The Press Council of India

    The Media and Judiciary are one of the most essential parts of a democracy, especially in a nation like India. Without the active involvement of Media, there would be an imbalance in the functioning of a government, as the people would be unable to understand the actions taken by those governing the people and a view of how the people of a government exist in the regime of a government.

    One of the main benefactors of the independence of Media is the Press Council of India. They are a Quasi-Judicial Body that is entrusted with securing the interests of the free media and to improve the quality and standard of the press. Often quoted as the watchdog of the Press, it helps in the adjudication within the realms of the Press Personnel and people it affects by looking into any violations of ethics or a violation of the Freedom of the Press.

     

    Introduction and History of Press Council

    The Press Council of India derives its powers from the Press Council Act, 1978. The law was created to help establish the above mentioned Press Council, which in turn stands to preserve the freedom of the Press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.[1]

    The formation of the Press Council is done in a very specific manner. By a set of traditions and conventions, the Chairman of the Press Council is always a retired Supreme Court judge. The rest of the Council, meanwhile, consists of 20-odd members representing the press and are nominated by the press organizations/news agencies recognized and notified by the Council consisting of editors, working journalists including the owners and managers of newspapers. The remaining members include 5 nominations from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and one representative each from the Sahitya Academy Union Parliament, University Grants Commission and the Bar Council of India.[2]

    General Powers Under Section 13 and 15

    The Press Council is solely responsible for all inquiries concerning complaints received, summoning witnesses and taking evidence under oath, and demanding copies of public records to be submitted when it comes to Media related rights and issues. Under the Press Council Act, 1978, this unique Quasi-Judicial authority can issue warnings and admonish the news agency, journalist or editor. One of the defining factors of the Press Council is that the decisions taken by them are final and cannot be appealed before any court of law.[3]

    As given under Section 13, the Press Council have some defined roles they must execute. They need to be the authority to help newspapers and news agencies maintain their independence, build up a code of conduct for newspapers, news agencies and journalists must follow high professional standards and maintain a high standard of public taste with respect to the Media. The Press Council, through its actions, must help encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism and maintain a view any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest, including any foreign source procured for the sake of dissemination of Information.[4] The Press Council typically deals with a wide range of issues. Creating a division of Cases that have cropped up to the Press Council, the complaints being lodged against the press for alleged violation of norms of journalistic conduct involves a 60% regarding a charge of defamation and about 25% relate to matters of principle like the right to reply, plagiarism, fratricidal tiffs, unauthorized lifting of news from other papers among other related issues. In the remaining 15% cases, the complainants tend to be over reports that hurt the religious, communal, casteist sentiments of the population or a community.[5]

    Additionally, as given under Section 15 of the Press Council Act, 1978, for performing its function or for an inquiry, the Council has the same powers throughout India as are vested in a Civil Court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. However, this section does not mandate any newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist to disclose the source of any news or information published. Adding on, all inquiries held by the Press Council will be equal to that of a judicial proceeding (as mentioned under Sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code).

     

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    Powers given to Press Council under Section 14

    As mentioned under Section 14, the Press Council has a unique capability of issuing a censure on any piece of print media. This allows the Press Council to censure any piece of information printed in any form of print media. This law seems to have made its judgements with an emphasis on the ethics of the issue itself compared to whether the Media content is legal or not.[6]

    It has been provided in this Section that if a complaint is made to the Press Council, they would give the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard and hold an inquiry as provided under the regulations of this Act. The Council would not entertain a complaint if in the opinion of the Chairman there is no sufficient ground for holding an inquiry. But this Section does not empower the council to hold an inquiry into any matter in respect of which any proceeding is pending in the court of law. The only prerequisite that the Press Council has stressed upon, through the various case presidents is that they recommend the individual or the group of people to first address the need to censure a piece of information to the editor/owner of the printed media.

    Limitations of the Press Council

    A key point that needs to be noted is that till the present day, the Press Council is limited to the print media. It does not extend beyond the realms of print to cover other areas, mainly e-media. This is an issue that has been frequently brought up in several cases[7] as well as proclaimed by noted jurists of media laws in India. Excluding such an important part of the print media has caused a disturbance which the Press Council could deal with but unfortunately does not have the legal jurisdiction to do so.[8]

    The second issue is regarding the growth of targeted advertisements in the form of articles and editorials, which the Press Council has never provided a guideline for newspaper agencies and journalists to follow.[9] This has been rapidly becoming a more pressing issue in the past couple of years due to the way it has been rapidly and rashly spreading. Not only do these articles and editorials promote commercial products, but they have also been used to propagate a wing-based ideology. This affects the very fundamental nature of the press, which is that it needs to be a speaker of truth and not a speaker of money.

    Another important limitation is by the process in which the Judges are appointed to be a part of the Press Council of India. Former retired judges have been typically appointed, thus the appointment of such a Judge must be done in a very systematic and unbiased manner, which has not been the case in recent years.[10]

    Finally, the root cause for all the issues that surround the Press Council is the fact that they are still merely only a “watchdog” of the press. They do not have the legal liberty to carry out decisions on their own. As the members of the Press Council come from a mix of Judiciary, Legislative and the representatives of the journalists, it creates biases and opinions that hinder the decisions made by the Council. Hence, the Press Council must have some independence from the Legislative and the Judiciary for its smooth functioning.[11]

    References

    [1] The Press Council Act, 1978, Preamble.

    [2] About Us, Press Council of India official website, available at: <https://www.presscouncil.nic.in/Content/1_1_Introduction.aspx> (last visited on 21st December 2020).

    [3] Surabhi Kumari, “Press Council of India: A Critical Analysis” Bharathi Law Review April-June 2015.

    [4] The Press Council Act, 1978, s. 13.

    [5] Resume of PCI, National Press Day Report 2017.

    [6] PB Sawant, Accountability in Journalism, Journal of Mass Media 2003.

    [7] Ajay Goswami v. Union of India, AIR 2007 1 SCC 143.

    [8] Id.

    [9] Critical Appraisal to the Existing Framework of Freedom of Speech and Expression In India, LegalServicesIndia, available at: http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1830/Critical-Appraisal-to-the-Existing-Framework-of-Freedom-of-Speech-and-Expression-In-India.html (last visited on 23rd December 2020).

    [10] Rajeev Sabade, “Control Must come from Stakeholders” Press Council of India National Press Day Report 2017.

    [11] Id at 3.


    BY VISHAL ADITYA K | SCHOOL OF LAW, CHRIST DEEMED TO BE UNIVERSITY

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