Media Resources For Readers For Journalists For Journalism Students Media Statistics Statistics Legal
Development Reporting Media Activism Media and Disability Media and Gender Media Diversity Privacy
How effective is the Press Council?
As it clamours to add oversight of television and Internet to its portfolio, we need to see what it did to regulate the print media last year. INDIRA AKOIJAM looks at the cases it took up.
Posted/Updated Monday, Sep 17 16:39:37, 2012
More than 80,000 newspapers were registered in India between 2010 and 2011, according to the Registrar of Newspaper of India report. And the country now has the largest number of newspapers/publications in the world, according to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) 2011 report.  An estimated 330 million newspapers are circulated daily in the country. But despite the increasing number of publications, there were relatively few cases of press regulation by the Press Council of India (PCI) in the April 2011-March 2012 period.
 
The PCI is responsible for inquiring into complaints received, by summoning witnesses and taking evidence under oath, or by demanding copies of public records to be submitted. It can issue warnings and admonish the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist. The decisions of PCI are final and cannot be appealed before a court of law. With these powers, how effective has it been in addressing complaints concerning the press?
 
After the current Chairman Markandey Katju was appointed to the Council in June 2011 the body has acquired a much higher profile than before. Justice Katju has been very vocal both in criticizing the media and in defending its freedom. But apart from these regular pronouncements, what is the council’s record? Do major issues concerning the print media even come before it? If the council’s demand to take over oversight of the electronic and social media is to be considered what track record do we scrutinize first?
 
The annual report of the Press Council for the last financial year is not available because it has not been passed yet by parliament. But its journal gives information on the cases taken up last year. Out of the 90 complaints that were taken up, 60 per cent of the decisions were disposed of, dismissed, closed, dropped or withdrawn on account of non pursuance or a settlement between the two parties. In some cases the complaints were dropped as the complainant had either withdrawn or not appeared for hearing. The strongest decision that the Press Council took was to censure a publication or direct the editor to publish a rejoinder or an apology in connection to the complaint. (The PCI has limited powers as it is not empowered to do more than that. It cannot impose a penalty or punishment on publications, editors or journalists for violating journalistic standards and the Council’s guidelines.)
 
Between November 2011 and March 2012, the Press Council of India gave 90 adjudications in cases ranging from harassment of newsmen to defamation charges against news publications. Of the 90 cases, 42 were heard in November and the remaining 48 were adjudicated in March 2012. The matters reported to the Press Council were taken up by the Inquiry Committee in six meetings for the above time period. Out of the 90 complaints, more than 40 were filed four years ago.
 
The complaints fall into two broad categories: filed by the press and against the press. Complaints by the press are sub-categorized into harassment of newsmen and facilities to the press (complaints by press for being denied facilities). The other broad category of complaints against the press deals with cases involving principles and publications, press and defamation, press and morality, and anti-national writing. Complaints against the press outnumbered those by the press with 67 reported cases while merely 23 cases were from the press on harassment (12) and interference with freedom of press (10). 
 
Table 1: Number of complaints received by the Press Council of India
 
CATEGORIES OF COMPLAINTS
NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS
Complaints by the press
Harassment of newsmen-
12
Facilities to the press
11
Complaints against the press
Principles and Publication  
14
Press and Defamation
49
Press and Morality
2
Anti- National Writing
2
TOTAL
90
 
Harassment of newsmen- Twelve adjudications were given with regard to the complaints concerning harassment of newsmen. The complaints dealt with cases of harassment of editors, writers, journalists as well as the use of violence and state-induced arrests/ framing of false cases inflicted upon them. These relatively few cases of press suppression were dealt with by the PCI based on the severity of the complaint. In one case, a suo-motu inquiry was directed on the reported attack on the offices of Kannada Prabha and Jaya Kirna which appeared in The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Times of India. The complaint was filed on 22nd March 2010. On March 3rd, 2010, a group of miscreants attacked their offices which resulted in a loss of more than Rs 5 lakh. The editors stated that the attacks were attributed to an article by Taslima Nasreen, Bangladeshi writer on exile. There were further attacks on other newspapers and the accused were arrested. The complaint was finally heard on 27th February 2012 where the complainants informed that they had no grievances and hence, the Inquiry Committee dropped the suo- motu inquiry. 
 
The PCI also dealt with complaints from journalists who were falsely charged in a criminal case for publishing certain news items. One such case being a complaint of a district correspondent of Rashtriya Sahara in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly being harassed by the family of illegal miners for compiling a report against them.   The Press Council however disposed of the complaint on finding out that the police authorities had taken remedial action and thus directed the police authority to submit an Action Taken Report. Four years had elapsed between the filing of the complaint and its adjudication. It was filed on 13th September 2007 and adjudicated on 17th November 2011. The problem was remedied before the Council got around to adjudicating it.
 
In many cases, when the complaint involves a dispute between a journalist and police authorities, the Press Council exercises restraint by simply advising the authority to refrain from threatening or harassing the press. It dealt with four such cases filed by the press against police authorities. These are Hindi publications Rashtriya Sahara (Sonebhadra, Uttar Pradesh), Amar Ujala(Banda, UP), Savera India Times (Daman) and Swatantra Bharat (Kanpur, UP).
 
(i) Complaint of harassment was filed by the district correspondent of Rashtriya Sahara against a person for threatening and the Superintendent of Police in Sonebhadra, UP for filing a false case against the complainant. On finding that the case filed against the journalist was false, the police authorities initiated action against the informer and hence the case was disposed of by the Press Council.
 
(ii) In another case, a correspondent of Amar Ujala filed a complaint against the police authorities of Banda, UP for allegedly filing a false criminal case against him. He had highlighted illegal extortion activities of an official in the area. The council directed the police authorities to inquire into the case and to file an Action Taken Report.
 
(iii) The Managing Editor of Savera India Times filed a complaint against the police for allegedly registering a false case against him and handcuffing him after he published a critical news item against the police. A fresh inquiry was directed by the council as the evidence provided by the complainant and respondent did not find merit.
 
(iv) And lastly, a correspondent of Swatantra Bharat filed a complaint against the Station House Officer in Jalaun, UP for allegedly insulting and threatening him for publishing critical news items against the police authorities. The Council advised the police authorities to “refrain from muzzling the press”. 
 
Facilities to press-The cases under this category mainly dealt with refusal by any state authority to give information on an organization, press meets; denial of payment of advertisement bill from DAVP; refusal to issue press accreditation cards, etc. In such cases many of the decisions mainly involve directing the authority to follow the Press Council’s decision. In one such case, a correspondent of PTI, Guntur (Andhra Pradesh) filed a complaint against the District Public Relations Officer for non-issuance of information about public programmes, press meets, etc. He also complained that entry to the press meet of Sri Krishna Commission on the formation of a separate Telangana state was denied to him. The case was filed on September 2010 and taken up for hearing on February 2012. The case was dismissed. The complainant had not appeared for the hearing and upon inquiry the committee did not find merit in the complaint.
 
In another complaint which involved denial of renewal of press accreditation card of a journalist of Satta Express, Kanpur by the Information & Public Relations Department, Lucknow, the Press Council under the recommendation of the Inquiry Committee directed the state information Department of the Government of UP to issue the identity card forthwith. The Council does not mention in its journal where these cases are reported, whether such directions were complied with.
 
Principles and publication- Complaints under this category are filed against journalists and publications for publishing news items that do not adhere to journalistic ethics. For example, publication of false news items, plagiarism, or paid news. The Times of India and Deccan Chronicle had published a photograph of a boy consuming liquor in one of its issue. The two newspapers had also published the name of the boy. A complaint was filed by the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring, Bangalore. It further stated that no responses were received from the two newspapers.
 
