Research on Accountability of Media
A. Accountability of Media
· Indian media is biased and highly agenda-driven. That’s why they are cynically referred to as “presstitutes”. In India, there is general agreement now that the mass media have become monsters of sorts, self-righteous and bereft of self-criticism, sensationalist and scandal-obsessed, often irresponsible and generally insensitive. The brilliant new satirical film Peepli Live highlights this with biting humour, through scenes that would appear to be completely over the top if they were not so alarmingly derivative of our recent experience.
· The media (especially the electronic and digital media) is less into fact-finding, as reporting has got fused with commentary, inviting questions of credibility.
· News agencies which rely upon Social Media for news and produce footage from social media as proof cannot be taken seriously as, at times, they are provocative, inaccurate and doctored.
· India is one of the biggest markets of social media and communication companies – it has 160 million of WhatsApp’s one billion-plus monthly active users, 148 million Facebook users and over 22 million Twitter accounts.
· Often, the social media is used to spread false information with an objective to create rifts between various communities, castes and religion.
· Indian media is also too self-righteous, sensationalist and scandal-obsessed, often irresponsible and generally insensitive.
· Democracy is about having a very objective kind of journalism where the journalist does not become a political stepony to a political organization.
· Management and owners of media houses interfere with the editorial boards (eg. The Hindu) and give an overall shape to the news which ceases to remain news and becomes the opinion of those who were interfering.
· The accountability of online media is more than ever an unresolved societal challenge. Outside cyberspace, there are remedies against factually false information and information which invades the private life of others. On the Internet, however, private pictures can circulate without much control and personal data are collected and processed massively.
· In a Democracy, there are three indispensable functions of media: First, it must provide a rigorous accounting of people in power and people who want to be in power. Second, the media must provide reliable information and a wide range of informed opinions on the important social and political issues of the day. Third, it must state only unbiased and neutral facts.1
· Unfortunately, increasing commercialization has created stiff competition in media and in order to outdo each other, media houses are not focussing on responsible and serious journalism but openly resorting to “sensational and cheap journalism,” besides promoting the “Paid News” culture. What is even more disturbing is that now most of the media houses in India are under the control of a few vested business and political interests. Hence, the democratic interests of the many are being undermined by the private selfish interests of the powerful few. It may sound far-fetched but it would not be wrong to say that nowadays, most of the media houses’ main purpose is not to serve democracy, but to generate maximum profit for a handful of people.
But, Media Should Have Freedom of Expression:
· Under the Constitution of India, freedom of the media is part of the freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a). However, no freedom can be absolute, and reasonable restrictions can be placed on it.
· Denis McQuail’s book Media Accountability and Freedom of Publication states: “ideas of accountability are not easily applied to a typical mass media situation, because power is so imbalanced. Media publishers have the means and the power to publish at will, protected by legal rights and with no formal obligations beyond those to their shareholders, within the limits of the law. There is no generally shared framework of normative principles that is strong enough to justify claims against the media that go beyond some very basic legal rights. Claims also vary widely in their reference, some concerning individual matters where law may provide support, others referring to broad public issues that are not covered by law or regulation. In the latter case, most accountability claims can be rejected or ignored.”
· Due to the increasing biasness, commercialization, Paid News culture and continuous “degeneration” of moral values in majority of the journalists and media houses, the debate of media regulation has become an important issue. Presently, the media in India is mostly self-regulated. While journalists take refuge in the Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression and insist on self-regulation, over the past few years many prominent persons like Justice Markandey Katju, previous Chairman of the Press Council of India, and Congress leader Meenakshi Natarajan had sought a common regulator for all streams of media – print, broadcasting and web. Natarajan even gave notice for moving the “Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012,” seeking to create a regulator with sweeping powers.
· However, she eventually abandoned the plan. Though the issue is still being debated without any conclusion, on the matter of Legal reporting or coverage of sub-judice matters, in the famous Sahara India vs SEBI case in September 2012, the Supreme Court had decided against framing any guidelines for the media.
· But the Apex Court also asked journalists to understand their boundaries so that they do not cross the line and are found to be in contempt of court, but stopped short of defining this boundary clearly. In the ex-Maharashtra CM Ashok Shankarao Chavan’s paid news case, the Supreme Court had passed a judgment dated May 2014 holding that ECI has power to disqualify a candidate in relation to filing of false election expenditure statement under Section 10A.
· Consequently, ECI had passed an order on 13th July, 2014 and also issued a show cause notice to Mr Chavan but the Delhi High Court had imposed a stay order on ECI’s said order on July 28, 2014. The existing bodies for regulation of media such as the Press Council of India, which is a statutory body, and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory organisation, issue standards which are more in the nature of guidelines.
· The PCI has the power to receive complaints of violation of the journalistic ethics, or professional misconduct by an editor or journalist. The PCI is responsible for inquiring into complaints received. It may summon witnesses and take evidence under oath, demand copies of public records to be submitted, even issue warnings and admonish the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist. It can even require any newspaper to publish details of the inquiry. Decisions of the PCI are final and cannot be appealed before a Court of Law. But the powers of the PCI are restricted in two ways.
· First, the PCI has limited powers of enforcing the guidelines issued. It cannot penalise newspapers, news agencies, editors and journalists for violation of the guidelines.
· Second, the PCI only overviews the functioning of the press. That is, it can enforce standards upon newspapers, journals, magazines and other forms of print media. It does not have the power to review the functioning of the electronic media like radio, television and the internet. The NBA has devised a ‘Code of Ethics’ to regulate television content. The News Broadcasting Standards Authority, of the NBA, is empowered to warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval and fine the broadcaster a sum upto Rs 1 lakh for violation of the code. Another such organisation is the Broadcast Editors’ Association. The Advertising Standards Council of India has also drawn up guidelines on content of advertisements. These groups govern through agreements and do not have any statutory powers.