On the occasion of National Press Day (November 16), Chief Justice (CK Prasad) of the Press Club of India (PCI) spoke about increasing the ambit of the PCI by bringing both television and digital within its ambit. PCI currently only deals with print journalism. Digital and broadcast journalism have undergone a revolution of sorts in recent years. The increasing prevalence of the internet has also led to a number of digital native media outlets. Some of these are new start-ups, others are foreign media houses entering the country. Then there are also the parties which are the natural digital extensions of existing media houses.
With more and more viewers turning to digital and social media to access news and analysis, the question arises whether digital media requires a set of rules and regulations like the PRB Act that governs print. To be fair, the PRB Act has its share of detractors too. Plus, there is always the fear too that any set of guidelines might be exploited at a later date and lead to a draconian state in the country.
Understandably enough, most media professionals are against the introduction of specific regulations for digital news media.
“There are enough laws in place already, besides there is no better master than the market. Better journalism has evolved naturally over time as the country has and not because it was mandated by the courts or the laws. People have always had a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. Now they are able articulate and amplify that on social/digital media. These are more effective checks and balances courts and litigation,” says Ritu Kumar, CEO of Quint.
Giving her thoughts on whether guidelines would create a more responsible breed of journalists, she opined that users are smart enough to not fall for misleading headlines and content. “Clickbait is dead, you can only do it once. The user will not fall for it again and, in fact, will tell others,” she said.
Agreeing with the view that self regulation and user regulation work best on the digital space, Mitrajit Bhattacharya, President and Publisher of Chitralekha Group said, “Social and digital media are ruthlessly self correcting. There is no need to put official Acts, it will just complicate matter. No one governs news, even in other media. The rules of law are same for all individuals and apply to news media across platforms. Yes, the ease of commenting/ posting views as an individual as compared the news media one represents makes the task of monitoring difficult in case of social media. But these are early days, media organizations will come to terms soon with ways of handling this,” he told us.
However, Jon Thomas, Consulting Editor at IBTimes, disagrees with this view. According to him, licensing under a law that involves monitoring or regulation shouldn't be seen as a social evil or a curb on civic freedom. He maintains that it is “essential for any producer of public consumption items to be licensed in the interest of the greater social good and for public accountability”.
“News or information, like food items, has a bearing on social health and there must be deterrents for purveyors of spurious stuff. There has to be a stamp of quality and reliability of information like you have for any mass consumption item. Therefore it will be desirable to have a law that provides for registration and licensing of digital or multimedia publishers,” he opined.
When asked whether this would necessarily have a positive impact on the quality of journalism or lead to more responsibility on the news desk, Thomas agreed that this might not necessarily happen directly. “No law can ensure goodness in people. But that's no reason to have no law and order. A piece of legislation found wanting is no reason to abrogate or ignore it. It has to be updated and amended to make it more enforceable. So, a comprehensive piece of legislation that governs multimedia publishing is what is needed. There will be a fear of punishment if there are rules. So there will be some encouragement to be careful with the quality and content of information. At least there is the option of judicial redress available to the aggrieved if there are licensing rules,” he said.
More importantly, he opines that a legal framework to enable proper registration and licensing of multimedia publishing businesses is important for the rights of the employees, and even for the companies in terms of getting government advertising and such privileges. There is some sense in this as we have seen even earlier controversies arising with media houses who have passed some controversial rules for their employees when it comes to social media.
“Without government recognition to online media houses, its journalists are deprived of official recognition which is important for security clearances and access to information itself,” said Thomas.