Sunday, January 23, 2011

Press council


Press Council is a mechanism for the Press to regulate itself. The raison d’etre of this unique institution is rooted in the concept that in a democratic society the press needs at once to be free and responsible.
If the Press is to function effectively as the watchdog of public interest, it must have a secure freedom of expression, unfettered and unhindered by any authority, organised bodies or individuals. But, this claim to press freedom has legitimacy only if it is exercised with a due sense of responsibility. The Press must, therefore, scrupulously adhere to accepted norms of journalistic ethics and maintian high standards of professional conduct.
Where the norms are breached and the freedom is defiled by unprofessional conduct, a way must exist to check and control it. But, control by Government or official authorities may prove destructive of this freedom. Therefore, the best way is to let the peers of the profession, assisted by a few discerning laymen to regulate it through a properly structured representative impartial machinery. Hence, the Press Council.
A need for such a mechanism has been felt for a long time both by the authorities as well as the Press itself all over the world, and a search for it resulted in the setting up of the first Press Council known as the Court of Honour for the Press in Sweden in 1916. The idea gained quick acceptance in other Scandinavian countries, and later in other parts of Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Today, the Press Councils or similar other media bodies are in place in more than four dozen nations. 
The basic concept of self-regulation in which the Press Councils and similar media bodies world over are founded, was articulated by Mahatma Gandhi, who was an eminent journalist in his own right, thus : " The sole aim of journalist should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as unchained torrent of water submerges the whole country side and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within."
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru while defending Press freedom, warning of the danger its irresponsible exercise entails stressed : " If there is no responsibility and no obligation attached to it, freedom gradually whithers away. This is true of a nation’s freedom and it applies as much to the Press as to any other group, organisation or individual."
The First Press Commission (1954) came across in some section of the Press, instances of yellow journalism of one type or another, scurrilous writing-often directed against communities or groups, sensationalism, bias in presentation of news and lack of responsibility in comment, indecency and vulgarity and personal attacks on individuals. The Commission, however, pointed out that the well-established newspapers had, on the whole. Maintained a high standard of journalism. They had avoided "cheap senstationalism and unwarranted intrusion into private lives." But it remarked that " whatever the law relating to the Press may be, there would still be a large quantum of objectionable journalism which, though not falling within the purview of the law, would still require to be checked." It was of the view that the best way of maintaining professional standards of journalism would be to bring into existence a body of of people principally connected with the industry whose responsibility it would be to arbitrate on doubtful points and to censure any one guilty of infraction of the code of journalistic ethics.
The Commission recommended the setting up of a Press Council. Among the objectives visualised for the Council were : " to safeguard the freedom of the press", " to ensure on the part of the Press the maintenance of High standards of public taste and to foster due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship" and " to encourage the growth of sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism." The Commission, recommended the establishment of the Council on a statutory basis on the ground that the Council should have legal authority to make inquiries as otherwise each member, as well as the Council as a whole, would be subject to the threat of legal action from those whom it sought to punish by exposure.
The Commission said that the Council should consist of men who would command general confidence and respect of the profession and should have 25 members excluding the Chairman. The Chairman was to be a person who was or had been a Judge of the High Court and was to be nominated by the Chief Justice of India.
The Press Council of India was first constituted on 4th July, 1966 as an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body, with Shri Justice J R Mudholkar, then a Judge of the Supreme Court, as Chairman. The Press Council Act, 1965, listed the following functions of the Council in furtherance of its objects :

  • to help newspapers to maintain their independence;

  • to build up a code of conduct for newspapers and journalists in accordance with high professional standards;

  • to ensure on the part of newspapers and journalists the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship;

  • to encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism;

  • to keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance;

  • to keep under review such cases of assistance received by any newspaper or news agency in India from foreign sources, as are referred to it by the Central Government.

  • Provided that nothing in this clause shall preclude the Central Government from dealing with any case of assistance received by a newspaper or news agency in India from foreign sources in any other manner it thinks fit; 

  • to promote the establishment of such common service for the supply and dissemination of news to newspapers as may, from time to time, appear to it to be desirable;

  • to provide facilities for the proper education and training of persons in the profession of journalism;

  • to promote a proper functional relationship among all classes of persons engaged in the production or publication of newspapers;

  • to study developments which may tend towards monopoly or concentration of ownership of newspapers, including a study of the ownership or financial structure of newspapers, and if necessary, to suggest remedies therefor;

  • to promote technical or other research;

  • to do such other acts as may be incidental or conducive to the discharge of the above functions.

