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Regulate Governance, Not Media!
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
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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Comments on this Article
Dinesh Kumar Bohre
05/05/2012 15:02 PM
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