IFJ Welcomes Debate on Media Regulation, Calls for Civility and Respect

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

fearless reporting.

 

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.

 

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

 

Find the

IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

 

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IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific