Press Council is a mechanism for the Press to regulate itself. The raison d’etre of this unique institution is rooted in the concept that in a democratic society the press needs at once to be free and responsible.
If the Press is to function effectively as the watchdog of public interest, it must have a secure freedom of expression, unfettered and unhindered by any authority, organised bodies or individuals. But, this claim to press freedom has legitimacy only if it is exercised with a due sense of responsibility. The Press must, therefore, scrupulously adhere to accepted norms of journalistic ethics and maintian high standards of professional conduct.
Where the norms are breached and the freedom is defiled by unprofessional conduct, a way must exist to check and control it. But, control by Government or official authorities may prove destructive of this freedom. Therefore, the best way is to let the peers of the profession, assisted by a few discerning laymen to regulate it through a properly structured representative impartial machinery. Hence, the Press Council.
A need for such a mechanism has been felt for a long time
both by the authorities as well as the Press itself all over the world, and
a search for it resulted in the setting up of the first Press Council known
as the Court of Honour for the Press in Sweden in 1916. The idea gained
quick acceptance in other Scandinavian countries, and later in other parts
of Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Today, the Press
Councils or similar other media bodies are in place in more than four dozen
The basic concept of self-regulation in which the Press Councils and similar media bodies world over are founded, was articulated by Mahatma Gandhi, who was an eminent journalist in his own right, thus : " The sole aim of journalist should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as unchained torrent of water submerges the whole country side and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within."
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru while defending Press freedom, warning of the danger its irresponsible exercise entails stressed : " If there is no responsibility and no obligation attached to it, freedom gradually whithers away. This is true of a nation’s freedom and it applies as much to the Press as to any other group, organisation or individual."
The First Press Commission (1954) came across in some section of the Press, instances of yellow journalism of one type or another, scurrilous writing-often directed against communities or groups, sensationalism, bias in presentation of news and lack of responsibility in comment, indecency and vulgarity and personal attacks on individuals. The Commission, however, pointed out that the well-established newspapers had, on the whole. Maintained a high standard of journalism. They had avoided "cheap senstationalism and unwarranted intrusion into private lives." But it remarked that " whatever the law relating to the Press may be, there would still be a large quantum of objectionable journalism which, though not falling within the purview of the law, would still require to be checked." It was of the view that the best way of maintaining professional standards of journalism would be to bring into existence a body of of people principally connected with the industry whose responsibility it would be to arbitrate on doubtful points and to censure any one guilty of infraction of the code of journalistic ethics.
The Commission recommended the setting up of a Press Council. Among the objectives visualised for the Council were : " to safeguard the freedom of the press", " to ensure on the part of the Press the maintenance of High standards of public taste and to foster due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship" and " to encourage the growth of sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism." The Commission, recommended the establishment of the Council on a statutory basis on the ground that the Council should have legal authority to make inquiries as otherwise each member, as well as the Council as a whole, would be subject to the threat of legal action from those whom it sought to punish by exposure.
The Commission said that the Council should consist of men who would command general confidence and respect of the profession and should have 25 members excluding the Chairman. The Chairman was to be a person who was or had been a Judge of the High Court and was to be nominated by the Chief Justice of India.
The Press Council of India was first constituted on 4th July, 1966 as an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body, with Shri Justice J R Mudholkar, then a Judge of the Supreme Court, as Chairman. The Press Council Act, 1965, listed the following functions of the Council in furtherance of its objects :
to help newspapers to maintain their independence;
to build up a code of conduct for newspapers and journalists in accordance with high professional standards;
to ensure on the part of newspapers and journalists the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship;
to encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism;
to keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance;
to keep under review such cases of assistance received by any newspaper or news agency in India from foreign sources, as are referred to it by the Central Government.
Provided that nothing in this clause shall preclude the Central
Government from dealing with any case of assistance received by a newspaper
or news agency in India from foreign sources in any other manner it thinks
to promote the establishment of such common service for the supply and dissemination of news to newspapers as may, from time to time, appear to it to be desirable;
to provide facilities for the proper education and training of persons in the profession of journalism;
to promote a proper functional relationship among all classes of persons engaged in the production or publication of newspapers;
to study developments which may tend towards monopoly or concentration of ownership of newspapers, including a study of the ownership or financial structure of newspapers, and if necessary, to suggest remedies therefor;
to promote technical or other research;
to do such other acts as may be incidental or conducive to the discharge of the above functions.
The Act of 1965 provided that the Council shall consist of a Chairman and 25 other members. Of the 25 members, 3 were to represent the two houses of Parliament, 13 were to be from amongst the working journalists, of which not less than 6 were to be editors who did not own or carry on the business of management of newspapers and the rest were to be the persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of education and science, law, literature and culture. By an amendment of the Act in 1970, the membership of the Council was raised by one to provide a seat for persons managing the news agencies.
The Chairman under the Act on 1965, was to be nominated by the Chief Justice of India. Of the three Members of Parliament, two representing Lok Sabha were to be nominated by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and one representing Rajya Sabha, was to be nominated by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The remaining 22 members were to be selected by a three-man Selection Committee comprising the Chief Justice of India, Chairman of the Press Council and a nominee of the President of India. The Chairman and the members were to hold office for a period of three years provided that no member could hold office for a period exceeding six years in the aggregate.
When in the early years of the Council’s existence a grievance was aired about the selection of a category of members, Parliament embarked on a search for a meticulous formula which would ensure uncompromising impartiality and fairness in the selection of Chairman and other members. This led to the amendment of the 1965 Act entrusting this work to a Committee comprising the incumbent of the three highest offices which are considered as an embodiment of these attributes, namely, Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India. But, the pursuit for still less subjective scheme continued. Even a statistical formula was evolved for equitable presentation of the various representative organisations of the profession.
As has been referred to earlier, composition of the nominating committee was changed by an amendment of the said Act in 1970, according to which the Chairman and the members from the press were to be nominated by a Nominating Committee consisting of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the Chief Justice of India and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
The amending Act of 1970 introduced several other provisions in the Act. The manner of selection of persons of special knowledge or practical experience was specified. It provided that of the three persons to be nominated from among such people, one each shall be nominated by the University Grants Commission, the Bar Council of India and the Sahitya Academy. It also provided for raising the membership of the Council to give one seat to the persons managing the news agencies. Out of the six seats for proprietors and managers of newspapers, two each were earmarked for big, medium and small newspapers. No working journalist who owned or carried on the business of management of newspapers could now be nominated in the category of working journalists. Also, it was specified that not more than one person interested in any newspaper or group of newspapers under the same control, could be nominated from the categories of editors, other working journalists, proprietors and managers.
The Nominating Committee was empowered to review any nomination on a representation made to it by any notified association or by any person aggrieved by it or otherwise. The amended Act also barred renomination of a retiring member for more than one term. Where any association failed to submit a panel of names when invited to do so, the Nominating Committee could ask for panels from other associations or persons of the category concerned or nominate members after consultation with such other such individuals or interests concerned as it thought fit.
Under the original Act, the Chairman was nominated by the Chief Justice of India. But, after this amendment, nomination of the Chairman was also left to the Nominating Committee.
The Council set up under the Act of 1965 functioned till December 1975. During the Internal Emergency, the Act was repealed and the Council abolished w.e.f. 1/1/1976.
PRESS COUNCIL OF 1979
A fresh legislation providing for the establishment of the Council was enacted in 1978 and the institution came to be reviewed in the year 1979 with the very same object of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of Press in India. The present Council is a body corporate having perpetual succession. It consists of a Chairman and 28 other members. Of the 28 members, 13 represent the working journalists. Of whom 6 are to be editors of newspapers and remaining 7 are to be working journalists other than editors. 6 are to be from among persons who own or carry on the business of management of newspapers. One is to be from among the persons who manage news agencies. Three are to be persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of education and science, law and literature and culture. The remaining five are to Members of Parliament : three from Lok Sabha, and two from Rajya Sabha.