  • The Act of 1965 provided that the Council shall consist of a Chairman and 25 other members. Of the 25 members, 3 were to represent the two houses of Parliament, 13 were to be from amongst the working journalists, of which not less than 6 were to be editors who did not own or carry on the business of management of newspapers and the rest were to be the persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of education and science, law, literature and culture. By an amendment of the Act in 1970, the membership of the Council was raised by one to provide a seat for persons managing the news agencies.
    The Chairman under the Act on 1965, was to be nominated by the Chief Justice of India. Of the three Members of Parliament, two representing Lok Sabha were to be nominated by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and one representing Rajya Sabha, was to be nominated by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The remaining 22 members were to be selected by a three-man Selection Committee comprising the Chief Justice of India, Chairman of the Press Council and a nominee of the President of India. The Chairman and the members were to hold office for a period of three years provided that no member could hold office for a period exceeding six years in the aggregate.
    When in the early years of the Council’s existence a grievance was aired about the selection of a category of members, Parliament embarked on a search for a meticulous formula which would ensure uncompromising impartiality and fairness in the selection of Chairman and other members. This led to the amendment of the 1965 Act entrusting this work to a Committee comprising the incumbent of the three highest offices which are considered as an embodiment of these attributes, namely, Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India. But, the pursuit for still less subjective scheme continued. Even a statistical formula was evolved for equitable presentation of the various representative organisations of the profession.
    As has been referred to earlier, composition of the nominating committee was changed by an amendment of the said Act in 1970, according to which the Chairman and the members from the press were to be nominated by a Nominating Committee consisting of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the Chief Justice of India and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
    The amending Act of 1970 introduced several other provisions in the Act. The manner of selection of persons of special knowledge or practical experience was specified. It provided that of the three persons to be nominated from among such people, one each shall be nominated by the University Grants Commission, the Bar Council of India and the Sahitya Academy. It also provided for raising the membership of the Council to give one seat to the persons managing the news agencies. Out of the six seats for proprietors and managers of newspapers, two each were earmarked for big, medium and small newspapers. No working journalist who owned or carried on the business of management of newspapers could now be nominated in the category of working journalists. Also, it was specified that not more than one person interested in any newspaper or group of newspapers under the same control, could be nominated from the categories of editors, other working journalists, proprietors and managers.
    The Nominating Committee was empowered to review any nomination on a representation made to it by any notified association or by any person aggrieved by it or otherwise. The amended Act also barred renomination of a retiring member for more than one term. Where any association failed to submit a panel of names when invited to do so, the Nominating Committee could ask for panels from other associations or persons of the category concerned or nominate members after consultation with such other such individuals or interests concerned as it thought fit.
    Under the original Act, the Chairman was nominated by the Chief Justice of India. But, after this amendment, nomination of the Chairman was also left to the Nominating Committee.
    The Council set up under the Act of 1965 functioned till December 1975. During the Internal Emergency, the Act was repealed and the Council abolished w.e.f. 1/1/1976.
    PRESS COUNCIL OF 1979
    A fresh legislation providing for the establishment of the Council was enacted in 1978 and the institution came to be reviewed in the year 1979 with the very same object of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of Press in India. The present Council is a body corporate having perpetual succession. It consists of a Chairman and 28 other members. Of the 28 members, 13 represent the working journalists. Of whom 6 are to be editors of newspapers and remaining 7 are to be working journalists other than editors. 6 are to be from among persons who own or carry on the business of management of newspapers. One is to be from among the persons who manage news agencies. Three are to be persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of education and science, law and literature and culture. The remaining five are to Members of Parliament : three from Lok Sabha, and two from Rajya Sabha.
    The new Act provides for selection of the Chairman by a Committee consisting of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the Speaker of Lok Sabha and a person elected by the members of the Council from among themselves. The twenty representatives of the Press are nominated by the associations of aforesaid categories of the newspapers and news agencies notified for the purpose by the Council in the each category. One member each is nominated by the University Grants Commission, the Bar Council of India and the Sahitya Academy. Of the five Members of Parliament, three are nominated by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and two by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The term of the Chairman and the members of the Council is three years. A retiring member is eligible for renomination for not more than one term.
    An extremely healthy feature of the Indian Press Council is the scheme and procedure of the nomination of its Chairman and other members, following a long search based on the experience of several years of functioning of the Council. Despite being a statutory body, the Government and its authorities have been completely kept out of the nomination process except for publishing the notification in the official gazette of the names of the members nominated. Nor has it been left to any individual to decide, however eminent or highly placed he may be.
    A totally non-subjective procedure which leaves no scope for the interference or influence by Government or any other agency was evolved with remarkable ingenuity. The scheme is in force since the enactment of the Press Council Act of 1978 under which the revived Press Council was set up in 1979.
    OBJECTS AND FUNCTIONS OF THE COUNCIL
    The objects of present Press Council are substantially the same as were laid down under the Act of 1965 and it is not necessary to repeat them here. But the functions have undergone some change in that the three of the functions listed in the earlier Act were not included in the 1978 Act as they were considered to be burdensome for the Council to perform. These related to (a) promoting the establishment of such common services for the supply and dissemination of news to newspapers as may, from time to time, appear to it to be desirable;(b) providing facilities for proper education and training of persons in the profession of journalism; and (c) promoting technical or other research.
    In addition, the Act of 1978 lists two new functions of the Council : (I) to undertake studies of foreign newspapers, including those brought out by any embassy or any other representative in India of a foreign State, their circulation and impact; and, (ii) to undertake such studies as may be entrusted to the Council and to express its opinion in regard to any matter referred to it by the Central Government.
    The other functions remain the same as enumerated in the Act of 1965.
    POWERS OF THE COUNCIL:
    The powers of the Press Council are provided in Section 14 and 15 of the Act as under :
    Power to Censure
    Section 14:1) Where, on receipt of a complaint made to it or otherwise, the Council has reason to believe that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or a working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, the Council may, after giving the newspaper, or news agency, the editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard, hold an inquiry in such manner as may be provided by the regulations made under this Act and, if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do , it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist, as the case may be :
    Provided that the Council may not take cognisance of a complaint if in the opinion of the Chairman, there is no sufficient ground for holding an inquiry.

