The Government of India has issued a Consultation Paper to discuss media laws with the stakeholders. The paper highlights several issues and asks media owners to share their opinions based on the Consultation Paper.
The Consultation Paper raises some select concerns and poses a set of questions that will help foster a larger public debate amongst stakeholders and the citizenry to shape the approach which should be adopted in tackling these issues.
The paper highlights different important issues that the Government deals with on a regular basis. These include paid news, opinion polls, cross media ownership, media and individual privacy, trial by media and rights of the accused, publications and contempt of Court, defamation, social media and Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and Regulations surrounding Government-owned media, among others.
On the one hand the paper highlighted various issues, but the question arises ‘How good is this consultation paper?’
While issues such as paid news and opinion polls have been debated several times and have got noticed at regular intervals, the consultation paper lacks some of the most important issues such as The Press and Registration of Books Act, Section 85 in the Information and Technology Act 2000 under Offenses by companies.
The question arises why we need a PRB Act, which is more than 150 years old, and why this Act is only applicable for print media and not for digital and broadcast media, given the fact that digital and broadcasting are growing at a rapid pace.
The second most important point is of Section 85 Act. This issue should have been raised, where the Act states, “Where a person committing a contravention of any of the provisions of this Act or of any rule, direction or order made there under is a company, every person who, at the time the contravention was committed, was in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of business of the company as well as the company, shall be guilty of the contravention and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”
Talking to exchange4media, Media Advisor Kaushik Murali said, “The present consultation paper is relevant, but appears a bit confused. My feeling is that they have taken bits and pieces from different places and completed it; in reality, it is a half baked paper and not a comprehensive one.”
There are two distinct aspects when it comes to media law. One is content related – that which pertains to the effects of the messages disseminated - issues like privacy, paid news, defamation, Sector 66A of the IT Act (offensive messages) etc. which have been dealt in the paper. Second is structure related – that which deals with the personality of media in this country. Issues like cross media, government controlled media (DD, AIR etc.) etc. Both aspects, however, arise from the underlying guarantee of our Constitution - freedom of the press and the concomitant right of every citizen to a free (and that includes, responsible) press.
He added, “The paper is not comprehensive because there are various issues they haven’t dealt with such as the Wage Board - why is there requirement of wage board only for print journalist and employees and not for a TV or online media journalists/ employees? Either include everyone in it or just scrap it altogether on the ground that it is serving no real purpose. Similarly, in the Press Council Act, why is there a statutory body for printed news but not for broadcast news? Either bring all of them under one unified body or scrap Press Council. There should be some basis for classification.”
Some other important aspects that are missing include the requirement of the PRB Act and the problems posed by Sec 85 of the IT Act when it comes to online media companies.
Similarly, on the content front, there is no talk about the need for updating and bringing uniformity in our censorship laws.
Concluding about the consultation paper, Murali said, “The good thing is today homogeneity is needed in media laws. To that extent I agree that a consultation paper was required. However, this consultation paper does not quite make the cut since several issues have been left untouched. Hopefully the replies/ objections from stakeholders will address all the missing areas, and the Government would be gracious to consider them even if they have not been raised in the consultation paper.”