The media, especially the "utterly unregulated" electronic media, should be subject to "independent" self-regulation, like an ombudsman, while the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) should be given statutory backing, speakers at a conference said here Wednesday.
While former Justice Markandey Katju, chairperson of the Press Council of India (PCI), felt media freedom should be subject to "reasonable" regulation, N. Ram former editor-in-chief of the Hindu, said there was need to address the problem of "trivialisation and dumbing down" of news by the electronic media.
Addressing a conference on "Self Regulation qua Statutory Regulation: are they mutually exclusive" organised by the Institute of Mass Communication and the Press Council of India here, Katju said he was opposed to media regulation but it should be "subject to reasonable regulation by an independent statutory authority".
He suggested that the NBSA, an independent body set up by the News Broadcasters Association, should have the right to suspend the licence of TV channels resorting to extortion or blackmail.
"The fear should be there that you can be thrown out... accountability should be there," said Katju, terming as "humbug and an oxymoron" the concept of self regulation.
"I am for media freedom, but with responsibility," Katju said, adding that the media, especially the electronic media, was ignoring the real problems of poverty, malnutrition, and suicides.
He said he had written to the prime minister suggesting expansion of the PCI to include equal members from the electronic and print media as well as MPs.
Ram suggested independent self regulation by the media and added that The Hindu has an independent ombudsman.
"Media organisations have to adopt credible self regulation mechanisms - are we accountable to the public or not," he said, adding that there are many complaints about TV news channels, that they have "become a law unto themselves".
Rahul Kanwal, managing editor Headlines Today, said it was a "bogey that the electronic media is shrill and needs to be regulated". He said the NBSA has given some verdicts against broadcasters and has also codified several regulations. He termed self regulation a form of censorship of media. "Don't want babus to tell me what to do or not."
Katju suggested that the NBSA should have the power to suspend licences in extreme cases. Ram suggested that all serving broadcasters should vacate the NBSA board in order for it to become a "truly self regulating authority" and that it should have statutory backing.
Political sociologist Dipankar Gupta said there should be a code of conduct for the media on "what it cannot do". This, he said, would help the media excel.
Gupta said the NBSA has been able to bring in some competence in TV journalism.
Vipul Mudgal, project director Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), pointed out that around 300 TV channels are owned by polticians. He also remarked on "consolidation" of the electronic media, or of fewer hands controlling the media. He suggested that self regulation should be backed by statutory support.
The chief guest, former chief justice of India, M.N. Venkatachaliah, said that there should be some regulation, but the government should not be the controller of ideas.