  • If the Council is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in public interest so to do, it may require any newspaper to publish therein in such manner as the Council thinks fit, any particulars relating to any inquiry under this section against a newspaper or news agency, an editor or a journalist working therein, including the name of such newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.

  • Nothing in sub-section (1) shall be deemed to empower the Council to hold an inquiry into any matter in respect of which any proceeding is pending in a court of law.

  • The decision of the Council under sub-section (1), or sub-section (2), as the case may be, shall be final and shall not be questioned in any court of law.

  • GENERAL POWERS OF THE COUNCIL
    5 of 1908
    15.(1) For the purpose of performing its functions or holding any inquiry under this Act, the Council shall have the same powers throughout India as are vested in a civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, in respect of the following matters namely :-

  • Summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and examining them on oath;

  • requiring the discovery and inspection of documents;

  • receiving evidence on affidavits;

  • requisitioning any public record or copies thereof from any court or office;

  • issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents; and

  • any other matter, which may be prescribed.

  • (2) Nothing in sub-section (1) shall be deemed to compel any newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist to disclose the source of any news or information published by that newspaper or received or reported by that news agency, editor or journalist.
    45 of 1860
    (3) Every inquiry held by the Council shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code.

  • The Council may, if it considers it considers it necessary for the purpose of carrying out its objects or for the performance of any of its functions under this Act, make such observations, as it may think fit, in any of its decisions or reports, respecting the conduct of any authority, including Government.


