Journalists’ union bats for a stronger media council

DUJ speaks out against policing of journalists, hate speech

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Journalists
Photo Jason Leung on Unsplash

The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has expressed grave concern over the increased policing of journalists and journalism in India in the past year as reflected in the Human Rights Watch Report of 2023 released last week. It also took note of the increasing cases of hate speech against certain communities, especially minorities, as pointed out by Supreme Court, which has even questioned the dithering of the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA).

In a joint statement on 15 January 2023, the [resident of the organization S K Pande and its general secretary Sujata Madhok, while calling for a halt to press-bashing, suggested on a priority basis the setting of a Media Council of India to replace, what they called the “toothless” Press Council and the “indecisive” NBDSA.

 The DUJ said the Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2023 released this week reflects the increasing policing of journalists and journalism in India today. According to the report, several journalists were arrested during the year, including Mohammed Zubair and Rupesh Kumar Singh while others such as Siddique Kappan continue to languish behind bars.

As the report states, the situation in Kashmir was the worst with the arrests of Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul. The Human Rights Report says “35 journalists in Kashmir have faced police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault, restrictions on freedom of movement, or fabricated criminal cases for their reporting,” since August 2019. 

The report also says the government has “intensified and broadened their crackdown on activist groups and the media,” referring to the use of the Pegasus spyware to target media persons, besides other assaults on the media. 

The union noted the takeover of the television news channel NDTV and the consequent spate of resignations starting with anchor Ravish Kumar, followed by group president Suparna Singh, chief strategy officer Arijit Chatterjee, and chief technology and product officer Kawaljit Singh Bedi. “NDTV was one of the last channels that reported somewhat independently, instead of merely mouthing government and corporate propaganda and amplifying divisive, communal hate speech,” it noted.

The journalist union welcomed the Supreme Court’s recent observations on the role of TV channels in causing rifts in society and its directives to state governments and police to take action against those who promote hate speech. 

The Supreme Court is hearing several petitions against hate speech, including the ‘UPSC Jihad’ campaign by Sudarshan News TV, the ‘corona Jihad’ campaign in the media, and the Dharam Sansad meetings where anti-Muslim statements were openly made. The court commented on the irresponsible comments made by some anchors, saying, “Therefore, if there is a fine on anchors, people will understand that there is a cost associated with it. Anchors can also be removed.” 

The court told the NBSDA lawyer, “Unfortunately you are doing nothing”. NBSDA’s sole defense was that Sudarshan TV and Republic TV were not its members. “Our code ought to be incorporated into the program code so that it would be applicable everywhere,” the NBSDA counsel has suggested.  

The DUJ said, “the long-term answer lies both in Parliament taking steps to have a statutory broad-based media council, comprising the entire wide spectrum media to replace the Press Council with some more powers rather than giving the government policing powers or overriding powers to any other body.” It noted that various governments in the past, both the Congress and later the BJP government with Sushma Swaraj as information minister, had recommended a media council with more teeth. 

On 13 January 2023, the Supreme Court observed that certain television channels were motivated by agenda, were dividing society, competing to sensationalize news, and following the instructions of their financiers. This observation came after the Supreme Court bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna heard a number of petitions regarding incidents of hate speech.

 

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