28 Aug 2021 1:54 PM GMT
In a bid to clamp down on fake journalists, paid news and journalists who are indulging in illegal, unethical practices, the Madras High Court has last week directed the Tamil Nadu government to create a Press Council of Tamil Nadu (PCTN) which would act as a State level media regulatory body. A Bench of Justices N Kirubakaran (since retired) and P Velmurugan ordered that the proposed...
In a bid to clamp down on fake journalists, paid news and journalists who are indulging in illegal, unethical practices, the Madras High Court has last week directed the Tamil Nadu government to create a Press Council of Tamil Nadu (PCTN) which would act as a State level media regulatory body.
A Bench of Justices N Kirubakaran (since retired) and P Velmurugan ordered that the proposed PCTN must be constituted within 3 months and should be headed by a retired judge of either the Supreme Court or the High Court. Furthermore, it was directed that experienced and reputed journalists, retired civil servants and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers must be its members.
"NEWS is expected But VIEWS are reported ... Many media houses very sadly report the news according to their views and ideology. One can have ideology/views but that should not be mixed with the contents of the news and it would amount to corrupt practice thrusting one's views on others", the order observed at the outset.
The order further opined,
"Paid news is one of the menaces which is afflicting our media. Understanding the power of media, many persons take "Avatar" of PRESS only to threaten and blackmail the officials, industrialists and politicians for their unjust enrichment. Any persons image can be sullied without any material details or proof by publishing in media. There is no control or supervision of the so-called journalists who are indulging in illegal, unethical practice"
The Court further observed that fake journalists have grown so exponentially that often genuine journalists are afraid to introduce themselves at press conferences out of fear of being heckled or attacked. As a result, it was suggested that credentials of journalists must be verified on a priority basis.
"There should be a parameter such as minimum circulation for magazines or newspapers to claim themselves as press people. The credentials of the parties have to be verified in detail before issuing the identity cards, since many people having criminal background also claim to be press people and indulging in criminal activities using this as a shield like that of the many criminals who purchase law degrees and use it as a shield for their criminal activities. Since the image of the press off late is damaged because of the activities of the people who are claiming to be press reporters, the system has to be cleaned so that the interest of genuine journalists/press people will be protected", the Court further added.
The Court also made a reference to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to opine on the adverse consequences of giving "fake press" unrestricted access.
"One must keep in mind that assassins of our former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi himself were able to go close to him, because one of them (Sivarasan) acted out a 'journalist' role. Another such crime cannot be ruled out, if this trend of fake journalist continues", the order stated.
Further, enumerating upon the importance of ensuring that there exists independent media houses to safeguard the interests of a democracy, the Court observed,
"A responsible media is necessary to sustain good democracy through dissemination of correct news/information sans sensationalism and committed to national interests. Such vital performance on the part of the India media can be guaranteed only by ensuring that only good journalists run this news industry and it does not fall into the hands of evil people and anti-national forces, blackmailers and fraudsters. It is the responsibility of the Government and the recognized/established media organizations (Madras Union of Journalists, Chennai Press Club and Chennai Reporters' Guild) to ensure this"
• The State Government shall appoint a "Press Council of Tamil Nadu" headed by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or High Court, and consisting of a team of experienced and reputed journalists (both working and retired), retired civil servants and Police officials in the rank of IAS and IPS, within a period of three months.
• The Council shall comprise representatives from the journalism industry as well as the government, and all members shall be serving journalists of standing and government servants. The members shall be on regular payroll of media houses and organisations, evidenced by salary slips, payment of TDS and circulation or viewership details, as the case may be. Loss of job on any account such as resignation, dismissal or death and disability shall result in their immediate exit from the board.
• The Council shall have sole authority to recognise press clubs and journalists associations or unions in the state of Tamil Nadu and it shall not allow or recognise formation or continuation of clubs or unions or associations based on caste, community or state boundaries.
• The Council shall conduct and approve elections to these clubs, unions and associations, and management of the clubs, unions and associations shall be vested with the elected team of office bearers only after such approval by the board.
• Press Council of Tamil Nadu should stipulate a period of election for each association and any of the association which do not conduct the election on time, shall automatically brought under the administration of Press Council of Tamil Nadu to be constituted.