The Press Council directed the two newspapers to publish an apology acknowledging their error of judgement. However, it’s not known if any of the directions that the council issued to the publications were actually followed. In adjudications against police authorities, the Press Council’s directions have to be acknowledged in the form of an Action Taken Report whose copy has to be submitted to the Council, while it is not so in the case of adjudications taken against the press.
 
The Press Council dealt with only one complaint of paid news against the editor of Abhi Abhi, Hisar (Haryana) by an election agent in 2011- 2012. The complaint was filed on 5th October 2009. The editor had allegedly approached the complainant and demanded a sum of Rs 5 lakh. When he refused, the newspaper started publishing a spate of motivated and false news article against J P Dalal. The matter was dismissed as both the parties did not appear for the hearing.
 
Plagiarism was also one case that the Press Council looked into. A complaint by a journalist alleged that the Bureau Chief of Awadh a monthly magazine from Lucknow, had violated the Copyright Act by publishing his article in the editor’s name. However, the case was sorted out between the two and the matter was closed. In another case, a complaint was made where Amar Ujala in its issue in 2009 and 2010 had published two news items which alleged that the complainant had plagiarized an article. The Council could not arrive at a decision as the complainant had not replied to the respondent’s letter of a settlement and thus it was closed.
 
Press and defamation- News item that are false and malign a person’s or an institution’s image are filed under this category. Such cases mainly arise out of publication of sensational news items that are false, defamatory and frivolous. Maximum complaints (49) have been filed under this category. A complaint (4.10.2008) was filed by a resident of Perambalur Taluk against the Editor of a monthly magazine Vilmurasu Monthly, Chennai for publishing an article (May 2008) in his praise and demanding money towards the publication. On denying payment, the respondent allegedly carried defamatory articles against him in other issues for three months (June, July, and August 2008).
 
The Press Council in this case, decided to censure the editor of the journal for violation of norms of journalistic ethics. In its strictest decision, it also forwarded a copy of the decision to DAVP, RNI, Information and Public Relations Department, Tamil Nadu for action. Since there is no report from the council after that on this matter we do not know what action these bodies took. But the fact remains that in a case of proven blackmail the council was not able to penalize the publication.
 
Press and morality-Under this category, complaints against publications that hurt the sentiments of readers are filed. Two complaints were filed under this category, one dealing with an inappropriate portrayal of women in an advertisement by a local newspaper in Assam, and use of an indecent picture of a woman in one of the articles in India Today, New Delhi. One complaint was dismissed as no one appeared for the hearing and in the other case (Assam news daily, Asomiya Pratidin) PCI advised the newspaper not to accept advertisements that may corrupt young minds. 
 
Anti-national writing -- Complaints against the press for anti-national writing was rarely filed. Two complaints -- one against the Editor of Greater Kashmir for allegedly publishing a sensational and provocative article against the army and the other against the Editor of Outlook for its depiction of the Indian Flag in an indecent manner were filed. The respondent in the first case clarified that the publication has not committed any act that violates any journalistic standards. Upon hearing the case, the Council decided to caution the newspaper to be more careful after the respondent agreed to publish the army’s rebuttal.
 
In the other case, the Press Council opined that it was in bad taste and also expressed displeasure when the respondent did not appear for the hearing on the show cause notice. The case was subsequently dropped -- another case of the council not being effective in its influence over the print media.
 
Table 2: Number of complaints filed before being taken up for hearing
 
Complaints filed in 2007
Complaints filed in 2008
Complaints filed in 2009
Complaints filed in 2010
Complaints filed in 2011
3
18
23
37
5    
 
Note: Four complaints out of the total did not mention any dates as published by the Press Council’s annual report for 2011-2012. The table above lists only the number of complaints based on the dates of complaints filed as mentioned in the report.
 
