The best people to make laws for the press are journalists themselves.
In a democratic set up, free speech works like oxygen. In a country like India where a number of cultures and languages prevail, free speech and expression plays all the more a very important role. It would be equivalent to a murder if somebody puts restrictions on the fundamental rights of speech and expressions and do not allow someone to communicate one’s thoughts in its original form. Media is considered as the fourth estate of democracy, the other three being, judiciary, executive and legislative. Hence, media should be a totally independent body without any control or regulation from outside. The word ‘Journalism’ itself represents the freedom of thoughts and expressions. The ‘Press’ played a very important role in our freedom struggle and has been quite successful. One should not even think of locking them into any kinds of regulatory chains.
Media possesses the potential to mobilize people and maintain unity and integrity of our country. Undermining the role of media by imposing censorships or proposing bills against media or passing laws in the parliament or having courts to judge over the content or any other such state apparatus is nothing but harming the democracy. I am absolutely against of any external control over the press and the media as whole and I totally support that the best people to make laws for the press are the journalists themselves. Ashish Bagga, president of the Indian Newspaper Society, in a statement said that the courts' decisions "potentially threaten the survival and existence of media in India".
The media professionals should take the endeavor to prepare the guidelines and editorial code of conduct together and abide by them in order to establish minimum principles or ethics while maintaining full editorial freedom and credibility. Self regulation would help in safeguarding the rights of the journalists to be free. Inspite of the fact that the voice of free press is to be protected, we cannot over look the ‘lows’ in media. The increasing competition and the race to be the number one on TRP charts and readership graphs has led many wrongs to enter in the functioning of media. Advertisements from the corporate form a large chunk of revenue of media and hence it has been commercialized to a great extent. I totally understand that the competition media is facing today cannot be survived without the support of the advertisements but the way the hegemonic activities of the big advertisers are adversely affecting the functioning of the media. They try to hamper the freedom of media by interfering in the content of the media because of which the media content is increasingly becoming ‘market oriented’. The information which is more entertaining is served to the public as it would be interesting to the public even if it is not in the public interest.
The desire to maintain and attract the advertisements and to sell a story at any cost, media takes keen interest in sensationalism. Media professionals claim every content provided by them to be exclusive and sensational even if it contains no logic and is misleading. Many times, journalists practice prejudiced reporting and paid or checkbook journalism. They give importance to trivial issues highlighting the things which would make it sensational while keeping the duty of sensitizing people at the backseat. According to Markanday Katju, a former Supreme Court judge and now the head of Press council of India, a major portion of the content provided by the Media is devoted to entertainment and only 10 percent to the socio-economic matters. The media loses its credibility due to many reasons and one of the biggest reasons is that it plays with the sentiments of different religions practiced in India to impose their hegemony over the minds of the religiously sensitive Indian public by being pro Hindu media or Christian media or Muslim media etc.
There are many strong arguments against the Indian media by the government and many other eminent Indians but a country which aspires to become the Worlds’ most powerful nation must not narrow its agenda by thinking of making a statutory body for regulating the media. Nobody is perfect but to evolve and become better one needs to be left on oneself by only some healthy guidance from others. The media professionals who are conscious about the decreasing quality of press in the country should comes together and form a specialized body away from any control from the government and the corporate. This body must take decisions in the situations where the conflict of interests arises. It should look after the editorial code of conducts and the complaints against the breach of such conducts.
Many a times, the situation arises where the journalists face ethical dilemmas and are forced to practice what might not be called as ethical or moral but we still agree to the fact that press has the power to influence people and the press should be given the freedom to tackle such situations by itself with the help of the open consultation with the journalists, government, corporate and most importantly the citizens. Media is as important as the police in a society in order to watch the government and be a bridge between the citizens and their elected representatives. The quality of the media is defined by the accuracy of the content, fairness, balance and sensitivity towards the social sentiments.
While addressing the audience at a seminar held to mark the National Press Day, Ambika Soni, information and broadcasting minister said, “we have decided to go ahead with self regulatory mechanism which I am personally convinced is the most desirable way forward.” To improve media quality and promote and preserve editorial freedom, the press and the media as whole needs to follow the path of self regulation. A path where ‘the power’ shall not affects its position as the fourth estate of democracy. In a democracy, statutory regulation cannot be allowed over the media as media should be questioning the politicians and not answering them. Press performs a very crucial role of watching over the government and this can be done well only if it is free from the state interference. Self regulation increases the media accountability and credibility among the people.
The minimum basic principles for self regulation are required to be drafted by the professionals of this field as soon as possible in order to clean the mess already created by the over powering factors. Accuracy, fairness, honesty, taking responsibility for any mistake and so on will increase the quality and credibility of a newspaper. Certain professional and personal ethics are required to be followed by the journalists and people (readers, listeners, internet users etc) are required to be made well aware of these ethics in order to protect the integrity of the press.