Press Council chief ticks off journalists

BY krishna| IN Media Practice | 09/02/2004
Press Council Chairman Jayachandra Reddy tells journalists to practice responsible journalism and fight for their own freedom

 Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna

 The media has to make self-introspection to assess whether it is actually discharging its duties effectively and objectively. At the same time, the journalists, cutting across union affiliations, have to launch a united fight for asserting the freedom of the press and tide over occupational hazards, says Press Council of India Chairman Justice Jayachandra Reddy. 

In a free wheeling talk, Justice Reddy said the contract system of recruitment of media personnel now in vogue in the country amounted to contract labour which should be abolished. This required self-determination among the journalists in the globalized and liberalized era where the media persons continued to lack job security even as they faced unsatisfactory working conditions. 

"Tell me; are you really happy with your own functioning? Are you really enjoying the freedom of the press? How many of you check and cross-check news before the publication or broadcast? To what extent the journalists know the laws of the media? Do you really make efforts to maintain standards in writing? " he questioned. 

You have to chalk out your own charter for your successful career. You have to fight for your own freedom. Or else, do not choose the profession, he said curtly. The PCI has no power to interfere with the government as its role is advisory in nature.  

At the same time, Justice Reddy pleaded with the journalists for evolving self-imposed code of conduct involving the professional unions and associations of their ilk. Think that you are equally responsible for the state of affairs regarding the freedom of the press and the working conditions besides insecurity of jobs, even as the number of  newspapers and publications in the country crossed 54,000 these days. 

Ever since the first full-fledged newspaper (weekly) Bengal Gazette, also known as Calcutta General Advertiser or Hicky’s Gazette appeared in India on January 29,1790 under the editorship of an enterprising British James Augustus Hickey exposing the then British establishment and the Governor General Warren Hastings, the laws against the freedom of the press emanated. And this trend continued unabated, he argues. 

The Hicky’s Gazette was forced to wind up in March 1782 as the printing press was seized and Hicky jailed and externed. This pioneer of Indian journalism died an obscure death.  Later, several English and Indian language papers were born under the leadership of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. 

He says it is time all the journalists studied the history of the Indian Press and understood the significance of various wings related to the media such as the Press Council of India and the two Media Commissions  headed by Justice Rajadhyaksha and Justice K.M.Mathew and studied their recommendations. 

He said the role of the PCI was to preserve the freedom of the press and maintain and improve the standards of the newspapers and news agencies in India besides building code of conduct in accordance with high professional standards so that they maintained high standards of public tastes and foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. 

The PCI which was originally constituted on the recommendations of the first Press Commission was reconstituted in 1978 after it was abolished during the internal emergency days of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Over the years, the PCI had issued several guidelines to the Press on how to cover the communal conflagrations and conduct themselves in different situations. 

Justice Reddy was in Dona Paula in Goa to address the XXV Conference of Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine to deliver a memorial oration on "The Role of Medical Journals in a Torture-Free Tomorrow". He took some time off to talk to journalists here. 

The PCI receives 1000 complaints on an average every year. While most of them are against the newspapers on certain news items, others are related to complaints against the bureaucrats and others who are purportedly resorting to muzzling the freedom of the press. 

The highest number of complaints had been received from Madhya Pradesh followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka, almost nil were from Andhra Pradesh and Goa while a few a few are from Kerala.  

He said he was not aware of receiving a complaint purportedly lodged by the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Luizinho Falario last year against Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar about the latter’s  attempt to muzzle the media voice by restraining the four news newspapers from reporting any allegation levelled by the opposition against the CM through a legal notice. 

Significantly, the Goan media agitated against the chief minister by launching protests, organizing a silent procession and public meetings besides black badge demonstrations backed by the conscious public bodies. This had ultimately forced the chief minister to request the journalists to treat the issue as "dead".

