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Indian union calls for wider discussion on media ownership recommendations

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Indian Union of Journalists (IJU) in calling on the government to hold wide-ranging discussions with all media stakeholders and civil society leaders on the amendments to the Press Council of India (PCI) Act and other recommendations put forward by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

The recommendations were put forward in the report, "Issues Related to Media Ownership", released on August 12, 2014 which aims to deal with the issue of corporates entering the media arena. While the IFJ and IJU welcome the move to amend the PCI Act to bring journalists working in electronic media under the Act, there are other recommendations also proposed that IJU says would negatively impact the operations of the media.

SN Sinha, the IJU President, and D Amar, the Secretary General, said: "We have been demanding that the government amend the PCI Act to bring the electronic media in to its ambit and the Working Journalists (Other Newspaper Employees Regulation of Service) Act to bring the journalists working in the electronic media within the definition of working journalist."

"However, the recommendation on the appointment of predominantly eminent non-media persons goes against the self-regulation of the media. The PCI which consists of numerous media and non-media workers is the best mechanism in the present circumstances."

On the directive of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, TRAI developed the series of recommendations to amend the PCI Act and suggested the formation of the single regulatory authority for all media stating that 'government should not control the media'. It however stated that the 'regulatory body should be manned predominantly by eminent non-media persons'.

The PCI is an independent regulator of the press in India, prescribing norms of journalistic conduct and other guidelines. The recommendations put forward by TRAI also aim to curb unhealthy media practices, including reducing non-media company ownership to 20%, assist with maintaining democracy and minimising the opportunity for 'paid news' stories.

India has more than 850 television channels catering to the country's population of more than 1.2 billion population. Close to half of the channels are news and current affairs channels.

The IFJ Acting Director, Jane Worthington, said: "While the recommendation of the inclusion of the electronic media into the Press Council of India Act is clearly a long-awaited development, this progress should not be overshadowed by a draconian move to oust working journalists, editors and managers as the primary position holders on any future press council. The standard around the globe is that press councils must comprise primarily of the industry they represent. India should be no exception if the press council is to fulfil its duties to the wider public."

The IFJ calls on TRAI to take heed of the recommendations of India's media in this matter and hold wider discussions on the issue.

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