Monday, April 19, 2010

Write a critique on the Press Council of India, its functions. What are the guidelines issued by Press Council and how effective they are?

The first Press Council of India was constituted on 4th July, 1966 as an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body, with Justice J R Mudholkar, a Supreme Court Judge, as its Chairman. The Council draws its function from the Press Council Act, 1965 which are as follows:
i)    To help newspapers to maintain their independence.
ii)    To build up a code of conduct for newspapers and journalists in accordance with high professional standards.
iii)    To ensure on the part of newspapers and journalists the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
iv)    To encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism.
v)    To keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance.
vi)    To keep under review such cases of assistance received by any newspaper or news agency in India from foreign sources, as are referred to it by the Central Government provided that nothing in this clause shall preclude the Central Government from dealing with any case of assistance received by a newspaper or news agency in India from foreign sources.

Guidelines issued by the Press Council of India:

Accuracy and Fairness:

i)    The Press shall avoid publishing inaccurate, baseless, graceless, or misleading material. All sides of the core issue or subject should be reported.
ii)    Whenever exposing the wrong doing such reports need to be backed by irrefutable facts and evidences.

Pre-Publication Verification:


i)    Any report or article of public interest or complaint etc. should be checked for its factual accuracy from other authentic sources.
ii)    A document, which forms a basis of a news report, should be preserved at least for six months.

Caution against defamatory writings:


i)    Newspaper should not publish anything which is defamatory or libelous unless after due verification, there is sufficient reason/evidence to believe that it is true and its publication will be for public good.
ii)    No derogatory personal remarks against a dead person should be published except in rare cases of public interest.
iii)    The Press shall not rely on objectionable past behavior of a citizen to provide the background for adverse comments with reference to fresh action of that person.
iv)     Publication of defamatory news by one paper does not give licence to others to publish news/information reproducing or repeating the same.
v)    It is necessary that the press realize its responsibility and do not indulging in giving credence to rumours and sensationalism.
vi)    Freedom of Press does not give licence to a newspaper to malign a political leader or mar his future political prospects by publishing fake and defamatory writings.

Public Interest and Public Bodies:

As a custodian of public interest, the Press has a right to highlight cases of corruption and irregularities in public bodies but it should be based on irrefutable evidence.
Newspapers should refrain from barbed, stinging and pungent language and ironical/satirical style of comment. The attempt of the press should be to present a fair and balanced report, uninfluenced by any extraneous consideration.

Right to Privacy:

The Press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual, unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest. Special caution is essential in reports likely to stigmatise women.

Note: Things concerning a person's home, family, religion, health, sexuality, personal life and private affairs are covered by the concept of PRIVACY.

Caution against Identification:

While reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women/females or sexual  assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.
Minor children and infants who are the offspring of sexual abuse or forcible marriage' or illicit sexual union shall not be identified or photographed.
Intrusion through photography into moments of personal grief shall be avoided.

Recording interviews and phone conversation:

The Press shall not tape-record anyone's conversation without that person's knowledge or consent, except where it is required to protect the journalist in a legal action, or for other compelling good reason.
Prior to publication offensive epithets used during such conversation should be deleted.

Conjecture, comment and fact:

Newspaper should not pass on or elevate conjecture, speculation or comment as a statement of fact.
Cartoons and caricatures depicting good humour are to be placed in a special category of news that enjoy more liberal attitude.

Headings not to be sensational/provocative:

In general and particularly in the context of communal disputes or clashes
a. Provocative and sensational headlines are to be avoided;
b. Headings must reflect and justify the matter printed under them;
c. Headings containing allegations made in statements should either identify the body or the source making it or at least carry quotation marks.


Newspapers to eschew suggestive guilt:

Newspapers should not name or identify the family or relatives or associates of a person convicted or accused of a crime, when they are totally innocent and a reference to them is not relevant to the matter being reported.
It is contrary to the norms of journalism for a paper to identify itself with and project or promote the case of any one party in the case of any controversy/dispute.

