The Press Council raps the Ministry of External Affairs

BY ninan| IN Media Practice | 17/03/2003
Between 1999 and 2001, one regional newspaper had been included seven times in the media team accompanying the prime minister abroad.


The Hoot Desk



The Press Council may be dismissed as toothless and irrelevant, but it is currently the only recourse journalists and newspapers, or those whom they report on, have to demand redress of injustice or injury in matters concerning the press. And sometimes, albeit reluctantly, the Council does rap the government of the day on its knuckles.


The most recent instance came in late January this year when the Council forwarded to the Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs a copy of its decision in the matter of constituting the prime minister’s media team for foreign tours. It upheld a complaint from Ranchi regarding the repeated inclusion of BJP supporters in the media contingent accompanying the PM.


The editor in chief of Prabhat Khabar, Mr Harivansh, had complained in 2001 on two counts. He alleged partisan selection of newspaper representatives who accompany the prime minister on his tours abroad, 

as well as discrimination by the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity and the Government of India in the release of advertisements.


Between 1999 and 2001, his complaint said, members of one family, representing one newspaper, the Ranchi Times, had been included seven times in the PM’s media team when he went abroad. No other journalist or newspaper from the region was invited to accompany the PM on such tours. The Ranchi Express is not even the leading newspaper of the region. Mr Ajay Maroo and Mr Vijay Maroo, the complaint said, were sons of a RSS follower. Ajay Maroo is currently a BJP member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. The complaint alleged bias towards those with political affiliations to the Bharatiya Janata Party to which the prime minister belongs.


The Press Council has a code for selection of journalists on such tours to ensure fair representation. This ensures regional representation, linguistic representation, avoidance of over representation of any group of newspapers and rotation to ensure that even within one region a paper is not invited repeatedly. This code was violated with impunity, Mr Harivansh pointed out.


When the Council took up the complaint for hearing at an inquiry committee held in Bhuvaneshwar in October 2002, the respondents did not appear. Subsequently, having examined the evidence, the committee recommended to the Council that the principles already laid down be borne in mind which constituting media parties in the future.


The second part of Prabhat Khabar’s complaint pertained to the release of government advertising, and its bugbear was the same newspaper, the Ranchi Express. It submitted a comparative statement for two years showing advertisements issued to Prabahat Khabar and Ranchi Express. Though the former was much ahead of the latter in circulation, it said, the Ranchi Express got a much larger share of advertising.


By the time the Council came to examine the complaint, the DAVP was able to establish that in 2001-2002 advertisements were issued on an equitable basis. So the council’s inquiry committee concluded that the complainant’s grievance stood redressed. The case however did succeed in establishing one thing: when the BJP is the chief constituent of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, its friends in the media make hay.









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