Saturday, March 26, 2011

White Paper on Public Review for Media Regulation

Published by media.syndicate   PDF File

Executive Summary
Media (print, audio and visual) is a guardian of Public Interest among other things. In a Democracy, media has prominence next to Judiciary, Legislature and Executive - custodians of the constitution. In general, the sentiment that media should not be regulated by the state is accepted. In India, media has been allowed to regulate itself through its own institutions like Press Council of India (PCI) and Editors Guild (EG). With the growth of media business and its commercialization, there are some new trends in media business and newer practices among media professionals. The problem of media bias has been known from a very long time. Sensationalism and trivialization of news were some of the effects of the new trends in media. With the exposure of the Paid News phenomenon, the credibility of the media and the very basis of the journalistic ethics is presently under discussion. Public Interest has been compromised as an institutional practice. In this context, there is a need to strengthen the regulation mechanism for the media. Many of the available suggestions fall within the self regulation framework. Here, the opportunity for Citizen Activism through social groups as public ombudsman is mooted.

Media as a guardian of Public Interest
The role of media in preserving the public interest in a democratic setup is very well understood. Media provides critical feedback to the three limbs of the constitution – The Judiciary, The Legislature and The Executive. Media has the responsibility of informing the Public at large with facts and figures in the appropriate form so that their participation in governance becomes possible. It has the mandate of directing the public opinion along the right track. Historically, journalism, in India has been considered to be sacred.

Regulations and Business Trends
In recent decades, media business has been commercialized. Increased competition has resulted in a fall in journalistic standards, and public interest by and large has been compromised. The Government, aligning itself to strong public opinion favoring press freedom, has allowed self regulation of media. In India, the Press Council of India (PCI), an organization mainly composed of professional journalists and eminent people from different fields, has been assigned the role of regulating media affairs.
From a long time, the problems arising from media bias and yellow journalism were known to both the working journalists and to the general public. Yellow journalism with its tabloid manifestations was easily recognized whereas the media bias problem was misleading the general public. The main stream media reflected one particular set of ideas, prescribed in general a particular approach for addressing problems reiterating similar policies and solutions.

Hindus, Traditionalists and Brahmins, Dalits¸ Poor and Uneducated, and Women constantly complained of media bias against them. The bias was apparent, but still it was not considered seriously. For a very long time, political adversaries of The Congress were neglected by the media. Policy alternatives were never covered seriously. Still, self regulatory mechanisms were never activated in the media circles. No one found it necessary to do something more in this direction.

Recently, with the media houses becoming bigger and more powerful, the increasing competition gave rise to sensationalism and trivialization of news which were noticed both by discerning media professionals as well as by the general public. Impact of such news on the youth was discussed. Ineffectiveness of the media in public education as well as inability of the media to create a strong public opinion were evident. Journalists were lured with gifts by the powerful and the wealthy. With journalism influenced by leftist ideology, journalists in general deviated from conservatism in their view point.

Editors became rich and joined the elite class. Journalists were accused of blackmailing. Corruption - both financial and ideological – was not unknown in journalism.

Paid News
As the motive of profit making became deep rooted, journalism became subordinate to the bottom line. Advertisement revenues became indispensable. Dependency on the governments was unavoidable for sustenance. PR (Public Relation) business entities came into the picture. Those who had self interest in public debate owned media houses and editorial policies were formulated preserving their own interests.

Till this point of time, a fairly distinct demarcation was observed between the news content and the advertisements. A reader would have distinguished an advertisement from the news. Editorial preferences were noticed but it was viewed as the considered opinion of the editorial board within the boundaries of freedom of expression.

Existence of Paid News phenomenon, revealed in 2009, exposed the blurring of the distinction line between the news and the advertisement. According to PCI, paid news is “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration.” Paid News was found to play a significant role during elections trying to mislead people in favor for or against a particular candidate. There is a realization that, this new trend may undermine the democratic process and can have serious destabilizing effects.

Public scrutiny of Nira Radia tapes in the background of 2G spectrum scam, has once again confirmed the influence of money on the working of the media.

Implications and Examples

Paid –news is a fraud operating at three levels.

1. The reader does not distinguish the paid content from other news/views

2. The person who is paying hides his/her expenditure from legal scrutiny (EC)

3. Income of Media Company is not disclosed in the balance sheet.

A couple of examples are cited. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd (BCCL) started a paid content service in 2003 called Medianet. In 2005, it initiated Private Treaties with Corporates – about 200 companies entered private treaties with BCCL exchanging their equity to the advertisement space. The deal size with each of those companies was 15-20crores making BCCL biggest private equity investor with a worth of approximately 4000 crores. Paid news service is being argued as the remedy for corrupt PR agencies influencing the journalists of BCCL. CNN-IBN initiated Exclusive Partnerships with companies, Gillette being one of the known examples. During elections, media houses offered several packages to the contesting candidates for a price. Advertorials, advertisements in the form of editorials, were offered for sale. Although, very little material is available which can act as clinching evidence that pins responsibility for such malpractices on particular persons and organizations, a huge volume of circumstantial evidence is available. Fortunately, there is a wide agreement in the media circles about the presence of Paid News.