The new Act provides for selection of the Chairman by a Committee consisting of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the Speaker of Lok Sabha and a person elected by the members of the Council from among themselves. The twenty representatives of the Press are nominated by the associations of aforesaid categories of the newspapers and news agencies notified for the purpose by the Council in the each category. One member each is nominated by the University Grants Commission, the Bar Council of India and the Sahitya Academy. Of the five Members of Parliament, three are nominated by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and two by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The term of the Chairman and the members of the Council is three years. A retiring member is eligible for renomination for not more than one term.
An extremely healthy feature of the Indian Press Council is the scheme and procedure of the nomination of its Chairman and other members, following a long search based on the experience of several years of functioning of the Council. Despite being a statutory body, the Government and its authorities have been completely kept out of the nomination process except for publishing the notification in the official gazette of the names of the members nominated. Nor has it been left to any individual to decide, however eminent or highly placed he may be.
A totally non-subjective procedure which leaves no scope for the interference or influence by Government or any other agency was evolved with remarkable ingenuity. The scheme is in force since the enactment of the Press Council Act of 1978 under which the revived Press Council was set up in 1979.
OBJECTS AND FUNCTIONS OF THE COUNCIL
The objects of present Press Council are substantially the same as were laid down under the Act of 1965 and it is not necessary to repeat them here. But the functions have undergone some change in that the three of the functions listed in the earlier Act were not included in the 1978 Act as they were considered to be burdensome for the Council to perform. These related to (a) promoting the establishment of such common services for the supply and dissemination of news to newspapers as may, from time to time, appear to it to be desirable;(b) providing facilities for proper education and training of persons in the profession of journalism; and (c) promoting technical or other research.
In addition, the Act of 1978 lists two new functions of the Council : (I) to undertake studies of foreign newspapers, including those brought out by any embassy or any other representative in India of a foreign State, their circulation and impact; and, (ii) to undertake such studies as may be entrusted to the Council and to express its opinion in regard to any matter referred to it by the Central Government.
The other functions remain the same as enumerated in the Act of 1965.
POWERS OF THE COUNCIL:
The powers of the Press Council are provided in Section 14 and 15 of the Act as under :
Power to Censure
Section 14:1) Where, on receipt of a complaint made to it or otherwise, the Council has reason to believe that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or a working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, the Council may, after giving the newspaper, or news agency, the editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard, hold an inquiry in such manner as may be provided by the regulations made under this Act and, if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do , it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist, as the case may be :
Provided that the Council may not take cognisance of a complaint if in the opinion of the Chairman, there is no sufficient ground for holding an inquiry.
If the Council is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in public interest so to do, it may require any newspaper to publish therein in such manner as the Council thinks fit, any particulars relating to any inquiry under this section against a newspaper or news agency, an editor or a journalist working therein, including the name of such newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.
Nothing in sub-section (1) shall be deemed to empower the Council to hold an inquiry into any matter in respect of which any proceeding is pending in a court of law.
The decision of the Council under sub-section (1), or sub-section (2), as the case may be, shall be final and shall not be questioned in any court of law.
GENERAL POWERS OF THE COUNCIL
5 of 1908
15.(1) For the purpose of performing its functions or holding any inquiry under this Act, the Council shall have the same powers throughout India as are vested in a civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, in respect of the following matters namely :-
Summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and examining them on oath;
requiring the discovery and inspection of documents;
receiving evidence on affidavits;
requisitioning any public record or copies thereof from any court or office;
issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents; and
any other matter, which may be prescribed.
(2) Nothing in sub-section (1) shall be deemed to compel any newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist to disclose the source of any news or information published by that newspaper or received or reported by that news agency, editor or journalist.
45 of 1860
(3) Every inquiry held by the Council shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code.
The Council may, if it considers it considers it necessary for the purpose of carrying out its objects or for the performance of any of its functions under this Act, make such observations, as it may think fit, in any of its decisions or reports, respecting the conduct of any authority, including Government.
The Act provides that the Council may, for the purpose of performing its functions under the Act, levy fee at the prescribed rates from registered newspapers and news agencies. Apart from this, the Central Government has been enjoined to pay the Council by way of grant such sums of money as the Central Government may consider necessary, for the performance of its functions.
The Council has been adorned by a galaxy of distinguished judges, eminent editors, leading newspaper owners and managers, well-known working journalists and leaders of journalistic movement and renowned litterateurs, lawyers and educationists. Shri Justice J R Mudholkar, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court was the first Chairman who presided over the Council from November 16, 1966 to March 1, 1968. He was followed by Shri Justice N Rajagopala Ayyangar (May 4, 1968 to January 1,1976), Shri Justice A N Grover (April 3, 1979 to October 9, 1985), Shri Justice A N Sen (October 10, 1985 to January 18,1989) and Shri Justice R S Sarkaria (January 19, 1989 to July 24, 1995) and Shri Justice P B Sawant( July 24, 1995 till date). They were retired Judges of the Supreme Court. All of them led the Council with a deep commitment to its philosophy and objects. The Council got its direction from them and amply benefited from their vast knowledge and wisdom. Some of the many eminent persons who have, till 1998, served the Council as members are :
Editors : Sarvshri Frank Morraes, Akshay Kumar Jain, B G Verghese,Prem Bhatia, Arun Shourie, Kuldip Nayar, Cho Ramaswamy, A N Sivaraman, Dr Dharmvir Bharati, Dr N K Trikha (who also served for one term in the category of working journalists other than editors), V N Narayanan, Shri Ramu Patel and Narla Venkateswar Rao, Shri Nikhil Chakravorty, Shri Mammen Mathew.
Working Journalists other than editors:
Sarvshri Durga Das (who was also a member in the category of owners for one term), Sailen Chatterji, Prithvis Chakravarti, K Vikram Rao, S Viswam, G N Aharya, Gour Kishore Gosh, A Raghavan, P Raman and Arun Bagchi, Nitish Chakravarty,Brij Bhardwaj.
Proprietors and managers :
Sarvshri G Narshimhan, K M Mathew, C R Irani, Dr N B Parulekar, A G Sheerey, A R Bhat, Narendra Tiwari, Raj MohanGandhi, Yadunath Thatte, Basudev Ray Chowdhury, N R Chandran and G G Mirchandani, Naresh Mohan, V B Gupta.
Dr Uma Shankar Joshi, Dr Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, Prof. K K Srinivasa Iyengar, Prof. U R Anantha Murthy, Prof. Indira Nath Choudhary.
Shri Ram Jethmalani, Shri Ranjit Mohanty, Shri P Vishwanath Shetty.
Dr (Miss) Alu Dastur, Dr (Miss) Usha Mehta, Dr (Mrs) Madhuri Shah, Prof. Tapas Mazumdar, Dr M V Pylee, Prof K Satchidanandan Murthy.
Members of Parliament :
Sarvshri H V Kamath, Ganga Sharan Sinha, Piloo Mody, Rafiq Zakaria, S N Dwivedi, C L Chandrakar, George Fernandes, L K Advani, H K L Bhagat, M S Gurupadaswamy, V N Gadgil, Arun Nehru, Eduardo Falerio, R K Karanjia, Smt Geeta Mukherjee, M C Bhandare, Brij Mohan Mohanty, D P Yadav, M J Akbar, K L Sharma, P C Chacko. Of these Sarvshri L K Advani, V N Gadgil and Shri H K L Bhagat have had the distinction of being Union Ministers of Information and Broadcasting either before or after becoming members of the Council. Many others have been Union Ministers with other portfolios.
Shri B Siva Rao, journalist and member of the Constituent Assembly and Shri K Ishwara Dutt, journalist and author had been nominated to the first Council in the category of eminent persons along with Shrimati Deena Ahmadullah.
FUNCTIONING OF THE COUNCIL
The Council discharges its functions primarily through the medium of its Inquiry Committees, adjudicating on complaint cases received by it against the Press for violation of the norms of journalism or by the Press for interference with its freedom by the authorities. There is a set procedure for lodging a complaint with the Council.
