Forming a media council with statutory powers: an IT panel led by Tharoor in government

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Expressing its dissatisfaction with ethical standards in the media, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology, chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, recommended that the government establish a Media Council, on the Press Council of India (PCI) model, with statutory powers over print, television and digital media platforms.

In its report on “Ethical Standards in Media Coverage”, submitted to Parliament on Wednesday, the committee said that current regulators like the PCI and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority are not as effective, that their “effectiveness is limited. And the NBSA, a self-regulatory body, “depends on voluntary compliance with its ordinances.”

The committee said it was “of the firm belief that PCI needs to be restructured to cover all types of media” and that the Union’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting “should explore the possibility to establish a broader Media Council, encompassing not only the written press but also the electronic press. and digital media as well, and give it the statutory powers to execute its orders if necessary ”.

This, according to the report, “would enable him to… take appropriate measures to verify irregularities, guarantee freedom of expression and professionalism, and maintain the highest ethical standards and credibility.”

He recommended that the government establish a Media Commission composed of experts “for wider consultations among interested groups / stakeholders in order to reach consensus in this regard” and in the meantime, the Ministry of I & B should ” examine the possibility of extending the regulatory framework to monitor electronic logs ”.

He said the ministry should look into the matter to submit all private satellite TV channels to the self-regulatory mechanism and “take steps to make the self-regulatory mechanism more effective.”

Regarding the 2021 rules on information technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), against which several challenges have been filed in various courts across the country, including by several media groups print and television, the committee said it hopes this “will go a long way in regulating digital media content” and the I&B Department and the Department of Electronics and Information and Technology “will work coherently and in tandem to ensure that the code of ethics is also followed by digital media ”.

He said he was “gravely concerned that the media … are gradually losing their credibility and integrity where values ​​and morals are compromised” and that there are “pervasive cases of ethical code of conduct violations. by the media which translate into paid information, false information. , manipulation of TRP, media lawsuits, sensationalism, biased reporting, etc.

Quoting ministry officials on a “discussion on the establishment of a framework statute for the entire broadcasting sector covering print, electronic and online media, which is under consideration,” the committee asked the ministry to look into the matter “expeditiously” to make “the necessary changes” to the 1995 Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act “which is 25 years old and needs to be amended.”

Discussing the limits of PCI’s ability to punish offending newspapers unless the ministry’s Office of Outreach and Communications (BOC) steps in to block government ads for that newspaper, he expressed “the greatest concern that faulty logs tend to repeat the same errors, even after being censored by PCI, until action is taken ”by BOC.

“It is surprising to note that a lot of time is wasted in making a BOC decision against such newspapers, which ends up diluting the impact of the decision,” the committee said, urging the ministry “to prescribe a certain deadline. for the BOC to take action on PCI censored cases, in the interest of maintaining and promoting high standards of press in India ”.

The report expressed its dissatisfaction with the use of “anti-national attitudes” in Rule 6 (1) (e) of the Cable Network Rules, 2014, according to which “no program should be broadcast on the cable service which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contain anything against the maintenance of public order or which promotes “anti-national attitudes”. “

The term, he noted, was not defined separately in the program code in CTN Rules, 1994. The ministry, according to the report, justified that “anti-national” is “commonly understood as opposed to national interests or nationalism “but the committee, unconvinced, said the term” may be the cause of unnecessary harassment of private channels “. He recommended that “the term ‘anti-national attitude’ be properly defined to remove any ambiguity in the interpretation of the term in the prescribed code”.

On the I&B ministry banning two Malayalam news channels in March 2020 for their reporting on the riots in Delhi accusing them of “siding with a community”, the committee said “instead of resorting to procedure regular to deal with such complaints, orders have been issued against the channels with excessive haste ”.

Stating “it would be too harsh a decision to serve restraining orders against a channel without giving it ample opportunity to be heard in accordance with the procedure in place before its act of violation of the codes is established “, he said he was confident that the ministry” in the future would act transparently and impartially in dealing with such cases, lest such a decision by the government be seen as a step to suppress the freedom of press “.

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