The International Federation of
Journalists (IFJ) notes that the Press Council of India (PCI) is beginning its
eleventh term under a newly appointed chairman, Justice Markandey Katju,
recently retired from the Supreme Court of India.
IFJ affiliates and partners in India, many of
which are represented on the PCI, have expressed their intent to make this term
of the media watchdog a meaningful one.
“The IFJ notes the strong views
expressed by Justice Katju in his public engagements since taking office,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
“In particular, we are interested in
the point Justice Katju made in his first public interaction with editors since taking office, about the need for
‘introspection’ within the Indian media.
“We are however, disappointed at his
aggressive and rather disparaging tone in a subsequent interview,
carried over a major English-language news channel in India.”
Justice Katju in this interview
speaks disdainfully of Indian journalists as being for the most part, “of a
very poor intellectual level.” Media personnel in general, he said, have no
idea of “economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature.”
The IFJ and its affiliates do not
regard these gratuitous judgments as appropriate for a person with high legal
and juristic experience.
Justice Katju has also called for
investing the PCI with statutory powers to punish media organisations that step
out of line of an accepted code of conduct.
“One of the reasons,” that
self-regulation has not worked, in his words, is that these have failed to
instil “fear in the media.”
In Justice Katju’s own words, the
means of achieving the regulatory ends that he has in mind are clear: “I want
powers to stop government advertisements, I want powers to suspend the licence
of that media for a certain period if it behaves in a very obnoxious manner.
“I want powers to impose fines, all
this in extreme situations.”
The IFJ respectfully submits that
this is the wrong regulatory framework for journalism, which if anything, is
faced with an ever-greater need today to reaffirm the values of fair and
The powers that Justice Katju would
like to claim for himself are already available under Indian law, but with
adequate safeguards to prevent their abuse. In fact, the PCI is already
designated as the appellate body where cases of denial or cancellation of
licences to publish would be heard.
That these powers have rarely been
used is a tribute to the strong culture of press freedom that prevails in India. The
occasional recourse to such coercive measures have however, been cause of much
concern for the community of journalists.
Justice Katju has also called for an
amendment to the Press Council of India Act, which would invest the body with
regulatory powers over television news channels.
IFJ affiliates and partners in India have for
long been calling for a similar amendment to the law to invest the PCI with
broader authority and redesignate it as the Media Council. But they have also
been emphasising the need for making the process of constituting the PCI,
including the choice of its chair, more transparent and representative.
“The IFJ hopes that this particular
aspect of the debate will be carried forward with greater civility and respect
for all the parties involved,” Park said.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
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