A complainant is required essentially to write to the editor of the respondent newspaper, drawing his attention to what the complainant considers to be in breach of journalistic ethics or an offence against public taste. Apart from furnishing to the Council a cutting of the matter complained against, it is incumbent on the complainant to make and subscribe to a declaration that to the best of his knowledge and belief he has placed all the relevant facts before the Council and that no proceedings are pending in any court of law in respect of any matter alleged in the complaint; and that he shall inform the Council forthwith if during the pendency of the inquiry before the Council any matter alleged in the complaint becomes the subject matter of any proceedings in a court of law. The reason for this declaration is that in view of Section 14(3) of the Act, the Council cannot deal with any matter which is sub judice.
If the Chairman finds that there are no suffecient grounds for inquiry, he may dismiss the complaint and report it to the Council; otherwise, the Editor of the newspaper or the journalist concerned is asked to show cause why action should not be taken against him. On receipt of the written statement and other relevant material from the editor or the journalist, the Secretariat of the Council places the matter before the Inquiry Committee. The Inquiry Committee screens and examines the complaint in necessary details. If necessary, it also calls for further particulars or documents from the parties. The parties are given opportunity to adduce evidence before the Inquiry Committee by appearing personally or through their authorised representative including legal practitioners. On the basis of the facts on record and affidavits or the oral evidence adduced before it, the Committee formulates its findings and recommendations and forwards them to the Council, which may or may not accept them. Where the Council is satisfied that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or working journalist has committed professional misconduct, the Council may warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or journalist, or disapprove the conduct thereof, as the case may be . In the complaints lodged by the Press against the authorities, the Council is empowered to make such observations as it may think fit in respect of the conduct of any authority including government. The decisions of the Council are final and cannot be questioned in any court of law. It will thus be seen that the Council wields a lot of moral authority although it has no legally enforceable punitive powers.
The Inquiry Regulations framed by the Council empower the Chairman to take suo motu action and issue notices to any party in respect of any matter falling within the scope of Press Council Act. The procedure for holding a suo motu inquiry is substantially the same as in the case of a normal inquiry except that for any normal inquiry a complaint is required to be lodged with the Council by a complainant. For the purpose of performing its functions or holding an inquiry under the Act the Council exercises some of the powers vested in a Civil Court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, in respect of the following matters, namely :-
Summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and examining them on oath;
requiring the discovery and inspection of documents;
receiving evidence on affidavits;
requisitioning any public record or copies thereof from any court or office;
issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents; and
any other matter, which may be prescribed.
The Council, in 1980 had proposed amendment of the Act, for empowering the Council to recommend to the authorities concerned, denial of certain facilities and concessions in the form of accreditation, advertisements, allocation of newsprint or concessional rates of postage for a certain period in the case of a newspaper which was censured thrice by the Council. Acceptance of the Council’s recommendations on the part of the authorities was sought to be made obligatory. The Council was further of the view that, as in the case of newspapers, the power vested in it under Section 15(4) of the Press Council Act, 1978, to make such observations as it may think fit, in any of its decisions or reports, respecting the conduct of any authority including government, should expressly include the power to warn, admonish or censure such authorities and that the observations of the Council in this behalf should be placed on the Table of both the Houses of Parliament and/or of the Legislature of the State concerned. In the year 1987, the Council reconsidered the matter and after detailed deliberations, decided to withdraw its proposal for penal powers because it was of the reconsidered opinion that in the prevalent conditions these powers could tend to be misused by the authorities to curb the freedom of the Press.
Since then, time and again, suggestions/references have been made to the Council that it should have penal powers to punish the delinquent newspapers/journalists. In response, the Council has consistently taken the view that the moral sanctions provided to it under the existing scheme of the Act are adequate. The suggestion was repeated by the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting in his inaugural address to the International Conference of Press Councils held in New Delhi in October, 1992, but the Council unanimously rejected it with the following reasoning :-
" Were the Council to be endowed with the power to impose sanctions/penalties, it would be equitable that the power to impose sanctions applies also when complaints are made by the Press against the Government and its authorities. A power to impose meaningful sanctions raises a number of issues, including, (a) the onus of proof; (b) the standard of proof; (c) the right to and cost of legal representation; and (d) whether review and/or appeal would be available. The effect of any or all of these issues may militate against the basic premise, that the Press Council’s provide a democratic and efficient and inexpensive facility for hearing of the complaints, and that the consequent inevitability would, in effect, become courts, excercising judicial power and well known problems of access, cost, formality and delay would equally apply, thus defeating the basic purpose of the Press Council."
In December 1992 the Council received a reference from the Central Government soliciting its views on "whether a procedure can be laid down to ensure that newspapers/magazines censured by the Press Council for breach of guidelines in connection with communal writings, can be deprived of incentives from government, such as advertisements etcetera, and whether the Press Council would be in a position to suggest what action should be taken when it holds a newspaper/magazine guilty of breach of guidelines." The Council considered the matter in the meeting held in June1993 in the light of the stand adopted by it in the past against arming the Council with punitive powers. Having considered the matter in depth, the Council felt that the moral authority presently exercised by the Council is quite effective and the Council does not need any punitive powers in showing the Press the path of self-regulation. The Council, however, decided that if the newspaper is censured twice for any type of unethical writings within a period of three years, copies of such decisions should be forwarded to the Cabinet Secretary to the Government of India and to the Chief Secretary of the concerned State Government for information and such action, as may, in exercise of their discretion, be deemed to be appropriate in the circumstances of the case. The Council decided that that the period of three years will be taken as preceeding three years counted backwards from the date of the second censure.
SOME OF THE IMPORTANT ADJUDICATIONS RENDERED AND GUIDELINES ISSUED BY THE COUNCIL :
Since its establishment in 1966, the Council has rendered several momentous adjudications and issued guidelines which may have a lasting impact on the press in the country. The following are some of the important cases in which adjudications have been pronounced. The details are given at annexure A1-40
I. Communal Writings :
Government of Orissa Vs. Desh, Calcutta Weekly (1968 A.R. 25-27) (A-1)
Government of Mysore Vs. Zam Zam, Urdu Weekly of Bangalore (1969 A R 56-57) (A2)
The Council initiated suo-motu action against the following papers and after due enquiry, while dropping the cases, it observed that restraint by the Press is necessary during the period when the country is passing through a tense phase resulting from conflict over such sensitive issues as communal riots : (1980 A R 131-146) (A-3)
Free Press Journal
Northern Indian Patrika
3(a) Dy. Commissioner, Hazaribagh Vs Ranchi Express (A R 86-87)
Shri Shopat Singh Makkasor Vs. Rajasthan Patrika 18 th A R (231-232)
Shri Zile Singh Chahal, General Secretary, All India Jat Maha Sabha, Rohtak versus Vishwa Mail Evening Daily, Kota. 18 th AR (234-235)
Government of Goa, Daman and Diu versus Blade (1969 A R 12-14) (A-4)
P K Bansal Versus Surya India (12 th AR 218-222) (A-5)
Madhu Limaye Vesus Indian Express (13 th AR 139-158) (A-6)
Harikishan Singh Surjeet Vs Indian Express (13 th AR 125-139) (A-7)
Vasant Sathe Vs The Independent (12 th AR 242-252) (A-8)
Sh H N Kumar, Municipal Councillor as representative of the Municipal Committee, Madikheri Vs Editor `Shakti’, Kannada Daily, Madikheri. AR 1994 (A9)
Sh Vatal Nagaraj, MLA, Karnataka Legislative Assembly, Bangalore Vs. Lankesh Patrika (111-112) 17th AR
Complaints of Mrs Phanali Singhal versus Independent & The Hindustan Times (16 th AR Page 123,128,129-132)
III. Investigative Reporting
R C Bhargava, Chairman, Maruti Udyog Ltd. Vs The Statesman 15 th AR (130-142) (A-10).