• The Council shall join hands with reputed national and international bodies and offer training or refresher programmes for journalists regularly in order to keep the members of journalistic fraternity remain up to date with developments across the country and abroad. The board shall write to the government and obtain state assistance for the purpose.
• The proposed Press Council of Tamil Nadu shall decide about the number of journalists association in each city or town.
• The State Government shall not allot any house or grant free bus passes directly to any applicant journalists and shall only be routed through Press Council of Tamil Nadu which after due diligence can issue such benefits.
• The State Government shall prohibit conduct of State conferences or meeting by journalists associations without permission/approval of the Press Council of Tamil Nadu to be constituted which shall get the details regarding the source of income and other relevant details before giving permission for such conference/meeting by the associations.
• To curtail the menace of fake journalists, Council shall have power to identify fake journalists and lodge complaints against them to jurisdictional police. Members of public as also other affected people can send their complaints regarding fake journalists to the welfare board which shall inquire and initiate criminal action against such fake journalists because they are a menace and a threat to the civil society.
• The State shall make necessary amendments to the Accredition Rules within three months.
• The State Government is directed not to issue press stickers, ID cards and other benefits, unless the organisation or media house discloses the number of employees, salary steps, TDS details, tax paid to the government and proof that it sells certain number of copies or has certain viewership.
• The State Government/Press Council of Tamil Nadu shall not issue press ID cards or stickers to the print media, magazines, dailies unless there is proof of circulation of atleast 10,000 copies of their daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly and ID cards shall be increased or decreased proportionate to their circulation.
• After constitution of Press Council of Tamil Nadu, all journalists organizations shall be kept in the suspended animation, so that the election could be conducted for those organizations under the supervision of Press Council of Tamil Nadu, within a period of six months thereafter.
• People aggrieved by the fake news or motivated and agenda-based news could lodge complaints with the Press Council of Tamil Nadu which shall summon the news agency or media house or the reported concerned and probe the veracity of the complaints. Depending upon the finding, the Council shall have powers to order the source of the offending news item to carry a rejoinder or apology or publish the response of the de facto complainant prominently. The news agencies or media houses or journalists operating within the jurisdiction of the Council, shall be duty bound to receive and respond to the Council's summons and submit the details called for by the Council.
• The Government of Tamil Nadu shall comply with the above directions and file a compliance report within a period of four weeks, failing which the Director, Information and Public Relations Department shall appear before this Court.
The orders were passed while disposing of two writ petitions moved by S.Sekara who claimed to be a journalist. The petitioner's credentials had come into question when the matter had been taken up by the High Court. In response to the concern raised by the Court, the petitioner had produced six identity cards to prove that he was a genuine journalist.
However, the Bench had observed with anguish that one of the identity cards produced belonged to a police officer who had been suspended from service owing to his alleged involvement in an idol theft case. As a result, the Court had directed the petitioner to explain how he had come in possession of the suspended police officer's identity card.
Disposing of one of the petitions moved by the petitioner, the Bench directed retired Inspector General of Police A.G Ponn Manickavel to hand over all records of investigations pertaining to the theft of ancient idols in the State to the present head of the Idol Wing of CID so that the cases could be investigated properly.
Furthermore, passing orders in the second case, the Court directed the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) to register a case against Airavath Trust for receiving donations on social media under the pretext that it was taking steps to restore a dissolved special Division Bench of the High Court set to exclusively adjudicate upon all cases related to idol thefts.
"... We find that Airavath Trust has no role or authority to ask for any donation regarding recovery of idols and temple properties and it is only the State Government can take steps for recovery of idols and temple properties. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu already taken steps in this regard and the investigation is going on. Further various proceedings are pending before the Honourable Supreme Court in respect of the Idol Wing cases and therefore, at this juncture, it is unwarranted for the Trust to look into the issues regarding restoration and recovery of idols and temple properties", the Court observed.
The Court further directed the CB-CID to register a case to probe the authenticity of the Airavath Trust and accordingly observed,
"The 2 nd respondent is directed to register the case and investigate into the genuineness of the Airavath Trust, the object of the Trust and to look into the aspects as to whether the Trust collected any donations, if so, how much donations the Trust collected so far and who are the donors etc., and proceed with the matter in accordance with law"
The matter is slated to be heard in 6 weeks time to ensure compliance of the Court's directions.
Case Title: S Sekaran v. S.Sekaran and Ors
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment