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Free press, not free-for-all

August 16, 2013

By Zia Haq, Hindustan Times

New Delhi — When information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari took office last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ushered him in with a cautionary tale. Singh, Tewari recalls, told him the government’s relationship with the media had to be one about “persuasion, rather than regulation”.  In other words, no playing big brother.

The Indian press is often touchy about rules, a fear implanted during the Emergency declared in 1975, when a censorious government hacked press freedom.

“This government doesn’t believe in imposing regulation on the media in any form. But the question is, why have our courts been constrained to raise issues with regard to media behaviour from time to time?” Tewari asks.

With a bewildering array of TV and radio channels, the line between the free media and a ‘free-for-all’ is sometimes a thin one.

The government now wants cross-party parliamentary discussions on Britain’s landmark Leveson Inquiry report on the “culture, practices and ethics of the press”.

Leveson, after probing the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World’s hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s phone in 2012, recommended a tough new “independent regulatory body” backed by law.

India’s media business has changed vastly since 1990, when the cable era began. From just one state-owned broadcaster in 1959, there are over 850 now.

While the statutory Press Council of India regulates the print news media, TV is subject to self-regulation — they have their own oversight panels.

“The model of self-regulation may be clumsy but it has worked. But to strengthen the paradigm of self-regulation, we need to refine the models,” Tewari said at a recent discussion held by the think tank, Observer Research Foundation. Read more in the Hindustan Times.

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