 Number of meetings/ cases heard by the Inquiry Committee

Meetings /Cases heard
  2010
AUGUST 2011
SEPTEMBER 2011
NOVEMBER 2011
JANUARY 2012
FEBRUARY 2012
Meetings held 
3
2
4
2
2
3
Cases heard during these meetings
3
19
20
11
14
23

As evident from the tables (2 and 3) above, delay in adjudications on the part of the Press Council made the complainants to either stop pursuing the case or such complaints to be disposed of depending on the Inquiry Committee. Three pending cases from the year 2007 were taken up for adjudication in 2011 and 2012. The Press Council does not cite anywhere in its published index of adjudications as to why the cases remained pending from 2007 until taken up in 2011- 2012. For the decisions taken on November 17th 2011, the Inquiry Committee had 10 meetings to take up the case for hearing and seven meetings before the adjudications on March 27th 2012.

Table 4: TYPE OF ACTIONS TAKEN BY PCI
a. COMPLAINTS BY THE PRESS
 
TYPES OFDECISIONS
NUMBER OF DECISIONS
Harassment of newsmen-   12
Disposed of
2
Direction
2
Advised
1
Cautioned
1
Subjudice
3
Dismissed
1
Dropped
2
 
 
Facilities to the press-    11
Directions
3
Matter allowed to rest
1
Disposed of
2
Subjudice
3
Dismissed
1
Dropped
1
 
b. COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE PRESS
 
TYPES OF DECISIONS
NUMBER OF DECISIONS
Principles and Publication- 14
Dismissed
4
Closed
5
Disposed of
2
Recommended Council not to take cognizance of complaint
1
Complaint rejected
1
Directions
1
Press and Defamation- 49
Cautioned
1
Directions
5
Disposed of
5
Deprecated
1
Closed
10
Censured
5
Upheld
1
Withdrawn
1
Dropped
1
Advised
1
Cautioned
1
Dismissed
12
Subjudice
2
Complaint rejected
1
No action
1
Warned
1
Press and Morality- 2
Dismissed
1
Advised
1
Anti- National Writing
2
Directions
1
Cautioned
1
 
Out of these 90 decisions taken by PCI, 54 cases were disposed of, dismissed, closed, withdrawn or no action were taken. And 30 per cent of the complaints were decided upon the severity of the cases by summoning witnesses, taking evidence under oath, demanding  copies of public records to be submitted, issuing warnings and admonishing  the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist. Despite a detailed inquiry, the decision that is arrived at does not check the conduct of the press effectively. Even in cases dealing with morality, plagiarism, paid news and harassment, the strictest decisions only amount to being censured. Almost 50 per cent of the cases were filed before 2010 (Table 2) part of the purpose of regulating the press is diminished when decisions on such cases are delayed. In such cases when the cases are adjudicated after a gap for 3 or 4 years, the effectiveness of such decisions is further diluted.
 
More than the fate of the cases filed before the Council which often come to a tame end, the point to note is that several recent controversies involving members of the print media do not even come up before it. These include cases of election time paid news, the controversies regarding the Radia tapes where print journalists were involved, the publishing of mms pictures by a leading Hindi daily, cases of regional newspapers reporting hate speech, and so on.

A body that demands more responsibility should perhaps first demonstrate that its labours in recent times have had some impact.

BACK TO TOP

PRINT    COMMENT ON STORY EMAIL   
SUPPORT THE HOOT FOLLOW US
MEDIA JOB OF THE WEEK
Prasar Bharati is a statutory autonomous body established under the Prasar Bharati Act and came into existence on 23.11.1997. It is the Public Service Broadcast
Jagran Cityplus in Hyderabad is currently looking for two reporters/sub-editors. The candidate needs to be from a Mass Communication background. Since we are a
POLL
Does India need an independent and autonomous public broadcaster?
Yes
No
Cannot say
 
Bulletin Board

Secure communication workshop for journalists on October 11, 2014. Register to join. See "for journalists" section on the Hoot.
Copyright2011. THE HOOT. All Rights Reserved.