IV. Obscenity and Bad Taste
Delhi Adminstration Vs Confidential Advisor (1969 AR 50-52) (A-11)
Sh Dinesh Bhai Trivedi, MP Rajya Sabha Vs. The Sunday Statesman Miscellany (14 th AR 531-536) (A-12)
V. Right to Privacy
Sr. Cyrilla-Superior Franciscans of St. Mary of Angles/Fr. Placido Fonseco Vs. The Indian Express, Free Press Journal, Times of India and Samna (13 th AR 92-110) (A-13)
Dr Vasudha Dhagamwar, Executive Director, MARG Vs India Today AR 1993 (A-14)
VI.. Right to Reply
Shri T K Mahadevan Vs The Illustrated Weekly of India (1981 AR 130-135) (A-15)
Dr Walter Fernandes Vs Surya India ( 11 th AR 233-235) (A-16)
P K Bansal Vs Surya India (12 th AR 218-222) (A-5)
Madhu Limaye/Harkishan Singh Surjeet Vs Indian Express (13 th AR 139-158) (A-6)
VII. Pre-Publication Verification
Government of Assam Vs Dainik Asom (1982 AR 82-85) (A-17)
D N Saikia, Deputy Secretary, Government of Assam Vs. The Press Trust of India and The Statesman (12 th AR 140-142) (A-18)
3 (I) Government of Goa, Daman and Diu Vs Blade (1969 AR Pg 12-14) (A-4)
(ii) P K Bansal Vs Surya India (12 th AR 218-222) (A-5)
(iii) Madhu Limaye Vs Indian Express (13 th AR 139-158) (A-6)
(iv) Harkishan Singh Surjeet Vs Indian Express (13 th AR 125-139) (A-7)
(v) Vasant Sathe Vs The Independent (12 th AR 242-252) (A-8)
4. Deepak Vohra Vs Sunday Mail (PCI Review July 1994 59-71) (A-19) 16th AR 133-144
VII. Right of the Press to use its own column
Shri Ashok Mehta, DUJ, IUJ, PUCL Vs Times of India (Aug. 4-5, 1998)
VIII. Threats to Press Freedom
Malayala Manorama Versus Government of Kerala (PCI Review, January 1983 Page 62) (A-20)
Malayala Manorama Versus various State Governments. (PCI Annual Report 1968, Page 38) (A-21).
Blitz Versus District Administration of Dehradun (PCI review April 1984, Page 30) (A-22).
Mahajati Versus Government of Assam (PCI Review, October 1983, page 55) (A-23).
Suo Motu action by Press Council of India against the Government of Karnataka (PCI Review April 1982, page 36) (A-24)
Madhya Pradesh Small Newspapers Association Versus Municipal Commissioner. (PCI Annual Report, 1972, page 66) (A-25).
Searchlight Versus Deputy Commissioner of Ranchi. (PCI Annual Report 1972, page 65) (A-26).
Dainik Janambhumi Versus Government of Assam. (PCI Annual Report 1980, page 56) (A-27)
Chandigarh Union of Journalists Versus Government of Haryana. (PCI Annual Report 1974, page 68) (A-28)
U.P. Small & Medium Newspapers Editors Council Versus District Magistrate, Hardoi. (PCI Review January 1983, page 58) (A-29)
Suo Motu action by Press Council of India (Annual Report 1983, page 37) (A-30)
Sarita Mukta Versus Government of Madhya Pradesh (PCI Annual Report 1981, page 60) (A-31)
Suo motu action-attacks on Gujarat Samachar (Annual Report 1986, page 44) (A-32)
Shri Rama Shanker Prasad, Bihar Vs S.P. Nalanda 15 th AR page 24-25
IX Advertisement and Press Freedom
Tribune Versus Government of Haryana (PCI Annual Report 1979, page 45) (A-33)
Saptahik Mujahid Versus Government of Assam. (PCI Review July 1983 page 44) (A-34)
Searchlight and Pradeep Vs Government of Bihar (PCI Annual Report 1974, Page 11) (A-35)
4. Amar Ujala (Bareilly & Meerut Editions) Vs Distt. Admn, UP 15 th AR 66-67
X. Impropriety and Press Freedom
Arjun Baan Versus Pargana Officer of Tehsil Briswa, UP (PCI Annual Report, 1983, Page 40)(A-36)
Press Correspondent, Hind Samachar Versus Government of Punjab(PCI Annual Report 1973, page 27) (A-37)
Vishwa Manav Versus S.P., Badayun (PCI Review October 1983, page 52) (A-38)
Ex Member of ParliamentVersus Government of Andhra Pradesh (PCI Annual Report 1972, Page 7) (A-39)
Complaint of P Rajan Vesrsus Mathrubhumi (AR 1989-90 page 72 )(A-40)
Atul Maheshwari, Editor, Amar Ujala, Hindi Daily, Meerut Vs ECI (17 th AR Page 45)
7. Shri Ritendra Mathur, Panchjanya Versus PRO, MP Legislative Assembly (June 98)
A study of these adjudications would show that the Council has been unquestionably successful in its efforts towards achieving the objects set before it of not only preserving the freedom of the press but also ensuring that the standards of journalism are maintained and improved. While the authorities, after Press Council’s intervention, have been seen to be generally refraining from indulging in putting undue pressure on the Press, the press-persons too have tended to restrain themselves from the kind of journalism that could undermine the standards expected of them. The moral impact of the Council has come to be widely recognised.
The tremendous increase in the number of complaints from 80 in 1979 to 1075 in 1997 is ample proof of the faith expressed by mediamen and the public alike, in the working, importance and need for a body like the Council at the helm of the fourth estate.
Code of Conduct
Section 13 (2) (b) of the Press Council Act, 1978, enjoins the Council to build up a Code of Conduct for newspapers, news agencies and journalists in accordance with the high professional standards to help and guide the newsmen. Building of such a Code is a dynamic process which has to keep pace with time and events. The expression "build up" indicates that the code may be evolved by the Press Council on case by case basis through its adjudications. A compendium of broad principles evolved by the Press Council through its adjudications/guidelines was first published in the year 1984 by the Council in collaboration with the Indian Law Institute under the title " VIOLATION OF JOURNALISTIC ETHICS AND PUBLIC TASTE" This compilation of principles is sorted out from the decisions or adjudications of the Council or the guidelines issued by it or its Chairman. In 1986, the second part of the compendium entitled "VIOLATION OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS" relating to adjudications and principles in matters or complaints against the government and its authorities which were of important and far reaching nature and which involved observations respecting the conduct of any authority including government was published.
Since 1986 there has been a continuous increase in the institution of complaints and their disposal by the Press Council with consequent acceleration of the process of building up the code. In 1992, the Council brought out " A Guide to Journalistic Ethics" containing principles of journalistic ethics culled out from the adjudications of the Council and the guidelines issued by it in their wake. As several more decisions of far reaching importance relating to the rights and responsibilities of the press have been rendered since then by the Council, a 162 page elaborate and comprehensive second edition of the guide has been issued. It also deals with the concept of right to privacy and lays down the guidelines to be followed in this behalf. The law of defamation has also been dealt with in some of its aspects for the guidance of the press, public servants and public figures. The Council has in an important adjudication respecting alleged defamation of public officials of a Municipal Committee held that the remedy of action for damages against the Press or the media is simply not available to public officials with respect to their acts and conduct relevant to the discharge of their official duties, even if the publication is based on facts and statements which are not true, unless the official establishes that the publication was made with reckless disregard for the truth. In such a case it will be enough for the defendant (member of the press or media) to prove that he acted after a reasonable verification of the facts; it is not necessary for him to prove that what he has written is true. But where the publication is proved to be false and actuated by malice or personal animosity, the defendant would have no defence and would be liable for the damages. However, a public official enjoys the same protection as any other citizen in matters not relevant to the discharge of his duties. Of course, judiciary and Parliament and State Legislatures represent exception to this rule as the former is protected by the power to punish for
its contempt and the latter by their privileges under Articles 105 and 194 respectively of the Constitution. The Council has further held that this does not mean that the Official Secrets Act, 1923 or any similar enactment or provision having the force of law does not bind the press or media. It has also been held that there is no law empowering the State or its officials to prohibit or to impose a prior restraint upon the press/media.
