Saturday, 5 July 2008

Pune Journalists react to CM's proposal on State Press Council

An important reason why several Pune journalists do not support the proposal to set up Press Council of Maharashtra (PCM) is that they believe the Press Council of India has failed in disciplining the erring journalists or those in power who try to curb the freedom of expression. What is the point in creating an additional council when we already have Press Council of India adjudicating the issues, with whatever impact it can create, they wonder. Almost every journalist feels that the recent vandalism in Thane and Pune were law and order issues that has to be dealt with by the police and the courts of law and not by a press council.

Arvind Gokhale, the deputy editor of Loksatta group of Marathi dailies, does not find any substance in the proposal. The PCI has not been able to function as an effective watchdog on the Press. How do you expect its state version to be effective? It will not be definitely useful to prevent physical violence against the press and the journalists. It is the responsibility of those who run the government to create a culture that will ensure a democratic way to express dissent through the columns of the newspapers.

Prof Arun Sadhu, who headed University of Pune's Department of Communication and Journalism, warns fellow journalists about the intentions of the state's political masters. He says: When the state plans to intervene in the functioning of the media, the media should beware. The PCI is a different thing; it's a body that came into being by an act of parliament. Its code is the only reasonable code of ethics for the press in India. There is no sense in Maharashtra government forming a different code.

The code should be self-regulatory. It is high time the media leaders realise the danger and sit together to write their own code and write rules and regulations for strict adherence of such a self-made code. In all democratic countries, the media is mostly self-regulated and self-controlled. Except India. There is ethical chaos in India, particularly after the rise of the electronic media.

Protecting journalists from attacks is a law and order issue. But when politicians launch physical attacks, it is much more serious than thugs attacking journalists. It is a threat to India's democracy and politicians should take note, Prof Sadhu insists.

Anant Bagaitkar, representing Pune's Sakal in New Delhi and a member of the PCI until recently, is very candid about the outcry in the media and in the political circles after the attacks on the house of Loksatta editor Kumar Ketkar in Thane and the office of Daily Saamana in Pune. Such things should be treated as professional hazards and journalists need not be too sensitive about these incidents.

He points out that there was a lathicharge on reporters assembled in Rashtrapati Bhavan when Chandra Sekhar was the prime minister. Journalists did protest and the prime minister tendered an apology about the police action. The Delhi Press quickly forgot the incident; nobody thought of approaching the PCI.

The British rulers dragged Lokmanya Tilak to the court for his writing in Kesari and was sentenced on charges of sedition. He could have organised protest meetings everywhere. Yet, he preferred to go to the jail, Bagaitkar reminds the peers in the press.

Anant Dikshit (Lokmat) believes that the PCM could be of some use provided it functions effectively to keep moral pressure on the concerned people. This will depend mostly on the Chairman who should not be a mere retired high court judge but should have knowledge of the functioning of the press and the ground realities in the state. Perhaps the PCM with fair-minded members nominated on the lines of the PCI will be able to provide a moral shelter to the rural journalists who function under perpetual pressures from local politicians.

He however draws attention to the rapidly changing mindset of every section of the society including the Print and Electronic Press. Masses are becoming more aware and have feelings pent up for decades against urban editors preaching from their ivory towers. It is time to ponder if these pent-up feelings turn into acts of vandalism. Journalists, more in television news channels, have been acting beyond their professional calling. Coverage of Arushi's murder case is one glaring example.

G K Patwardhan, the octogenarian veteran journalist, had years ago pursued the idea of units of the PCI on the lines of high courts in all the states. He had argued that the state councils would be in a position to hear the complaints quickly and more effectively because its members would come from the same cultural, social, and linguistic backgrounds. The then PCI chairman had, however, disagreed as he felt that different state councils were likely to give different rulings to similar cases. Patwardhan unsuccessfully tried to argue with the Chairman that it would not matter much because it would be akin to state high courts delivering different judgements on similar cases.

Mukund Sangoram (Loksatta) also believes that a PCM would be useful for the Marathi press because of his experience with the PCI. The Press Council of India expects English translation of Marathi news and features against which complaints have been filed for the benefit of its non-Marathi members.

He believes that there should be a separate judicial mechanism to speedily dispose off cases about attacks on journalists and newspaper establishments, defamation and the like. There are about four dozen cases pending in various courts which he has to attend as the Editor.

Anil Takalkar (Pudhari) also does not have happy experiences about the PCI where the interests of the Press or even of those who have grievance against journalists are served.

Dhananjay Jadhav, President of Pune Union of Working Journalists, feels that there should be a tribunal or a court to deal with the cases involving journalists.

Kishor Kulkarni (Lokmat online) generally agrees with other journalists on futility of the proposal to set up a PCM. He suggests that the journalists should use pen cautiously and with a sense of responsibility towards the society as whole. He deprecated the growing tendency of a section of the Press, which functions as a complainant, police, and also a judge at the same time. If the Press is to retain its credibility, it must shun trials by media.

Tailpiece: Just to point out how the PCI is helpless in tackling the Press: The Council is funded from the levy prescribed for various categories of newspapers. It is considered to be a statutory obligation. The PCI has powers to recover the outstanding levy as land revenue. Yet, a press note placed at the its website reveals that the Press in the country has not paid the levy totalling to Rs 337.43 lakhs in the financial year 2005-06!

(First appeared in DNA Pune Edition, July 01, 2008)

What do you say on the issue? Do you agree with the Chief Minister's proposal? Please click on the comment below and submit your views.

1 comment:

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