Recently a live piece of Gutter-journalism was awarded Magsaysay Prize and the award ceremony that followed reminded me of beatification jamboree that is organised at the Vatican to honour Missionaries cum Faith-merchants and designated as ‘Saint’. That was the turning point in my cerebrum and I have been quite engaged in mulling over this long-standing, recalcitrant, sort of ‘drug-resistant TB’ afflicting Bharatiya polity hitherto. In so far as merit and desirability of the term ‘Gutter’ are concerned, one only has to deeply interact with the phenomenon to understand it’s vicious onslaughts on sanity and rationalism.
Gutter-journalism has been expanding like a Hydra-headed monster often changing it’s contours like Fake-news / False-news / Farce-news / Negative-news / Destructive-news etc. Not merely confined to Bharata, it has been agonising several countries in the world, often downsizing GDP forecasts, demoralizing entire nation, causing panic reactions or qualifying even election results what to speak of sparking communal riots. Several country heads have been steadily complaining about the menace with US President Trump and Prime Minister Modi being prominent ones. President Trump went to the extent of cancelling White House Entry Pass of a defiant correspondent who persistently continued nagging him in a live presser. On the other hand, Prime Minister Modi had to eschew several such members of the honourable ‘species’ and launch a separate channel-hours to project positivities and achievements of the nation. It is amply obvious, it will be a long-drawn battle with that approach countering them on every front either chasing them vigorously or being hot-chased by them. But that leads to loss of lot of productive energy and drive in addition to general atmosphere in the country being vitiated denting even international reputation influencing even foreign direct investments. On the opposite side of spectrum, Sycophantic-journalism too is equally reprehensible. During post-Garibi Hatao era of Indira Gandhi, Emergency was imposed and the regime of mid-night knocks instilled so much fear in intellect of journalists that they crawled and creeped when they were expected to merely bend and digress. Fear of that terror regime was so pestilential that even high-nosed, black-gowned Justices of the Supreme Court turned too obsequious before Government of the day.
On other extreme tip of the spectrum of mass communication lies five non-negotiable cardinal principles that Mahamana Malviyaji ordained for himself before embarking on his forays into journalism –
Devotion to the Motherland
Reawakening and dissemination of Dharma
Devotion to truth
Unswerving commitment to traditional and timeless values
His comprehensive speech on September 26, 1922 in Lahore reveals not only his vision of journalism but also the extent of degradation that had seeped into the profession, “This is my prayer to those who run newspapers: let no article that arouses base thoughts in the minds of the public be published in your papers. Let no exaggeration creep in your publications. Let everything that is published have the foundation of truth. Let everything that is published have the fundamental aim of fostering and strengthening the unity and integrity of this country.”
The phenomenon is far too impacting to be shoved under carpet by any regime anymore. However, totalitarian regimes have already been excessively active on this count. Incident of a Washington Post correspondent being dismembered to every single limb in an Embassy at Istambul is too recent to fade away from public memory. His journalistic indulgence with Saudi Royal family did not go down well and he was enticed to walk into the trap through an irresistable Nikah proposal. Zero tolerance towards ‘free and fair’ journalism in China is well-known worldwide. Election based democratic regimes cannot adopt such extreme measures fraught with hazards of falling into authoritarianism. We have been witness to several cases wherein confusion over applicability of IPC Section 124A led to defamation being treated as sedition and vice versa. Sedition must be explicitly separated from defamation and relevant laws must be amended suitably. In addition to defamation, ‘Prohibited’ journalism must also be defined and incorporated into statutory code of conduct.
Such a comprehensive law enacted after due deliberations in and out of Parliament may stipulate –
All journalists are professionally well-qualified, well-versed in history, culture, economics, traditions, politics of the nation from a recognised / accredited institutions only. Licence to practise journalism may be issued to them after they successfully complete apprenticeship in a media house of national standing.
Press Council Of Bharata may be the licencing authority for journalists.
Only jounalists holding valid licence issued by the PCB are employed by media, electronic as well as print both.
Professional code of conduct must be elaborately defined with respect to journalistic ethics, morality, freedom of expression, accountability and all other related issues with maximum emphasis on their freedom of expression.
PCB must be empowered to haul up any journalist violating the code of conduct, disqualify / revoke licence to practise journalism, impose penalty or order criminal proceedings of defamation or otherwise, after due diligence.
Editors / website administrators may be held accountable for articles authored by non-journalists from various professions for adherence to the code of conduct.
PCB must be an autonomous Constitutional governing authority for journalism. Appointment of members of PCB may be undertaken on lines of CAG / CBI Director etc.
With this kind of fairly indicative framework in operation, semblance of sanity is bound to be restored in media that will unleash a new era of nationalistic, responsible and enlightened journalism in the country. If practising licence of a physician can be cancelled on charges of medical negligence, if a lawyer can be barred from practising by the Bar Council Of India owing to unethical practices, if a Chartered Accountant can be held responsible for poor auditing, why can’t a journalist be barred from his vocation if found indulging in nefarious practices and irresponsible writings ? This is an idea whose time has arrived with a bang and it must be addressed appropriately and immediately.