Press Council chief calls for a regulator that meshes both, the electronic and print media, in keeping watch
Ankita Lahiri | August 7, 2013
The Indian media may like to think of itself as the alpha watchdog of the country but who’s keeping a watch on it? A panel of six – union minister for information and broadcasting, Manish Tewari, chairman of the Press Council of India, justice Markandey Katju, chairman of the broadcasting content council, justice AP Shah, justice RV Raveendran of the news broadcasting standards authority (NBSA), and chairing the panel, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief, IBN 18 Network – discussed the issue on Tuesday at a seminar organised by the Delhi-based think tank, Observer Research Foundation.
Katju was of the opinion that a common regulator for all streams of media – print, broadcasting and web – was needed. Outlining a possible structure for the watchdog, Katju said that it could be a board of twenty members each from the print and electronic media, and eight others who will elected by the peers in the industry.
Manish Tewari raised the question whether the need of the hour was to refine old models of regulation of the media or come up with new ones. Citing the 1995 Cables Television Network (Regulations) Act, as an example, Tiwari said that that the there could be an umbrella regulator modeled after the legislation which governs all cable channels irrespective of content or form.
The panel explored ideas on how media should be governed, agreeing that there was need for change in the way it is regulated now. However, it remained ambiguous about what the form of the change should be and the extent of the change itself.
Statutory self-regulatory body
Justice Shah pitched for a statutory self-regulatory body pointing out that self-regulation would serve to keep up standards while eliminating government interference, a concern that is often raised in the discussions on a regulator for media. Shah’s focus was on statutory power for such a body. He explained that for a self-regulatory body to work it should be vested with the power to penalize violations. Citing the example of a channel (unnamed) that defied NBSA and ultimately walked out of the body, he asked if it was possible for a body to control the media without any statutory powers. He said while a change from the status quo is necessary, pressing issues like transparency of any regulator and the form of its binding nature on media have to be ironed out first.
A major concern raised about self-regulation is about the membership of its authority — who will be the members and how will they be selected, etc. As per the Leveson report (a report of the inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Leveson in the United Kingdom which had concluded that the country’s press complaints commission was inadequate in regulating media and that a independent body should be created to keep watch on the British media), which was also brought up in the discussion, no media organization should be represented in the media council. However, Katju suggested that 90 percent of a self-regulatory body have to be from the media. According to the press council chairman, these members should be selected from various streams of media by their colleagues.
However, justice Shah wondered if such a media-heavy regulatory structure would send out the wrong signals. “It will not be seen as credible,” Shah noted.
Tewari, however, insisted that any new regulatory body will have to come from the industry and not the government. He also talked of increasing the mandate for such a body saying that it should also be given licencing powers. “It will be a fairness of process,” the minister added.
In the light of the recent issues with the television audience measurement (TAM) media research agency’s system of gauging viewership, many broadcasters have come out with strict revenue models. Taking a neutral view, the minister asked why the industry had not moved to an alternative platform. “If TAM is to blame, I cannot understand why the industry has not moved forwards towards creating Broadcasters Audience Research Council.” The body has been in the pipeline for a couple of years now, and is slated to start functioning by April next year.
With the media’s recent battles with paid news, cross media holdings, strict revenue models, and most recently, the TAM issue, Tiwari said, “Strict revenue models cannot be the excuse of paid news or other augmented ways of revenues.”
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