Does India Need A Press Council?

IN Media Practice | 04/04/2002
Does India Need A Press Council

Does India Need A Press Council?

Does the Indian Press need a Watchdog? When Dileep Padgaonkar, Executive Managing Editor of the Times of India lambasted the role the outgoing Chairman of the Press Council Justice P B Sawant had played during his tenure, he sparked off a debate in the editorial columns of Delhi`s metropolitan press. We reproduce his column, and the articles that have followed it.

 

April 8th
The Sunday Times

INSIDIOUS INTENT
By Dileep Padgaonkar

Few tears are likely to be shed when Justice P B Sawant demits office as the chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) a few weeks from now. Since his appointment to the post in July 1995, this former judge of the Supreme Court, whose personal integrity is without a blemish, has time and again aired his arcane, misguided and sometimes plainly authoritarian notions about how the press should function

While his views have received widespread publicity, often followed by harsh editorial criticism, the PCI`s verdicts found little or no mention in the impugned publications. This only encouraged him to seek punitive powers for the PCI, a demand that successive governments, to their credit, have firmly, if discreetly, dismissed out of hand

And with good reason, too. The mandate of the PCI - which was set up in 1966 and, after lying in coma during Emergency, resuscitated in 1978 - could not have been more sweeping: "To preserve the freedom of the press and maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India." The very nature of the mandate enabled a chairman like Sawant to relentlessly expand his areas of concern and to sit in judgement on a host of trivial issues which strained his competence to breaking point. With the "people" as his benchmark, Sawant has lambasted "monopolies", castigated the "profit motive", denounced "consumerism", attacked "commercialism" and crucified newspaper owners without a care for the challenges that successful newspapers have to face in a technology-driven competitive environment. The owners, he claimed, were only interested in making profits and promoting their business interests. It was, therefore, necessary to "insulate the objective presentation of news from internal and external influences.

His panacea for the ills allegedly afflicting the press could have come straight from a Marxist apothecary. He proposed the creation of cooperatives to run newspapers and cited the example of the French newspaper Le Monde. But this newspaper, far from dominating the market, as Sawant claimed, had reached near bankruptcy and just about managed to survive thanks to a thorough overhaul of its ownership pattern. Nor was he willing to acknowledge that the big newspapers and periodicals in the country have given the PCI least cause for worry. It is the smaller publications that have come under fire for blackmail, sensationalism and other misdemeanours.
Under Sawant`s stewardship, journalists, much acclaimed for their professionalism, were also given the rap. One was scolded for drawing "inferences from unconnected and far-fetched facts." Many were taken to task for their alleged "bias". At times, one wondered whether the only "factual" and "objective" publication that Sawant genuinely respected was the telephone directory.
Indeed, he often transgressed the very norms that the PCI was meant to promote. Without a shred of evidence, he once alleged that "some Indian journalists were on the payrolls of

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