Media freedom is paramount
It is disappointing that the Press Council of India [PCI], under the chairmanship of Justice Markandey Katju, has passed a resolution urging the government to amend the law and include broadcast and social media within its ambit. At present, the PCI has a mandate that is limited to the print media while the broadcast media is largely self-regulated, through the National Broadcasting Standards Authority [NBSA] with most responsible media organisations having put in place some content guidelines and content quality practices as well. The NBSA, which is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, has done admirable work with regard to content regulation and in raising the standards of broadcasting, though it is relatively new and has not had much time to prove itself. It is true that there are, at times, media excesses but, by and large, the self-regulating mechanism should be sufficient to take care of these as it, and the broadcast media, gain maturity. However, many, especially those with links to the government, are particularly expressive when it comes to demands for content regulatiohn by the broadcast media. Katju, in particular, has been exceptionally vocal ever since he has taken over as the chairman of the PCI, though the broadcast media is outside his jurisdiction. Possibly, the root of the controversy is the power of the broadcast media to influence opinion which those in seats of power find hard to stomach. The broadcast media is a dificult beast to ride. Hence, there are frantic attempts to control it.
Yet, the fundamental right to freedom of speech is paramount for it is one that is the bedrock of our democracy. There will be a grim price to pay as far as our democratic freedoms are concerned, if there is any move to muzzle media in the garb of regulating it. It is for Katju and his like to understand as well that some of the standards they seek to impose on the media are nothing but personal prejudices and preferences. Even more difficult to understand is the PCI’s attempt to grab the power to regulate social media. Social media largely empowers individuals to express themselves and enables a two-way communication process. It is universally acknowledged that this has led to a great upsurge in the expression of democratic opinion. Social media should not be tampered with easily or thoughtlessly. It is, by no stretch of imagination, the business of the PCI to censure these kinds of communications. The PCI has a mandate, which it must fulfil and not meddle in affairs it has no business with.