Suggestions for Reforms
Self Regulatory mechanism of media has come under scrutiny with the revelation of Paid News phenomenon. Present regulatory mechanisms involving PCI is not very effective. Additional checks by the government agencies required to curb the Paid News menace could interfere with the self regulatory mechanism of the media. Following reforms have been suggested to tackle the corrupt practices in media.

1. Amendment of Representation of the People Act 1951 making incidence of paid news a punishable electoral malpractice

2. Empowering Press Council of India to adjudicate the complaints of “paid news’ and give final judgment in the matter.

3. Making the recommendations of the Press Council binding on the authorities

4. Expanding purview of PCI to include Electronic media

5. Media professionals should declare their commitment to good journalism

6. Additional self regulatory mechanisms like Peer review and Public Review of media performance

Readers responsibility – Public Review
Educating readers about the role of media in Democracy and expected deliverables from publications could go a long way in addressing the emerging corrupt practices. Learning to identify media bias, acquiring the ability to distinguish paid content from the legitimate news accurately would help in sustaining citizen activism to monitor media. NGOs and emerging media channels could take the responsibility of institutionalizing the Public Review Process for evaluating the media performance.

Public Review of media could take the following forms

• Media watch activity

• Identify Paid content and help the general public to filter it out

• Act as ombudsman, from public perspective

• Assist present mechanisms like PCI and EC to ensure public interest.

Media, the fourth estate, is a vital organ of Democracy. Regulatory mechanisms of media are to be made effective with additional assistance from government agencies without basically changing the Self Regulatory framework. Public Review as a new regulatory mechanism for media involving Citizens and Non Governmental Organizations has to be institutionalized. Focus on higher journalistic standards ha to be sustained by addressing media bias, sensationalism / trivialization of news and Paid News.

web counter

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Principle of Separation

Any two entities A & B can be separated if and only if

A is separated from B and also

B is separated from A.

So two persons can be separated if person A goes to another place and at the same time person B remains in another place A. A divorce, on grounds of separation, happens when one spouse goes away to another location and at the same time the other spouse remains in another location. In case the second person goes to the place of the first person, then separation is not effected and hence divorce does not happen.

In other words, there must be control over both the entities and at the same time each entity must not encroach on the space of the other.

So if religion and the state have to be separated, in any sense, then if the state stays away from religion, then the religion must also stay away and separate itself from the state at the same time. So if the state becomes ‘secular’, the religion must also stay away from the state in order for the separation to be effected. However, for state religions, the religion explicitly has a characteristic of a state and gets into the affairs of the state. In other words, if the religion or followers of the religion want to implement Nizam-e-Mustafa or the Shariat, then it is explicitly stating that it wants to implement the divine law or the religious law in the state. So even if the state stays away from religion, as long as the (state) religion has this characteristic, for such religions, separation cannot be achieved as they themselves get into the affairs of the state or behave like another state. Hence, for state religions, secularism is a false and unachievable concept, precisely because it is the religion which does not separate itself from the state.

Note that in terms of the subjects addressed by the state and by any or all religions, there is a great overlap. So the separation, if at all, can be in whether the authorities, the implementation apparatus or the power / administrative structure is different between the state and the religion or if the legal code can be permitted to be different from the moral code / divine law.

State religions have the latter characteristics and hence do not leave the state alone. For this reason, for state religions, the concept of separation and hence secularism is ab-initio void and false. Hence such a religion, system or institution, cannot be recognized or admitted by a secular state and the followers of such religions are not secular.

In other words, if the state separates itself from the religion, and becomes secular, i.e. “secularises” itself, then at the same time, the religion in question must separate itself from the state and “de-statise” itself, in order to ensure and effect the principle of separation.

The problem arises for the state because the while the state can define itself in a certain way, there is no control over how the religion defines itself. So if the religion defines itself (or is given by Divine Law) such that it has a principle of dictating divine law to be the only law and excludes everything else, such a religion is not secular nor is separation or secularism possible for such religions, once they are admitted or recognized.

Choice of the individual v/s demand from the other side:

Gifts may voluntarily be given or exchanged in a marriage. However, if there is a demand from the other side (note: even a mere mention is sufficient as per the Supreme Court), it amounts to a demand of dowry, which is a cognizable and punishable offence. Similarly, the Constitution protects the right of the individual i.e. the citizen, to move into or adopt another belief system. In other words, the right to change the belief and practice belongs to the individual/citizen, i.e. the ‘outgoing’ individual, and not of the other side, the potentially ‘incoming’ system.

However, the statement, or assertion, or demand as a right from the other side i.e. the proselytizing belief system, is like asking for dowry. Hence, this must also be a cognizable and punishable offence.

Certain belief systems or institutions may or may not be able to perceive the trespass here because they have a priori arrogated the right to ‘own and convert’ to themselves, which in reality is a statement as to the end result of the exercise which is a foregone conclusion, by the ‘incoming’ system, like a dictate. Arrogating the right to exclusive ownership and implementing it also precludes the concept of ownership or possibility of trespass happening to the target, the victim of the ‘conversion’ activity.

