individual's choice to say 'hi' or to say 'namaste' and to put o ‘bindi’. Does is it really an individual's choice ? [there is a fundamental law of social psychology that must be ignored to say that it’s individual’s choice]

TV and newspapers have biggest impact on our mindset, they are continuously moudling opinion and mindset or masses, day and night.

No law exists to control this and no govt can take shelter of existing laws to control this either. Mr. Rajunder Puri himself provided a serious insight on the recent episode involving Mr. Murdoch in UK - how biggest news agency shaped opinion of masses in UK, USA and elsewhere in favour of outsourcing business to China.

That's the reason even big politicians want to keep their relationship with any media channel 'warm', despite attacks by the same media channel on those politicians.

Who is going to decide the content that news channels, entertainment channels and newspapers provide, are in national interests, social interests and cultural interests ?

A regulatory body is indeed needed, but for more fundamental reasons than understood/mentioned by Mr. Katju.

Such bodies existed in our rich past although through different means, we need such bodies again and will be needed till mankind remains in existence.

If media is left to work on it's own according to its business interest, then soon there will be foreign hands controlling it and they will start forming opinion of masses in India, certainly this will not be in national interest.

A powerful independent, govt authorized body is needed to regulate our media, because there is much more to worry about than merely direct indulgence of media in illegal activities.

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
05/05/2012 15:02 PM

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