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IFJ welcomes debate on media regulation, calls for civility and respect

(IFJ/IFEX) - November 4, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) notes that the Press Council of India (PCI) is beginning its eleventh term under a newly appointed chairman, Justice Markandey Katju, recently retired from the Supreme Court of India.

IFJ affiliates and partners in India, many of which are represented on the PCI, have expressed their intent to make this term of the media watchdog a meaningful one.

"The IFJ notes the strong views expressed by Justice Katju in his public engagements since taking office," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"In particular, we are interested in the point Justice Katju made in his first public interaction with editors since taking office, about the need for 'introspection' within the Indian media.

"We are however, disappointed at his aggressive and rather disparaging tone in a subsequent interview, carried over a major English-language news channel in India."

Justice Katju in this interview speaks disdainfully of Indian journalists as being for the most part, "of a very poor intellectual level." Media personnel in general, he said, have no idea of "economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature."

The IFJ and its affiliates do not regard these gratuitous judgments as appropriate for a person with high legal and juristic experience.

Justice Katju has also called for investing the PCI with statutory powers to punish media organisations that step out of line of an accepted code of conduct.

"One of the reasons," that self-regulation has not worked, in his words, is that these have failed to instil "fear in the media."

In Justice Katju's own words, the means of achieving the regulatory ends that he has in mind are clear: "I want powers to stop government advertisements, I want powers to suspend the licence of that media for a certain period if it behaves in a very obnoxious manner. I want powers to impose fines, all this in extreme situations."

The IFJ respectfully submits that this is the wrong regulatory framework for journalism, which if anything, is faced with an ever-greater need today to reaffirm the values of fair and fearless reporting.

The powers that Justice Katju would like to claim for himself are already available under Indian law, but with adequate safeguards to prevent their abuse. In fact, the PCI is already designated as the appellate body where cases of denial or cancellation of licences to publish would be heard.

That these powers have rarely been used is a tribute to the strong culture of press freedom that prevails in India. The occasional recourse to such coercive measures have however, been cause of much concern for the community of journalists.

Justice Katju has also called for an amendment to the Press Council of India Act, which would invest the body with regulatory powers over television news channels.

IFJ affiliates and partners in India have long been calling for a similar amendment to the law to invest the PCI with broader authority and redesignate it as the Media Council. But they have also been emphasising the need for making the process of constituting the PCI, including the choice of its chair, more transparent and representative.

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