In regard to public official’s claim to privacy, the Council has laid down that if there is a clash between the public official’s privacy and the public’s right to know about his personal conduct, habits, personal affairs and traits of character impinging upon or having a bearing on the due discharge of his official duties, the former must yield to the latter. However, in matters of personal privacy
which are not relevant to discharge of his official duties, the public official enjoys the same protection as any other citizen.
This Guide as a whole suggests a way of steering safely and responsibly through the minefield of legal, moral and ethical problems which confront the editors, journalists and owners of newspapers everyday. The Guide is not a compilation of cast-iron principles but contains broad general principles, which, if applied with due discernment and adaptation to varying circumstances of each case, will help the journalists to self-regulate the conduct of their profession along the path of professional rectitude. These are by no means exhaustive nor are they meant to obtain a rigidity which could hinder the unfettered working of the Press.
BROAD PRINCIPLES EVOLVED
Some of the broad principles evolved by the Council in course of its adjudication on various subjects both in respect of standards of journalism and the freedom of the Press are summarised as under:
A. JOURNALISTIC STANDARDS
1. Communal Writings
Scurrilous and inflammatory attacks should not be made on communities and individuals. Any news on communal events based on rumours will be violative of the journalistic ethics. Similarly, distorted reporting making important omissions will not be correct. While it is the legitimate function of the Press to draw attention to the genuine grievance of any community with a view to seeking redress in a peaceful and legal manner, there should be no invention or exaggeration of grievances, particularly those which tend to promote communal discord.
It will be highly conducive to the creation of a healthy and peaceful atmosphere if sensational, provocative and alarming headlines are avoided, and acts of violence or vandalism are reported in such a manner as may not undermine people’s confidence in law and order machinery of the State and may at the same time have the effect of discouraging and condemning such activities.
Defaming a community is a serious matter and ascribing to it a vile, anti-national activity is reprehensible and amounts to journalistic impropriety.
There is no impropriety in publishing historical facts in order to warn the present generation against repetition of past mistakes even though these mistakes may not be palatable to a particular community.
There is no objection in making statements about religious communities if they are couched in temperate language and are not exaggerated or incorrect.
2. Journalistic impropriety
Some of the principles evolved by the Council through its adjudications in respect of journalistic impropriety are:
Any matter discussed or disclosed in confidence ought not to be published without obtaining the consent of the source. If the editor finds that the publication is in the public interest, he should clarify it in an appropriate footnote that the statement or discussion in question was being published although it had been made "off the record".
An advertisement containing anything unlawful or illegal, or the one which is contrary to good taste or journalistic ethics or propriety should not be published.
Proper care should be taken by newspapers in maintaining accuracy in respect of quotations.
Where a newspaper is charged with violation of journalistic ethics, a plea that it has ceased publication will afford the editor no defence, since it is his conduct which is subject of the complaint.
3. Obscenity and Bad Taste
The meaning of taste varies according to the context. For a journalist it implies that "which on grounds of decency or propriety he should not publish". Where a matter has "a tendency to stimulate sex feelings" its publication in a journal meant for the lay public, young or old, undesirable. Exploitation of sex falls short good taste. Public taste is to be judged in relation to the environment, milieu as well notions of taste prevailing in contemporary society.
The basic test of obscenity is whether the matter is so gross or vulgar that it is likely to deprave or corrupt. Another test is whether depiction of the scene and language used can be regarded as filthy, repulsive, dirty or lewd.
Whether a story is obscene or not, will depend on such factors as literary or cultural nature of the magazine, and the social theme of the story. The relevancy of a picture to the subject matter of a magazine or a paper has a bearing on the question whether the matter published falls below the standards of public taste. One of the relevant factors for judging whether the picture falls below the standard of public taste will be the purpose or nature of the magazine - whether it relates to art, painting, medicine, research or reform of sex.
The Press Council expressed concern over the increasing instances of obscene advertisements in the print media. It was opposed to censorship but favoured preventive steps to check any obscene material at pre-publication stage. Since most of such advertisements are routed through advertising agencies, the Council felt that this task should not be difficult if these agencies were to exercise more caution and restrain in preparing and releasing the advertisements that may be considered objectionable to family viewing by an average citizen. It felt that the Association of Advertising Agencies of India as an Umbrella organisation of all these advertising agencies could play a very meaningful and positive role in the matter and sought its cooperation to contain advertisements that are likely to damage the socio-cultural ethos of the country in the longer run. The Council appealed to the newspapers also to carefully scrutinize the advertisements received by them either directly from the advertisers or through the advertising agencies and exercise a self-restraint by rejecting such advertisements as may be considered obscene and objectionable. It has also reiterated the following guidelines framed by it to counter against obscene publication.
"Newspapers shall not display advertisements which are vulgar or
which through depiction of a woman in nude or lewd posture, provoke
lecherous attention of males as if she herself was commercial
commodity for sale".
Whether a picture is obscene or not, is to be judged in relation to three
(i) Is it vulgar and indecent?
(ii) Is it a piece of mere pornography?
(iii) Is its publication meant merely to make money by titillating the
sex feeling of adolescents and among whom it is intended to
circulate? In other words, does it constitute an unwholesome
exploitation for commercial gain.
Other relevant considerations are whether the picture is relevant to the subject matter of the magazine. That is to say, whether its publication serves any preponderating social or public purpose, in relation to art, painting, medicine, research or reform of sex.
4. Right of Reply
The prime principle that emanates from the various adjudications on this subject upholds the editors discretion in publication of letters. He would, however, be expected to voluntarily rectify an incorrect statement or report on a matter of public nature; the general reader can claim a locus standi on the basis of the public right to know. Besides, any person who has been specifically referred to in a publication can claim an automatic right to reply in the columns of the paper. Though the Council does not have the power to force a newspaper to publish, a rejoinder it may direct it to publish the particulars of the inquiry against it.
5. Pre-verification of News
Verification of news is necessary before publication, especially when the report has slanderous or libellous overtones or could lead to communal tension; nor can the publication of rumours as views of a cross-section of people be justified under any circumstances. The editor shall make necessary amends when any false or distorted publication is brought to his notice.
6. Defamation - Scurrilous writings
Under the second exception to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code it is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions, or respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further. The Council has accordingly held the opinion that fair comments on the public life cannot be held to be improper. But if any factual statements are made, they must be true and correct. In case a defamatory element is involved, more good faith will not be a defence in any civil action for damages.
7. Right to privacy Vs. Public figures
The Press Council of India formulated guidelines to achieve a balance between the right to privacy of the public persons and the right of the press to have access to information of public interest and importance. The issue under heated debate at both national and international level and the international conference of the World Association of Press Councils (WAPC) held in April 1998 in Delhi, stressed that there is a need for reconciliation between three competing constitutional values at play on this count, viz:
(a) an individual’s right to privacy, (b) freedom of the press, and (c) the people’s right to know about public figures in public interest.
The Council has prepared a report on the issue and framed the guidelines as follows:-
"Right to privacy is an inviolable human right. However, the degree of privacy differs from person to person and from situation to situation. The public person who functions under public gaze as an emissary/representative of the public cannot expect to be afforded the same degree of privacy as a private person. His acts and conduct are of public interest (‘public interest’ being distinct and separate from ‘of interest to the public’) even if conducted in private may be brought to public knowledge through the medium of the press. The press has, however, a corresponding duty to ensure that the informations about such acts and conduct of public interest of the public person is obtained through fair means, is properly verified and then reported accurately. For obtaining the information in respect of acts done or conducted away from public gaze, the press is not expected to use surveill devices. For obtaining information about private talks and discussions, while the press is expected not to badger the public persons, the public persons are also expected to bring more openness in their functioning and co-operate with the press in its duty of informing the public about the acts of their representatives".
B.FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
1. Threats to Press Freedom
An attack on a paper or those connected with it editorially or in management with a view to pressurising or intimidating them for the opinion expressed in the paper, constitutes a gross interference with the freedom of the Press (case of Malayala Manorama, PCI Review, Jan 1983 p. 62).