Caution in criticizing judicial acts and reporting proceedings of a Legislature:

Excepting where the court sits 'in-camera' or directs otherwise, it is open to a newspaper to report pending judicial proceedings, in a fair, accurate and reasonable manner. In case of Legislature newspapers have a duty to report faithfully the proceedings of either House of Parliament or Legislative Assembly which is open for the media.
Newspapers may make reasonable criticism of a judicial act or the judgment of a court for public good but shall not scandalize the court or the judiciary as a whole, or make personal allegations of lack of ability or integrity against a judge.

Corrections:

When any factual error or mistake is detected or confirmed, the newspaper should suo- motu publish the correction promptly with due prominence and with apology or expression of regrets in a case of serious lapse.

Right of Reply:

The newspaper should promptly and with due prominence, publish either in full or with due editing, free of cost, at the instance of the person affected or feeling aggrieved/or concerned by the impugned publication, a contradiction/reply/ clarification or rejoinder sent to the editor in the form of a letter or note. This is a concession which has to be availed of sparingly with due discretion and caution in appropriate cases.

Obscenity and vulgarity to be eschewed:


Newspapers/journalists shall not publish anything which is obscene, vulgar or offensive to public good taste. Newspapers shall not display advertisements which are vulgar or which, through depiction of a woman in nude or lewd posture, provoke lecherous attention of males as if she herself was a commercial commodity for sale.
The globalisation and liberalisation does not give licence to the media to misuse freedom of the press and to lower the values of the society. So far as that role is concerned, one of the duties of the media is to preserve and promote our cultural heritage and social values.

Photo Coverage on Terrorist Attack, Communal Clashes and Accidents:

While reporting news with regard to terrorist attacks or communal riots, the media should refrain from publishing/telecasting pictures of mangled corpses or any other photographic coverage which may create terror, or revulsion or ignite communal passion among people.
It shall avoid presenting acts of violence, armed robberies and terrorist activities in a manner that glorifies the perpetrators on their acts, declarations or death in the eyes of the public.

Caste, religion or community references:

In general, the caste identification of a person or a particular class should be avoided. Newspapers are advised against the use of word 'Scheduled Caste' or 'Harijan' which has been objected to by some.
An accused or a victim shall not be described by his caste or community when the same does not have anything to do with the offence or the crime and plays no part either in the identification of any accused or proceeding.
Newspaper should not publish any fictional literature distorting and portraying the religious or well known characters in an adverse light offending the susceptibilities of large sections of society who hold those characters in high esteem.
Commercial exploitation of the name of prophets, seers or deities is repugnant to journalistic ethics and good taste.
It is the duty of the newspaper to ensure that the tone, spirit and language of a write up is not objectionable, provocative, against the unity and integrity of the country, spirit of the constitution seditious and inflammatory in nature or designed to promote communal disharmony. It should also not attempt to promote balkanisation of the country.
One of the jobs of the journalists is also to bring forth to the public notice the plight of the weaker sections of society. They are the watchdogs on behalf of the society of its weaker sections.

Paramount national interest:

Newspapers shall, as a matter of self-regulation, exercise due restraint and caution in presenting any news, comment or information which is likely to jeopardise, endanger or harm the paramount interests of the State and society.
Publication of wrong/incorrect map is a very serious offence. It adversely affects the territorial integrity of the country and warrants prompt and prominent retraction with regrets.

Foreign Relations:

Media plays a very important role in moulding public opinion and developing better understanding between countries. Objective reporting so as not to jeopardise friendly bilateral relations is therefore desirable though newspapers may expose misuse of diplomatic immunity.


Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters:

Investigative reporting has three basic elements.
a. It has to be the work of the reporter, not of others he is reporting;
b. The subject should be of public importance for the reader to know;
c. An attempt is being made to hide the truth from the people.

The investigative reporter should, as a rule, base his story on facts investigated, detected and verified by himself and not on hearsay or on derivative evidence collected by a third party. The investigative journalist should maintain a proper balance between openness and secrecy, placing the public good above everything.
The tone and tenor of the report and its language should be sober, decent and dignified, and not needlessly offensive, barbed, derisive or castigatory, particularly while commenting on the version of the person whose alleged activity or misconduct is being investigated. Nor should the investigative reporter conduct the proceedings and pronounce his verdict of guilt or innocence against the person whose alleged criminal acts and conduct were investigated.