 Following are excerpts:

Q. You are often charged with lacking teeth. How effective the PCI is in discharging its avowed duties and responsibilities? Are you happy with your functioning? 

A.I am not happy with the implementation of the PCI recommendations. But by and large, the impugned newspapers are responding. The problem however is that the erring papers publish the apology not as significantly as they used to report the original story that might have maligned the individuals. It is given a place in the inner papers not the front page. This is the complaint of most of the aggrieved parties. 

Q. Do you have suo motto powers? Have you taken note of the attempted muzzling of the freedom of the press by Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar through issue of legal notices on four local newspapers? 

A. Yes. We have suo motto powers and exercise them very rarely in grave cases. We invoked the power in the wake of Godhra communal carnage in Gujarat much before somebody complaining to us. We censured some local newspapers for invoking religious feelings. 

Secondly, the individual journalists or the press unions should not hesitate to lodge a complaint with the PCI whenever they feel their freedom of the press is at stake. I would certainly entertain the complaints on their strength after strict security. Even now, you can complain to me about such episodes if any. 

Q. How effective is the Press Council  with no powers to punish like the normal courts? Do you favour such powers like the courts? 

A. Yes, you are true. The role of the PCI is advisory and adjudicatory with powers to summon and try the case. I feel the Council should have the power to recommend cancellation of registration of the continuously erring newspaper as a deterrent. It seems the government is thinking in those terms. The journalists should come forward with this. 

Q. Are you for extending your jurisdiction to the other wings of the media such as the electronic media without confining to the print media as voiced by the unions and journalist bodies for over the years? 

A. Yes. It is most welcome if the Media Council of India is formed with jurisdiction over the entire media wings. After all, the ethics and ethos of the electronic media including the TV and Radio are the same as that of the print media. 

Q. What is your advice to the media? 

A. I ask the press and the other wings of the media to be accountable and enjoy the freedom of the press objectively. While the other pillars of democracy such as the legislature and the judiciary are working with accountability, why not the media?

 Q. Do you notice the tendency of friction between the press and the judiciary as also with other pillars of democracy is on rise these days? 

A. The instances of friction between the media and the judiciary is quite lesser. In fact, the judiciary is always favours freedom of the press.  


Justice ReddyHe lamented that the media continued to malign somebody or the other and incite religious feelings even as some resorting to cheap tactics of publishing pornographic literature/photos to boost circulation, violating all morals. He also questioned "sting" journalism. 

Despite directives, some journalists continued to publish the names of the victims of rape despite legal provisions against it but later apologized after the damage was done.

Expressing serious concern over lack of social security to journalists’ community, Justice Reddy suggested constitution of "Journalists’ Welfare Boards" at the state and national level with contribution from the managements and the governments, besides introducing insurance schemes. 

Incidentally, these systems had been in vogue in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and some northern states. Only recently, the Goa government had introduced a pension fund for journalists for the domicile scribes besides evolving a scheme to assist them with interest free loan for purchase of personal computers for promoting professionalism.

In this connection, every professional has to note what the PCI considered as "undue favours" which included government accommodation, concessional land, free air tickets and company shares-- being given to journalists, news agencies and newspaper establishments and owners.

The Council, which undertook a comprehensive study of the subject between 1985 and 1995, concluded that free and concessional bus, rail and other transport facilities given to journalists also fell in the category of favours. It observed that free air travel provided by companies, corporations and airlines was an inducement to write favorably about their products and services, and hence, marred independent reporting.

The Council noted that proprietors of newspapers, instead of journalists and editors, were accompanying the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and the External Affairs Ministry officials, on their foreign trips. Newspapers, it recommended, should take care to nominate eligible persons for such trips.

The Commission also observed that indiscriminate disbursement of money from the discretionary funds of the Chief Ministers encouraged unfaithfulness to the mission of journalism and promoted corrupt practices. Who will observe all these things remains a big question mark.

The writer is the Bureau Chief, UNI-Panaji-Goa and can be contacted at



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