Tendencies to coerce newspapers to desist from publishing facts or toe a particular line are matters of concern. (Case of Malayala Manorama, PCI Annual Report 1968, p. 38)
The local administration is expected to help the journalist to perform his duties without being under duress or pressure (case of Blitz, PCI Review April 1984, p. 30)
Implication of an editor of a newspaper in a fabricated case by the police authorities with a view to harassing him for his treatment of the news or critical
writings amounts to interference in the freedom of the Press. (Case of Mahajati, PCI Review October 1983, p. 55)
Groups raids on newspaper offices by unruly mobs interferes with the freedom of the Press. Suitable precautionary protective measures ought to be taken by the police. The same applies to blockade of newspapers offices. (Suo motu action by the Press Council against the Government of Karnataka, PCI Review April 1982, p. 36)
Harassment and victimization of journalists by police is a direct attack on the freedom of the Press. ( Case of Madhya Pradesh Small Newspapers’ Association, PCI Annual Report 1972, p. 66)
Seizure of camera and removal of film by police from a Press Photographer while covering the news would amount to preventing the journalist from performing his duties and is a matter to be viewed seriously. (Case of Searchlight, PCI Annual Report 1972, p. 65)
Filing of motivated frivolous cases against a journalist would amount to interfering with his functions. (Case of Malayala Manorama, PCI Annual Report, 1968, p. 38 and PCI Annual Report 1967, p. 52-58)
Any attempt by a minister to browbeat a reporter into toeing his line in the matter of reporting would be inconsistent with maintaining the proper standards of ministerial conduct towards the Press. (Case of Dainik Janambhumi, PCI Annual Report 1980, p. 56)
Disaccreditation and withdrawal of housing facilities from a newspaper correspondent because of articles/news items written by him would amount to an attempt to pressurise the correspondent and, therefore, the Press. (Case of Chandigarh Union of Journalists, PCI Annual Report, 1974, p. 68)
The Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, does not empower the District Magistrate to obtain "Assurance Letters" from prospective editors before granting or refusing a declaration. (Case of U.P. Small and Medium Newspapers Editors’ Council, PCI Review, Jan. 1983, p. 58)
Declaration of newspapers under the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, cannot be cancelled on the ground that the newspapers concerned were indulging in yellow journalism. Any complaint in regard to yellow journalism should be filed with the Press Council (Suo Motu action by the Press Council, PCI Annual Report 1983, p. 37)
Closeness of the date of appearance of a critical article and the date of disaccreditation would be material factors determining whether the disaccreditation was on account of that article. (Case of Sarita, Mukta etc., PCI Annual Report 1981 p. 60)
2. Advertisement and Press Freedom
The giving or withholding of advertisements, whether by individuals or by the government as a lever to influence the editorial policy constitutes a threat to and jeopardises the liberty of the Press, meaning in this context the freedom of the editor. This is especially so in case of the government since it is the trustee of public funds and, therefore, bound to utilise them without discrimination. (Case of Tribune, PCI Annual Report 1970, p. 45)
Advertisements, from any party including the government cannot be claimed as a matter of right by a newspaper. Government can frame its policy of placing advertisements based on objective criteria. But this should be based upon publicly stated principles without taking into consideration the editorial policy of the paper. (Cases of Saptahik Mujahid, PCI Review July 1983, p. 44, and Tribune, PCI Annual Report 1970, p. 45)
If an editor is guilty of an action or an impropriety de hors his paper, he can be proceeded against personally but this would not justify denial of advertisements to the paper of which he happens to be the editor. This applies to an employee or even the proprietor of a newspaper. (Case of Searchlight and Pradeep, PCI Annual Report 1974, p. 11)
The outside activities of the editor or other journalists might throw light on what he wrote for the paper, and in the event of such writings being improper, action against the paper is justified. However, this is for improper publication and for the employees’ activities de hors the paper. (Ibid)
3. Impropriety and Press Freedom
It is improper to offer an inducement to a journalist to adopt a particular line of comment, and for the journalist to accept such an inducement. In the event of improper inducement being offered by the government the situation would be worse, since, then the media would become an arm of law enforcement. (Ibid)
It is improper for a journalist to accept an assignment which would be incompatible with the integrity and dignity of his profession or exploitation of his status as journalist. (Ibid)
The editor of a newspaper cannot be asked to divulge the source of information of a letter published in his paper. (Case of Arjun Baan, PCI Review, July 1983, p. 53)
Asking a journalist to divulge his personal and confidential source of information amounts to violation of his obligation to report on events of public interest and constitutes a threat to Press freedom. (Case of Press Correspondent, Hind Samachar, PCI Annual Report 1973, p. 27)
The editor of a newspaper cannot be directed by the police to alert his correspondent against the publication of a news item relating to the acts of the police, as it would be against the fundamental right of the Press. (Case of Vishwa Manav, PCI Review, October 1983, p. 52)
The motivated stoppage of subscription of teleprinter service of a news agency due to the feeling that reportage of a certain situation was exaggerated and to pressurize the agency would amount a threat to the freedom of the press. (Case of ex-Member of Parliament, PCI Annual Report 1972, p. 7)
Singling out news despatches to a newspaper and arrest of editors for activities in discharge of their professional duties and issue of warning letter from the government to newspapers to desist from publishing anything relating to certain activities of some groups, could legitimately give rise to an apprehension of threat to the freedom of the Press. (Suo motu action by the Press Council, PCI Review April 1983, p. 52)
GUIDELINES AND POLICY FORMULATIONS
The Council has issued guidelines and recommended policy framework on various matters concerning the Press and the people. In addition, the Chairmen of the Council have been guiding the Press through statements whenever a serious situation arose in which the Press was expected to work with restraint and circumspection. They also reacted sharply through such statements whenever organised major offensives were made against the Press.
In 1969, the Council issued a 10-point guidelines laying down norms and standards in reporting and commenting on matters which bear on communal relations. Without being exhaustive the guidelines listed and explained what would be offending against journalistic propriety and ethics, and should, therefore, be avoided (Annexure B -1).
Again, in the wake of the happenings in Ayodhya in 1990, the Council while reiterating the 1969 guidelines, issued another 12-point guidelines in the light of the new experience. The Council said that the principles outlined in it should be inculcated at every level of the media from training stage upwards and made a standard of external accountability. These principles (Annexure B-2) laid down certain ‘dos’ and don’ts for both the Press and the State.
The Council has over the years formulated policy framework in respect of such subjects as rules of accreditation, newsprint, advertisements, selection of journalists for accompanying the President, the Prime Minister etc., on their foreign tours.
As stated earlier, the Council has, following a decision taken in its meeting in October 1982, published two compendiums of its adjudication; one each on violation of journalistic ethics and violation of freedom of the Press, giving at the end of a similar set of cases the principles underlying the adjudications.
Apart from inquiring into the regular complaints, the Council has held a number of special inquiries, mostly suo motu, but sometimes on complaints into incidents and matters concerning the Press.
Report on Deshar Katha, Tripura 1990
Following a complaint by Shri Gautam Das, Editor, Daily Deshar Katha, a Bengali newspaper of Agartala, Tripura, regarding frequent violent attacks on the employees and hawkers of his newspapers by Congress (I) workers, the Press Council set up a Special Committee to make a thorough on-the-spot inquiry. The Committee visited Agartala and heard the representatives of the Government of Tripura and the complainant. As a result the Government of Tripura assured that they would take all necessary steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents and provide full security to Deshar Katha. (Annexure - D 1)
Ayodhya Report 1990
A special inquiry was set up on the Ayodhya happenings in 1990 and another in 1992. Their reports were made public in 1991 and 1993 respectively. In the first inquiry, the Council found four Uttar Pradesh dailies Jagran, Aj, Swatantra Bharat and Swatantra Chetna, guilty of publishing reports which constituted a grave violation of norms of journalistic ethics. The Council censured* these newspapers for violation of the norms. The Council also criticised the Uttar Pradesh Government for its many lapses in dealing with the situation and its behaviour towards the Press. It expressed serious concern over the authorities taking recourse
*Jagran has challenged this decision of the Council before the Allahabad High Court, which is pending.
to punitive and preventive action in excess of the demand of the situation and deplored invoking provisions of non-existent Press (Objectionable Matters) Act, 1951, and misapplying the provisions of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867. (Annexure- D2)
Ayodhya Report 1993
In the wake of the demolition of the disputed shrine at Ayodhya on 6.12.1992 came the reports of numerous attack on journalists/press media photographers/cameramen who were covering the happenings at Ayodhya on 6.12.1992 and thereabout. As the matter was of great urgency and concern, a Special Inquiry Committee headed by the Chairman of the Council was set up to inquire into the matter. Prior to this the Chairman had already issued an appeal urging restraint and moderation on the part of the press while reporting events and presenting comments bearing on communal relations. Simultaneously, he expressed concern on the incidents of assaults on journalists when, they in discharge of their professional duties, were trying to cover the events. He also appealed to the authorities to ensure that the press is allowed to function freely and fearlessly to disseminate information on matters of public importance.