The most fundamental attribute in democracy, of an individual, of a citizen, is choice, or election. This attribute is so fundamental that it is implicit in many concepts and even does not need to be stated. However, it belongs to the individual, the citizen. This is the exact opposite of some other ‘incoming’/’to be elected’ entity arrogating something or some end result to itself and hence would dictate and in doing so see itself as committing no trespass.

Propagation v/s ‘conversion’ and multiplication of numbers:

Mathematics and logic permeate every activity, and every person uses this explicitly or implicitly in a small or big manner. If instruction is given in this subject i.e. Mathematics say, then one can use it for whatever purposes or improve based on the acquisition and application of this skill. However, this does not mean that such persons need to leave whatever they are doing or alter it and become a mathematician. So the propagation and practice of the subject does not imply or necessitate a ‘conversion’. Note that the Supreme Court has observed that the right to practice and propagate religion does not imply the right to convert.

The statement or claim of belief, practice and propagation = conversion i.e., it implies and necessitates conversion, is a statement of their particular Divine Law which cannot be modified or excluded. Hence this is a statement about such a religion and its followers being non- or anti-secular.

Written by - onimusha

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tormentor or Savior, the language is the same!

Arundhati Roy in her ramblings on Naxalism, social justice etc. uses the phrase the ‘Brahmanic Hindu state’ to vent her anger against the Indian state. Justice Michael F. Saldhana speaks about Brahmanic dominance of Hindu society. Both are Roman Catholics and they are often joined by deracinated Hindus who either are ignorant or deliberately feign ignorance about the origin, structures, religious and cultural practices of the Hindus. [Article by Dr. Vijaya Rajiva]

Justice Saldhana, disagreeing with Somashekar report on attacks on Chrristians in Karnataka, says that impartial inquiry cannot emanate from government steered by a ‘Hindu’ nationalist party.

Brahmins, according to Hindu baiters, have played a leading role in Karnataka’s Hindutva movement. Hindu nationalism is driven primarily by Brahmins desperate to preserve caste privilege. As those at the very top of the Hindu caste system, powerful Brahmins have the most to lose from any spread of Christian egalitarianism. So they are compelled to fight Christianity – unless ofcourse the Holy Spirit transforms and humbles their hearts.

Dr. Vijaya Rajiva, The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university, analyses these reactions. The writer correctly identifies the assault on Bharat by the two proselytizing faiths : Islam and Christianity.

"Since independence missionaries have conspired to balkanize the country so that the Christian faith can spread unquestioned and unopposed. It also helps that real political power is in the hands of an Italian Roman Catholic, quite indifferent to Hindu India, and is said to be behind much of the discrimination practiced against Hindu religious centres and institutions. People like Saldhana spread various canards ....".

Dr. Vijaya Rajiva attempts to prove that Hinduism is as much non brahminical as Brahminical as alleged by Saldana or Arundhati Roy. He shows that at present, increasing number of non Brahmin Hindus are taking important positions in all walks of life. And finally says that both Arundhati and Saldana set up a straw man, a Brahman, and then try to demolish it.

Increasing number of pro Hindu thinkers are toeing similar line. They articulate the insignificance of Brahmins in the overall Hindu map. They stress the minority nature of Brahmins and highlight the increasing number of non - Brahmins in all prominent walks of life. In summary,

1. Votaries of Christian egalitarianism and Islamic Universal Brotherhood are painting non-Brahmins as the exploited population within the Hindu society.

2. They are also accusing Brahmins as discriminators and practicers of untouchability.

3. Increasing number of supporters of Hinduism are highlighting the non-Brahmin aspects of Hinduism and undermining Brahminical aspects of Hinduism.

By 1, non-Brahmins are being provoked against Brahmins and as their anger grows, they are made to believe that Hinduism as a synonym to Brahminism. A non-Brahmin could easily be separated from Hinduism to be later converted to non-Hindu fold.

By 2, Brahmins are made defensive and apologetic so that their reasoning is blunted against conversions.

By 3, Hindu supporters are trying to neutralise the arguments of anti Hindu accusers - by demonstrating that non-Brahmins are as much part of Hinduism as Brahmins.

Hindu reformists are advocating reservation in education and jobs, discouraging caste practices in food, vocation, marriage and customs. Some of the fundamental tenets of Hinduism related to non-materialistic view point are compromised in the process.

By the way these reforms are being carried out, the argument that non-Brahmins are exploited population within the Hindu society is reinforced. This implies that Brahminical practices created discrimination in the society at some point of time knowingly (or unknowingly) by the Brahmins.

By reinfrocing the arguments of a Hindu baiter, a misled non-Brahmin will grow more conviction in his/her erroneous judgements about Hinduism. By reforming Hinduism through materialistic lens, both a Brahmin and a non-Brahmin, will go further away from a thinking process which may be the only path available to us for achieving world peace and individual realization.

[Contributed by SS, SH and KHB]