Confidence to be respected:

If information is received from a confidential source, the confidence should be respected. This rule requiring a newspaper not to publish matters disclosed to it in confidence is not applicable where:
(a) Consent of the source is subsequently obtained; or
(b) The editor clarifies by way of an appropriate footnote clarifies that since the publication of certain matters were in the public interest, the information in question was being published although it had been made 'off the record'.

Advertisements:

Commercial advertisements are information as much as social, economic or political information. What is more, advertisements shape attitude and ways of life at least as much, as other kinds of information and comment. Journalistic propriety demands that advertisements must be clearly distinguishable from news content carried in the newspaper

Newspapers to avoid crass commercialism:


While newspapers are entitled to ensure, improve or strengthen their financial viability by all legitimate means, the Press shall not engage in crass commercialism or unseemly cut-throat commercial competition with their rivals in a manner repugnant to high professional standards and good taste.
The practice of taking security deposit by an editor from the journalists at the time of their appointment is unethical.
The media house must retain its impartiality in functioning as media house and reporting cannot be permitted to become subservient to other business interests.

Apart from all this newspaper should avoid involvement in fraudulent activities, professional rivalry, plagiarism, unauthorized lifting of news, illegal reproduction or non-return of unsolicited material.

                                                                  *****

Media in India especially the print media has a very rich and entrenched history. Recent studies show that while readership is growing in all the languages; the average time spent on reading has gone down. But still even during the recent slowdown the old media (print) has registered strong growth compared with the radio and the new media (television and Internet). But all these media have their own importance. To safeguard this diverse and established media, the Press Council of India (PCI) was constituted on 4 July 1966 as an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body on the recommendation of the First Press Commission.

PCI is jointly funded through fees levied on registered newspapers with minimum circulations of 5,000 and grants from the ministry of information and broadcasting. It is headed by a chairperson who is, most often, a retired Supreme Court judge. The council discharges its responsibilities primarily through inquiry committees, adjudicating on complaints received by it against the press for violation of the norms of journalism or from the press for interference with its freedom.

The council has been trying to keep pace with the number of complaints received over the years but the inordinate delays are on the rise. From 2001-08 PCI received more than seven thousand complaints while from 1990-2000 it received more than nine thousand complaints. Of the complaints received most (average 70%) complaints are against the press.  Roughly 25% are adjudicated upon, and around 60-70% are dismissed. While many cases keep awaiting their chance as the council takes inordinate amount of time over its interventions. This also happens because the Council is largely Delhi-based.

In the recent years print media has tried to imitate television news in terms of content, genre and presentation to garner attention using various ways. In this competition to get more sensational news and faster, there is growing evidence of journalistic principles being compromised. The council is quiet on unethical practices such as so-called private treaties or ad-for-equity deals, the rise of advertorial phenomenon and the lack of job security for journalists.

In 1992, the council chronicled, “A Guide to Journalistic Ethics” outlining the broad principles evolved in the course of its adjudication on various subjects—both in respect of standards of journalism and freedom of the press. This guide deals with the issues of communal writing, journalistic impropriety, obscenity and bad taste, pre-verification of news, scurrilous writing and right to privacy, advertising and press freedom.

But sections of the press do not seem to take the council very seriously. Though it is meant to be a mechanism for self-regulation, the council’s guidelines and recommendations are often just ignored and media organizations do not even bother to appear before its inquiry committees. Recent examples of these violations and apathy include openly communal coverage of incidences of terror and conflict.

Time and again, there have been suggestions that the council should have penal powers to punish the delinquent newspapers/journalists. In response, the council has said its moral authority is quite effective.

Self-regulation does work but only if the Press remains committed to it—it is this commitment and acceptance that gives the council its real teeth. Press councils and such regulatory bodies across the world have played a more proactive role in setting industry standards, undertaking regular studies, organizing regular public consultations and also empowering readers. The existing model of PCI is, therefore, an ineffective comparison or benchmark for ongoing discourse on regulating broadcast content. Any self-regulatory system needs to be prompt, proactive, participatory and, above all, one to which the newspaper and magazine publishing sector is committed and accountable. There is a clear need to re-look at accountability systems across media, including print.

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