The Special Committee set up vide order dated 14.12.1992 collected oral and written evidence at its sittings at Ayodhya, Faizabad, Lucknow and Delhi and submitted its report to the full Council on 7.1.1993. The report as adopted by Council was released on 8.1.1993. (Annexure - D3)
Punjab Report 1991
An inquiry was held into the pressures and problems confronting the Press and its personnel during acts of terrorism in Punjab. Adopting the report of the Special Committee, captioned ‘Overcoming Fear’ the Council extended its full support to the Punjab Press in its efforts to inform the people truthfully and impartially of the events and circumstances in the State and in resisting any code or norm sought to be imposed on it through force or intimidation by any extraneous authority or organisation. (Annexure D-4)
J&K Report 1991
Similarly, a special inquiry was held on the problems faced by the Press in Jammu and Kashmir. Adopting the report of this committee in July 1991, the Council said the critical importance of information and communication in the complex and difficult situation in Kashmir had not been adequately realised either by the government or by the media itself. It suggested a series of measures to respond effectively to the various aspects of the situation. The full report was later published under the caption ‘Crisis and Credibility’. (Annexure D-5)
Bihar Report 1993
The report on increasing incidents of assaults on journalists and the pressures/impediments in the way of free functioning of the Press in the State of Bihar adopted by the Council on March 31, 1993 advised the Press and the authorities to put their relations on more healthy footings. (Annexure D-6)
Report on AIDS and the Media 1993
The report on ‘AIDS AND THE MEDIA’ laid down certain do’s and don’ts for the media advising them that from sporadic news AIDS must become campaign target. At the same time, the Press should bear in mind that the ‘public interest’ which may justify publication of a matter within the preserve of personal privacy, must be a ‘legitimate interest’ and not prurient or morbid curiosity.
Defence Report 1993
Yet another report of June 1993 captioned ‘Pen and Sword’ advocated an attitude of greater openness in Defence related information. (Annexure D-7).
J & K Report 1994
The Council’s latest report of 1994 on "Threats to the media from militant organisation in J & K" has recommended prompt dissemination of information at government level to counter militant propaganda. The report has also advised the Government to provide institutional and area security to the media personnel who face threats from the militants for taking independent stand. (Annexure D-8)
The Model Advertisement Policy 1994
In the year 1994 the Council formulated uniform Advertisement Policy for application throughout India. It provides a succinct criteria for approval of newspapers for empanelment by the authorities for advertisements.
Guidelines on ‘Pre-poll’ and ‘Exit-polls’ Survey
The Press Council of India having considered the question of desirability or otherwise of publication of findings of pre-poll surveys and the purpose served by them, is of the view that the newspapers should not allow their forum to be used for distortions and manipulations of the elections and should not allow themselves to be exploited by the interested parties.
The Press Council, therefore, advises that in view of the crucial position occupied by the electoral process in a representative democracy like ours, the newspapers should be on guard against their precious forum being used for distortions and manipulations of the elections. This has become necessary to emphasize today since the print media is sought to be increasingly exploited by the interested individuals and groups to misguide and mislead the unwary voters by subtle and not so subtle propaganda on casteist, religious and ethnic basis as well as by the use of sophisticated means like the alleged pre-poll surveys. While the communal and seditious propaganda is not difficult to detect in many cases, the interested use of the pre-poll survey, sometimes deliberately planted, is not so easy to uncover. The Press Council, therefore, suggests that whenever the newspapers publish pre-poll surveys, they should take care to preface them conspicuously by indicating the institutions which have carried such surveys, the individuals and organisations which have commissioned the surveys, the size and nature of sample selected, the method of selection of the sample for the findings and the possible margin of error in the findings.
2. Further in the event of staggered poll dates, the media is seen to carry exit-poll surveys of the polls already held. This is likely to influence the voters where the polling is yet to commence. With a view to ensure that the electoral process is kept pure and the voters’ minds are not influenced by any external factors, it is necessary that the media does not publish the exit-poll surveys till the last polls is held.
3. The Press Council, therefore, request the Press to abide by the following guideline in respect of the exit-polls:
No newspaper shall publish exit-poll surveys, however, genuine they may be, till last of the polls is over.
Press Council of India frames Guidelines for Financial Journalists
The Press Council of India counselled reporters/financial journalists/newspaper establishments to refrain from receiving any gift/grants/concessions/facilities, etc., either in cash or kind which are likely to compromise free and unbiased reporting on financial matters.
2. The Council in its Report observed that the financial journalists today enjoy considerable influence over readers’ minds and, therefore, they owe it to them to present a balanced and objective view of the financial dealings, status and prospects of a company. It observed that some companies are given excessive news coverage in the newspapers/magazines because they have issued advertisements to that print media. Sometimes, adverse reports are published of those companies which do not give advertisements to the newspapers or magazines. Again, when a media is not happy with any company/management for whatever reason, the negative aspects of the company are highlighted, while in the reverse situation, no negative aspects are brought to light. Some companies are also known to give gifts, loans, discounts, preferential shares, etc., to certain financial journalists to receive favourable and positive reports of the companies. At the same time, there is no mechanism for investors’ education or for raising public opinion against such unhealthy practices.
3. The Council feeling concerned over the malpractice in the Corporate Sector and after holding detailed deliberations and discussions with the representatives financial institutions and journalists, has recommended the guidelines enumerated below for observance by the financial journalists:
Portrayal of Women in Media (1996)
The Central Government in February 1995 forwarded to the Press Council for its views, the recommendations of Maharashtra Government on the possible role of audo-visual and print media in the advancement of the cause of women. A Sub-Committee of the Council interacted with prominent film/media personalities and other eminent persons. Its report was adopted by the Council on January 8, 1996. While concurring with and endorsing the recommendations of Maharashtra Government’s Policy for Women, the Council made seventeen more recommendations, prominent among them being (a) stories of atrocities on women should be published but without sensationalising them; (b) efforts of the media should be directed towards highlighting the positive achievements of women; (c) the downward slide in the moral ethos has to be checked by combating obscenity and vulgarity; (d) the Press Council of India on its part should accord priority to consideration of complaints brought before it on charges of denigrating women and build up further guidelines etc. In conclusion, it was emphasized that fructification of such a policy document will be possible only through the cohesive will of the people of all strata of society.
Problems of Small & Medium Newspapers (1996)
A sub-committee of the members of the Council had been set up to go into the problems of small & medium newspapers in the country. The sub-committee in its report to the Council, while identifying the problems faced by the small and medium newspapers, made some concrete long-term/short term recommendations in the matter: (a) a Small and Medium Newspaper Development Corporation should be set up as an autonomous body with a view to promote and ensure the development of small and medium papers or in the alternative they be encouraged to form cooperative society; (b) the government should devise a suitable advertisement policy in keeping with the guidelines framed by the Press Council of India; (c) the DAVP should display the list of those newspapers which are granted advertisements every quarter; (d) all advertisement bills of the papers should be settled by the Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity and Directorate of Information and Public Relations within 45 days of the receipt thereof; (e) while printing paper be brought within the purview of newsprint and a specific quantity thereof be earmarked for small and medium newspapers; (f) 75% advertisements like those of biogas chulha, which do not concern the urban areas, should be given to the small and medium newspapers. These recommendations which were twenty-two in all were unanimously adopted by the Press Council.
