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Media Regulation vs Freedom of Expression Essay

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India is considered the largest democracy in the World. A free country which is also recognized from its media. Through ages many countries have tried to give “Freedom of Expression” to their media whether it be print media, broadcast media or the latest online media. But have we ever thought that what is actually considered as “Freedom of Expression”. Our constitution in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, from which is derived the freedom of the press or the media, because there is no separate mention of media in the Constitution. It is the individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression in which it is understood. But on the other hand it is subjected to reasonable restrictions under specified heads which are mentioned in Article 19(2): like public order, contempt of court, etc.

With ‘Freedom’comes a lot of responsibilities for media. Actually the media is the mirror to the world but nowadays the roles are changing from informer to opinion making, influencing and decision making.

Recently the Chairman of Press Council of India while commenting on the reportage of Social Activist Anna Harare’s agitation said that a large section of print and electronic media was swayed by emotions and consequently became a part of the movement which defies the role of media of an informer 1. These kind of events prove that there is no actual regulation on media in our country.

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Media under the disguise of citizen journalism, freedom of expression and other rights has exploited the vitality of “Freedom of Expression”. In our country there are numerous bodies/commissions which recommend the codes for various media. These codes are also revised from time to time through a laborious research on their applicability in simultaneous times to be followed. But the biggest concern is the absence of any regulating body which keeps a check when any media commits a mistake.

In a recent case in Jalandhar where a college going girl was caught by police and clicked by media people. In this case the girl even allegedly threatened that she would commit suicide if her photographs were taken, but nobody was ready to listen her, especially the media, who followed her till she jumped from a bridge in front of a train and cameras. We all can well imagine the scene. In such cases what actually the media people want ?

They just want to click ! an exclusive picture! And in this case they got it ! They got the exclusive picture and a bigger news for next day. In Guwahati girl molestation case everybody knows that a reporter from some television channel shoot the whole incident and then aired the video on channel and You Tube, which makes this video more popular or video of the net for many days. You tube which is a free medium and a non-linear medium, people can watch it as many time as they want. Till date 1,094,627 people have watch this video from a single link and many more links available to watch this video, I hope the number will be tripled. Now this is again an another example of a different kind of threat as You Tube and sites like this is a new medium and nobody knows how to control it. Self regulation is often misunderstood by the owners of local TV channels, cable operators and political parties in most rural areas of the country.

These cable channels being a major source of information and consequently have a very strong opinion making effect among the public. Such cable channels take advantage of the fact that there is no regulation by any kind of government body in these backward areas. Five local TV channels of Kalimpong in East India stopped showing any kind of news or daily entertainment programs. It is not that they have are self governed or they are warned by some government official or they are self governed. The owners were pressurized by MLA of the area for a legal action against the TV channels if they showed anything anti-party in that area. Which mean cable TV can run news but in favour of the ruling party only2. It is a practice in TV cable channels that news is given under the title of “AJJ DIAN SURKHIAN” “Today’s happenings”. It is not happening at faraway areas on Self regulation in our national television channels is also missing.

In 26/11 case the Supreme Court granted death sentence to Ajmal Kasab for involvement in 26/11 Mumbai attacks but also expressed serious concerns and pulled the media for its role. The live telecast by channels proved to be a great help to the terrorists in action as well as their collaborators which were guiding them. Supreme court have hinted that there should be some regulatory should come within themselves in times of national crisis3. Its high time when the media in country wakes up and thinks of their responsibilities as watchdogs and not threats. Various incidents being eye openers for the need to watch and regulate media activities at different points of time.

Many experts have talked about freedom of expression and self regulation of media. Justice J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India and former Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said “ Reporting should be objective – it should be of actual facts, no sensationalism, no opinion mixed with facts.”4 The Indian Constitution has made it very clear. Freedom of speech and expression is actually Voltaire’s prescription. You are free to talk anything unless it is prohibited or restricted.

Mr. Katju recently wrote for The Hindu newspaper: “If red lines can be drawn for the legal and medical professions, why should it be any different for profit-making newspapers and TV channels?”5

While many prominent journalists largely accept that their industry’s standards are falling, they angrily refuse the idea of setting up any “outside regulatory body”. “Don’t shoot the messenger” “I am against external regulation. The media should regulate itself,” Outlook magazine’s former editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta said in a panel debate on media regulation aired by private news channel CNN-IBN on 1 May4. Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu, appeared on the same show, where he agreed with Mr. Mehta. He pointed out that external regulation may not be very useful in improving journalistic standards.6 Government has started taking actions on these lines but there is a possibility of these actions being strict in nature may pose a threat to Freedom of Press like media regulation bill proposed by MP Meenakshi Natarajan which was tabled in Parliament.

So it’s better for media to exercise self regulation for the reason the thin line of balance between right and exploitation of Freedom of Press can be maintained as far as possible. These cases give a clear indication that there is dire need for self regulation for media so that there are remedies and tools which can be used for utilising the freedom of expression along with self regulation which in reality is a very delicate issue. For e.g. In respect to electronic media, the guidelines for the sub judice matters have been drawn by Supreme court. Only experts in this field must disclose if there is any conflict of interest, the channels must not invite anyone who is likely to have any interest, and they must not say anything unless it is verified and due diligence has been there

References :
http://www.broadbandindiamagazine.com/2012/10/self-regulation-is-the-key1 http://www.darjeelingtimes.com/component/content/article/52-top-stories/4154-local-cable-tv-news-channel-transmission-stopped.html2 http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-08-31/mumbai/33519998_1_terrorist-group-channels-nariman-house3 http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2910/stories/20120601291000900.htm4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-179822625


Submitted by
Ramanpreet Singh,
Asst. Prof. ,School of Mass Communication,
Chitkara University, Punjab.

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