Mixed Media: Worry, worry! Press Council chief wants Commission to study electronic media functioning

Just when one thought that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under Ambika Soni was being very progressive in its outlook on broadcast content, yesterday’s statement by Justice GN Ray, Chairman of the quasi-judicial Press Council of India, that television tends to sensationalise news is worrying, writes Pradyuman Maheshwari.

e4m by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Published: Aug 10, 2009 7:45 AM  | 3 min read
Mixed Media: Worry, worry! Press Council chief wants Commission to study electronic media functioning

Mr Justice Ganendra Narayan Ray is a learned man. A former judge of the Supreme Court of India and the Calcutta High Court and former Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, Justice Ray is now Chairman of the Press Council of India.

Yesterday, 76-year-old Justice Ray spewed venom in Palakkad, Kerala. And even as I&B Minister Ambika Soni has been remarkably treading the middle path since she took charge, a Press Trust of India report quotes Ray as saying: “The people would come out in protest if the media grew too big for their boots and freedom would be curbed if the media lost the support of the people.”

Ray said that a Commission must be established to “study the functioning of the electronic media to ensure they do not cross the limits while covering news”. He was addressing a meet-the-press programme, where he spoke of the tendency amongst TV channels to “sensational news”.

The retired judge’s line of journalists should know the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ of their freedom has been used by him before. As well as by others, including by a Delhi High Court judge in the BMW hit-and-run case judgment last month. Given that most leading statements by justices are accorded much importance in India, especially by governments and elected members, the Press Council Chief’s utterances are worrying.

The Infobroad Ministry under Soni is exceedingly progressive in its outlook on broadcast content. Indeed, a far cry from the days of Anand Sharma in the previous Manmohan Singh regime, where everything that the news channels did was near-rubbished. While I do hope that what was said was independent of the thinking of the Ministry, stray remarks like these make one wonder whether it reflects the thinking of someone in Government.

And if they aren’t, and I have little reason to believe that they are, then surely Justice GN Ray must be reigned in. At yesterday’s event, Ray is reported to have said that it was time the Press Council Act was amended to include stringent clauses, enabling it to implement the provisions in the Act.

The Press Council of India was first constituted on July 4, 1966 by the Parliament as an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body, as “a mechanism for the Press to regulate itself”. As per the Council’s website, it is headed by chairman, who has “by convention, been a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India”, and 28 members, of which 20 are from the press and the rest are various nominees.

I’m sure there are pressures to return favours to mediapersons, but I think the Government could achieve much by ensuring the Council is populated with forward-looking practitioners. And why have only retired Supreme Court judges at the helm? How about mediapersons who are or have been editors or CEOs of large newspapers or magazines? I think a structure like that of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) should be considered.

While I am not denying that there are cases when media entities do sensationalise news, there is need for the Press Council to adapt to the changing times.

(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or mail your views at mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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