Protect media freedom: IJU demands from Delhi seminar
All India Seminar by the Indian Journalists Union deliberates on the enactment of Media Protection Act and constitution of a Media Commission
Slug: Ace Supreme Court lawyer Rakesh Khanna and IPS turned rights activists Amod Kanth lend unequivocal support to IJU’s demand.
The Indian Journalists Union (IJU), a foremost body of journalists, organised a national level seminar to deliberate on the challenges that are confronting the media at all levels only a daily basis and how to bring them in the ambit of the law to protect truth seeking joumalists and censure fake and paid news peddlers. In the nearly three hour long brainstorming session, representatives of IJU from over a dozen states and UTs looked at various aspects confronting all tiers of the media – print, electronic and social and find ways to protect the genuine journalists from harassment, intimidation, and violence while looking at their financial welfare. The seminar was addressed by two eminent personalities from the field of law enforcement and justice delivery – by Mr. Amod Kanth (IPS), former DGP and founder of Prayas, NGO working for children’s rights advocacy and Mr. Rakesh Khanna, senior Supreme Court lawyer and former Additional Solicitor General of India.
In his opening comments, Mr. SN Sinha, former President of the IJU and a former member of the Press Council of India, explained how the IJU that has been fighting for press freedom and journalists’ rights that since its inception has grown into a 28,000 member spread over in 22 states and UT’s, has now taken up cudgels demanding enactment of a Media Protection Act and constitution of a Media Commission to enforce it. “When the IJU demands this, it does it with conviction as it has been equally effective in calling out the malpractices in journalism. It was IJU that did a study and coined the word paid news during Andhra elections. Today, with the inclusion of social media, the scope of paid news, fake news has increased many folds that needs to be restrained. At the same time, the scrupulous media is under attack from police, politicians, political parties and mafia. Several cases like Siddique Kappan’s in Hathras, Ratnagiri mining expose, midday meal scheme expose in UP bear testimony to this fact. To make democracy work we need media protection and this seminar is a step in that direction,” said Mr. Sinha.
He also dwelt upon the media protection acts that have been enacted by the Maharashtra and the Chhattisgarh government and also about the much forward looking act enacted by the neighbouring Pakistan that also gives journalists the right to protect the source. The current President of the ILI, Mr. Srinivas Reddy brought the current state of affairs within the government that is not allowing any forward movement in giving protection to the media professionals. “While addressing the issue of media protection, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has given contradictory statements to the Committee on Petitions of the Lok Sabha and the Standing Committee on Communications and Information technology. To the standing committee it said there is no need to enact a new law for media protection as there are already a number of provisions and before the committee on petitions it reacted positively. But the government’s lackadaisical attitude has failed to generate any movement,” said Mr. Reddy. He also brought out the fact that media professionals are being paid a pittance in case of accidental death or permanent disability and only a very few accredited journalists are covered under the government health schemes.
“The model Media Commission brought out by the Press Council of India chairman PB Sawant has been lying with the government without any action,” he said and added that the IJU has prepared a 24 pages draft document to build upon for which they seek guidance of Mr. Kanth and Mr. Khanna to become a robust legal document. Taking a leaf out from his days as a police officer and a rights activist, Mr. Amod Kanth said the role of the police, an activist and a journalist is complementary to each other as their real work is to seek the truth. I saw this during my days as an investigating officer of the Rajiv Gandhi murder case where journalists provided me with a great deal of input. That is why I believe that as a truth seeker it is very important to protect journalists with clean intentions,” he said. Talking about the oversight mechanism bodies of the central government, Mr. Kanth observed that these are non-judicial and non-statutory hence not very effective. “The Press Council of India is strong constitutionally but not when it comes to its output and effectiveness as it doesn’t have the authority of a Commission, The discretionary power to block the content is in the hands of the bureaucrats that can be very subjective,” he said. Mr. Kanth said that the existing acts in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and in Pakistan are important as any new act must have a basis. “In fact, the media protection act of Pakistan is very important and should not be rejected just because it is from Pakistan. It gives the right to non-disclosure of source, talks about no enforcement of undue restrictions and also safeguards the reputation and privacy of others. It is equipped with the powers of a civil court that follows from the colonial IPC section 1908 and can be implemented here too,” said Mr. Kanth.
“Uptil now only a loose regulatory framework is in existence but we need something more for the safety, protection and welfare of journalists. Though being a colonial legacy, the IPC and CrPC does not provide enough scope but our Constitution is very modern and forward looking and has all the ingredients that gives us power to enact a good law,” said Mr. Kanth. Remembering various struggles that he fought as a lawyer alongside IJU for better wages and welfare of journalists, Mr. Rakesh Khanna said that there is ample evidence to show that suppression of journalists is there, there is not enough protection and if this fourth pillar of democracy is not given enough protection to profess its primary duty of seeking truth the edifice of democracy will crumble. “The executive is protected by various laws like CrPC section 197, Prevention of Corruption Act, the judiciary has a self protecting mechanism as no proceedings can be started against a judge without the approval of the chief justice, the legislature or the MPs and MLAs have the protection of Speaker but the the Media is the only pillar that doesn’t have such protection and is fully justified in seeking protection,” said Mr. Khanna.
He said that because of the expansion of social media there has been a proliferation of fake journalists and there needs to be some kind of regulation to register journalists on all platforms. Once registered they should be given accreditation, full protection and social benefits. Broadly outlining the structure of the Media Commission, Mr. Khanna said, there is a need to have a three tiered Media Commission at the national level, state level and district level with judicial powers. The NMC should be headed by a retired CJ and as members should have a retired IPC of at least the rank of special IB director or DGP, national level journalists of eminence nominated by journalists, one eminent woman journalist and a lawyer of eminence with at least 40 years of practice. “This model should be replicated at the state and district level with equivalent officials at that level. Before arresting a journalist, the FIR should be placed before the media commission for approval and sans its approval no journalist should be arrested. At the same it should be equipped to take action against fake journalists who spread lies and hatred and hand out punishment to them. There should be rules for the media to establish their findings in case of damage to the reputation of a person or an organisation. All the proceedings of the commission should be videographed for transparency,” said Mr. Khanna. The seminar was also addressed by eminent journalist turned academician Prof. Prdeep Mathur and Prof. Avinash Singh. The IJU seminar resolved to move faster in this direction by asking more State governments to enact media protection laws that would also force the central government to take proactive steps.