  • FUNDINGS OF THE COUNCIL
    The Act provides that the Council may, for the purpose of performing its functions under the Act, levy fee at the prescribed rates from registered newspapers and news agencies. Apart from this, the Central Government has been enjoined to pay the Council by way of grant such sums of money as the Central Government may consider necessary, for the performance of its functions.
    EMINENT PERSONALITIES
    The Council has been adorned by a galaxy of distinguished judges, eminent editors, leading newspaper owners and managers, well-known working journalists and leaders of journalistic movement and renowned litterateurs, lawyers and educationists. Shri Justice J R Mudholkar, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court was the first Chairman who presided over the Council from November 16, 1966 to March 1, 1968. He was followed by Shri Justice N Rajagopala Ayyangar (May 4, 1968 to January 1,1976), Shri Justice A N Grover (April 3, 1979 to October 9, 1985), Shri Justice A N Sen (October 10, 1985 to January 18,1989) and Shri Justice R S Sarkaria (January 19, 1989 to July 24, 1995) and Shri Justice P B Sawant( July 24, 1995 till date). They were retired Judges of the Supreme Court. All of them led the Council with a deep commitment to its philosophy and objects. The Council got its direction from them and amply benefited from their vast knowledge and wisdom. Some of the many eminent persons who have, till 1998, served the Council as members are :
    Editors : Sarvshri Frank Morraes, Akshay Kumar Jain, B G Verghese,Prem Bhatia, Arun Shourie, Kuldip Nayar, Cho Ramaswamy, A N Sivaraman, Dr Dharmvir Bharati, Dr N K Trikha (who also served for one term in the category of working journalists other than editors), V N Narayanan, Shri Ramu Patel and Narla Venkateswar Rao, Shri Nikhil Chakravorty, Shri Mammen Mathew.
    Working Journalists other than editors:
    Sarvshri Durga Das (who was also a member in the category of owners for one term), Sailen Chatterji, Prithvis Chakravarti, K Vikram Rao, S Viswam, G N Aharya, Gour Kishore Gosh, A Raghavan, P Raman and Arun Bagchi, Nitish Chakravarty,Brij Bhardwaj.
    Proprietors and managers :
    Sarvshri G Narshimhan, K M Mathew, C R Irani, Dr N B Parulekar, A G Sheerey, A R Bhat, Narendra Tiwari, Raj MohanGandhi, Yadunath Thatte, Basudev Ray Chowdhury, N R Chandran and G G Mirchandani, Naresh Mohan, V B Gupta.
    Literateurs :
    Dr Uma Shankar Joshi, Dr Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, Prof. K K Srinivasa Iyengar, Prof. U R Anantha Murthy, Prof. Indira Nath Choudhary.
    Lawyers:
    Shri Ram Jethmalani, Shri Ranjit Mohanty, Shri P Vishwanath Shetty.
    Educationists:
    Dr (Miss) Alu Dastur, Dr (Miss) Usha Mehta, Dr (Mrs) Madhuri Shah, Prof. Tapas Mazumdar, Dr M V Pylee, Prof K Satchidanandan Murthy.
    Members of Parliament :
    Sarvshri H V Kamath, Ganga Sharan Sinha, Piloo Mody, Rafiq Zakaria, S N Dwivedi, C L Chandrakar, George Fernandes, L K Advani, H K L Bhagat, M S Gurupadaswamy, V N Gadgil, Arun Nehru, Eduardo Falerio, R K Karanjia, Smt Geeta Mukherjee, M C Bhandare, Brij Mohan Mohanty, D P Yadav, M J Akbar, K L Sharma, P C Chacko. Of these Sarvshri L K Advani, V N Gadgil and Shri H K L Bhagat have had the distinction of being Union Ministers of Information and Broadcasting either before or after becoming members of the Council. Many others have been Union Ministers with other portfolios.
    Shri B Siva Rao, journalist and member of the Constituent Assembly and Shri K Ishwara Dutt, journalist and author had been nominated to the first Council in the category of eminent persons along with Shrimati Deena Ahmadullah.
    FUNCTIONING OF THE COUNCIL
    The Council discharges its functions primarily through the medium of its Inquiry Committees, adjudicating on complaint cases received by it against the Press for violation of the norms of journalism or by the Press for interference with its freedom by the authorities. There is a set procedure for lodging a complaint with the Council.
    A complainant is required essentially to write to the editor of the respondent newspaper, drawing his attention to what the complainant considers to be in breach of journalistic ethics or an offence against public taste. Apart from furnishing to the Council a cutting of the matter complained against, it is incumbent on the complainant to make and subscribe to a declaration that to the best of his knowledge and belief he has placed all the relevant facts before the Council and that no proceedings are pending in any court of law in respect of any matter alleged in the complaint; and that he shall inform the Council forthwith if during the pendency of the inquiry before the Council any matter alleged in the complaint becomes the subject matter of any proceedings in a court of law. The reason for this declaration is that in view of Section 14(3) of the Act, the Council cannot deal with any matter which is sub judice.
    If the Chairman finds that there are no suffecient grounds for inquiry, he may dismiss the complaint and report it to the Council; otherwise, the Editor of the newspaper or the journalist concerned is asked to show cause why action should not be taken against him. On receipt of the written statement and other relevant material from the editor or the journalist, the Secretariat of the Council places the matter before the Inquiry Committee. The Inquiry Committee screens and examines the complaint in necessary details. If necessary, it also calls for further particulars or documents from the parties. The parties are given opportunity to adduce evidence before the Inquiry Committee by appearing personally or through their authorised representative including legal practitioners. On the basis of the facts on record and affidavits or the oral evidence adduced before it, the Committee formulates its findings and recommendations and forwards them to the Council, which may or may not accept them. Where the Council is satisfied that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or working journalist has committed professional misconduct, the Council may warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or journalist, or disapprove the conduct thereof, as the case may be . In the complaints lodged by the Press against the authorities, the Council is empowered to make such observations as it may think fit in respect of the conduct of any authority including government. The decisions of the Council are final and cannot be questioned in any court of law. It will thus be seen that the Council wields a lot of moral authority although it has no legally enforceable punitive powers.
    The Inquiry Regulations framed by the Council empower the Chairman to take suo motu action and issue notices to any party in respect of any matter falling within the scope of Press Council Act. The procedure for holding a suo motu inquiry is substantially the same as in the case of a normal inquiry except that for any normal inquiry a complaint is required to be lodged with the Council by a complainant. For the purpose of performing its functions or holding an inquiry under the Act the Council exercises some of the powers vested in a Civil Court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, in respect of the following matters, namely :-

  • Summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and examining them on oath;

  • requiring the discovery and inspection of documents;

  • receiving evidence on affidavits;

  • requisitioning any public record or copies thereof from any court or office;

  • issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents; and

  • any other matter, which may be prescribed.


  • The Council expects the parties to cooperate with it in the conduct of its business. At least in two cases where the Council noticed that the parties were literally uncooperative or adamant, it exercised, its authority under Section 15 of the Act to compel them to appear before it and/or to furnish record etc. In the complaint of some Chandigarh journalists against the Chief Minister and the Government of Haryana, the erstwhile Council had to warn the authorities about the use of Council’s coercive powers if they failed to respond to the notices sent by the Council. Similarly, in the famous case of B G Verghese against The Hindustan Times, the Birlas were directed to provide complete correspondence exchanged between Shri Verghese and Shri K K Birla.
    The Council, in 1980 had proposed amendment of the Act, for empowering the Council to recommend to the authorities concerned, denial of certain facilities and concessions in the form of accreditation, advertisements, allocation of newsprint or concessional rates of postage for a certain period in the case of a newspaper which was censured thrice by the Council. Acceptance of the Council’s recommendations on the part of the authorities was sought to be made obligatory. The Council was further of the view that, as in the case of newspapers, the power vested in it under Section 15(4) of the Press Council Act, 1978, to make such observations as it may think fit, in any of its decisions or reports, respecting the conduct of any authority including government, should expressly include the power to warn, admonish or censure such authorities and that the observations of the Council in this behalf should be placed on the Table of both the Houses of Parliament and/or of the Legislature of the State concerned. In the year 1987, the Council reconsidered the matter and after detailed deliberations, decided to withdraw its proposal for penal powers because it was of the reconsidered opinion that in the prevalent conditions these powers could tend to be misused by the authorities to curb the freedom of the Press.
    Since then, time and again, suggestions/references have been made to the Council that it should have penal powers to punish the delinquent newspapers/journalists. In response, the Council has consistently taken the view that the moral sanctions provided to it under the existing scheme of the Act are adequate. The suggestion was repeated by the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting in his inaugural address to the International Conference of Press Councils held in New Delhi in October, 1992, but the Council unanimously rejected it with the following reasoning :-
    " Were the Council to be endowed with the power to impose sanctions/penalties, it would be equitable that the power to impose sanctions applies also when complaints are made by the Press against the Government and its authorities. A power to impose meaningful sanctions raises a number of issues, including, (a) the onus of proof; (b) the standard of proof; (c) the right to and cost of legal representation; and (d) whether review and/or appeal would be available. The effect of any or all of these issues may militate against the basic premise, that the Press Council’s provide a democratic and efficient and inexpensive facility for hearing of the complaints, and that the consequent inevitability would, in effect, become courts, excercising judicial power and well known problems of access, cost, formality and delay would equally apply, thus defeating the basic purpose of the Press Council."
    In December  1992 the Council received a reference from the Central Government soliciting its views on "whether a procedure can be laid down to ensure that newspapers/magazines censured by the Press Council for breach of guidelines in connection with communal writings, can be deprived of incentives from government, such as advertisements etcetera, and whether the Press Council would be in a position to suggest what action should be taken when it holds a newspaper/magazine guilty of breach of guidelines." The Council considered the matter in the meeting held in June1993 in the light of the stand adopted by it in the past against arming the Council with punitive powers. Having considered the matter in depth, the Council felt that the moral authority presently exercised by the Council is quite effective and the Council does not need any punitive powers in showing the Press the path of self-regulation. The Council, however, decided that if the newspaper is censured twice for any type of unethical writings within a period of three years, copies of such decisions should be forwarded to the Cabinet Secretary to the Government of India and to the Chief Secretary of the concerned State Government for information and such action, as may, in exercise of their discretion, be deemed to be appropriate in the circumstances of the case. The Council decided that that the period of three years will be taken as preceeding three years counted backwards from the date of the second censure.

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