Closure of Newspapers and Problems of Urdu Newspapers
The Council had undertaken a study to gauge the reasons for increase in closure of newspapers over the past few years. The Committee of the Council had studied the situation in various regions all over the country. In the meantime the specific problems being faced by the Urdu papers were also brought to its attention. (Annual Report 1997-98 - PCI Review October 1997)
Favour to Journalists
The public outcry in 1998 over the reported attempts to win over the media through gifts and favours had prompted the Press Council of India to undertake a comprehensive study of the issue with regard to all kinds of favours/benefits, either in cash or in kind in the form of concessions, gifts, lands, house facilities etc., extended to journalists (both editors and other than editors) news agencies, newspaper establishments and owners by various authorities during the 10 year period from 1985-95).
The Committee in its report, as adopted by the Council on 22.1.1998, listed the undue favours as apart from these facilities for journalistic work and observed that ultimately the strength of the moral fabric of the press itself shall decide whether or not to be swayed by the inducements and enticements thrown its way by those in power.
The Council considered in depth the provisions of the Press and Registration of Books (Amendments) Bill, 1988, and held that it went beyond the statement of its objects. It did not implement properly the recommendations of the Second Press Commission relating to the subject. Though some of the provisions were of a positive nature, certain others were fraught with mischief leading to consequences perilous to the freedom of the Press. The Council suggested many radical changes in the Bill. The government later withdrew the Bill.
Similarly, the Council examined suo motu the Jammu & Kashmir Special Powers (Press) Bill, 1989. It also heard the State Ministers and representatives of various organisations of the Press on September 29, 1989 on the provisions of the Bill. After that the Council held that the J & K Government already had sufficient powers in its armoury in the form of existing State and Central legislations which could be effectively used to deal with cases of gross misconduct by the Press over the entire ground for which fresh powers were sought under the Bill.
The Council said that preventive laws with wide powers of pre-censorship and forfeiture would, by muzzling the Press, give free rein to rumours and destroy the credibility of the entire print and broadcast media within J & K and in the rest of the country. The Council was of the view that pre-censorship was inherently inimical to the freedom of the press. It recommended that the Bill be withdrawn. It also recommended revival of the Press Advisory Council in the State. The Bill was later withdrawn by the J & K Government in the State Assembly.
The Council also examined the Karnataka (Freedom of the Press) Bill, 1988, and the Karnataka Legislature (Powers, Privileges and Immunities) Bill, 1988, and gave various suggestions to make them more effective in respect of the freedom of the Press.
The Council made concrete and comprehensive recommendations regarding the repeal/amendment of the Official Secrets Act, 1923. It was first done in 1982 and again in 1990. In 1990, the Council said that the existing Act should be repealed in toto. It is no use amending a bad law. The Official Secrets Act is repugnant to open government and also militates against the ethos of the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19 (1) (a). A new legislation should be enacted which may be called "Freedom of Information Act." In event of this not being done, the Council suggested many amendments aimed at removing the deleterious affects of the various provisions of the Act on the Press.
The Council discussed Shri V.N. Gadgil’s (MP) Right to Reply in the Press Bill, 1994 and considered it in all its ramifications in response to a reference made to it by the Union Government. It communicated its view that ‘the proposed legislation is vulnerable from the stand-points of its necessity, propriety, viability, workability and above all, its constitutional validity’. The bill has since been withdrawn.
In response to another reference from the Central Government on publication of newspapers in India by foreign interests, the Council communicated its opinion on June 22, 1992, "that it does not favour publication of foreign newspapers/news journals in India involving equity and management participation", adding that "the present arrangements could be reconsidered or reviewed after 3 to 5 years". After a Cabinet Sub-Committee headed by Shri N.K.P.Salve was set up to make recommendation for any modifications in the policy decisions taken by Government on the subject in 1955 - 56, the matter was again referred to the Council for its comments. The Council has reiterated its views conveyed in June 1992.
The Press Council Act, 1978, empowers the Council to undertake studies in regard to matters concerning the Press. The Council in collaboration with the Indian Law Institute has conducted various studies viz., Official Secrets Act 1923, (recommendations since updated in 1990) Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Parliamentary Privileges and Law of Defamation etc., in so far as they relate to the Press. This is a major accomplishment. These publications help the mediapersons understand the scope of their rights and the limits of their functioning. (Annexure C1 - C4)
PROTECTION OF CONFIDENTIAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION
In Contempt of Court proceedings the press usually makes the plea that it should not be forced to disclose Confidential source. "Such a plea for justification has been permitted on a limited basis. The Press’s right to hold on to its sources of information has been balanced against other aspects of public interest. By way of tail piece, it has also been added that the press often demands the right to break confidence more than they plead the right to hold on to their own confidential sources. It is only fair that each claim should be balanced against other claims without conceding total primacy to the press in respect of its investigative and truth verification functions". (See Contempt of Court and the Press, page 173, prepared by Rajiv Dhawan and published under the joint auspices of Indian Law Institute and the Press Council of India)
In 1983, the Law Commission of India sent a questionnaire soliciting the views of the Press Council, inter alia, regarding disclosure of source of information by a journalist acquired by him in confidence for the purpose of his profession. In response to the Law Commission’s question on the subject, the Press Council expressed as follows:
"In the opinion of the Council, the provision contained in Section 15 (2) of the Press Council Act, 1978 incorporates the latest trend and principles on the subject. Although under the above Act it is confined only to the proceedings under the Act it is strongly recommended that it should be made a part of the general law of the land."
"It is equally strongly felt that if any exception is to be made, it should be done in cases of extreme nature where disclosure is altogether unavoidable in the interest of the administration of justice. But the powers to order disclosure should be conferred only on competent court and that also in confidence to the presiding officer in the first instance, who may then, if satisfied that it is germane to the decision of the case, take such steps as may be necessary to make it a part of the evidence on record".
The Law Commission of India submitted its 93rd Report to the Government of India on 10th August, 1983 recommending for insertion of Section 132A in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, as under:
"132A - No court shall require a person to disclose the source of information contained in a publication for which he is responsibile, where such information has been obtained by him on the express agreement or implied understanding that the source will be kept confidential".
"Explanation: In this section -
(a) ‘publication’ means any speech, writing, broadcast or other communication in whatever form, which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public.
(b) ‘source’ means the person from whom, or the means through which, the information was obtained".
It seems that the Government of India has not taken any step to get this recommendation of the Law Commission, implemented. The same can be said about the relatively moderate recommendations of the Press Commission/or of the Press Council of India, on this subject.
Lectures by the Chairman of the Council and other activities
The successive Chairman of the Council have been invited to address seminars or deliver lectures arranged by various organisations and institutions where they have stressed the need for ensuring objective and factually correct reportage by the Press, the need to safeguard and strengthen Press freedom and to help in maintaining peace and harmony between different communities.
All earlier Chairmen have also been participating in such activities and spreading awareness about the need to preserve and protect Press freedom and to observe high ethical standards of journalism as also about the role and functioning of the Press Council in this behalf.
Students of journalism from various universities which impart instructions on the subject have been visiting the office of the Press Council and the Chairman have addressed them about the objects, functioning and working of the Council and the rights and responsibilities of the Press. The Press Council of India is also a member of World Association of Press Council which seeks to promote self regulation at international level. The present Chairman of the Council Justice P.B. Sawant is the current President of the body.
PRESS AND REGISTRATION APPELLATE BOARD
Section 27 of the Press Council Act, 1978, entrusts the Council with the functions of the Press and Registration Appellate Board, constituted under sub-section (1) of Section 8C of the Press & Registration of Books Act, 1867, to hear appeals against unlawful cancellation of declarations of newspapers or non-authentication thereof by the District Magistrate. The Board consists of the Chairman and another member to be nominated by the Press Counci of India from amongst its members. The Board has rendered a number of important judgment since it was first constituted in 1979.
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