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Letters from India
Let’s Talk about Self-Reform and Financial Transparency in Media
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Indian newspapers
Guwahati: Along with the media fraternity of India, scribes of north-eastern States also start discussing if the proprietors of mainstream newspapers and satellite news channels can be compelled to make their annual balance-sheets public. Moreover, the question that arises will it be possible to ask the professional journalists to go for self-declarations about their assets so that they can question the financial integrity of individuals in other professions including the politicians in power.

The debate was prompted with the Union information & broadcasting ministry (I&B) taking initiatives to review the existing guidelines for welfare schemes meant for Indian working journalists. In other ways, the I&B ministry wants to have appropriate recommendations for the required changes on the backdrop of changing media scenarios. It believes that redefining professional guidelines for journalists, who are duly engaged with both traditional and modern/digital media outlets become necessary.

The review committee is expected to maintain the parity between the government accredited (recognized) and non-recognized scribes as the acknowledgement rules may vary from one State to another. For any reason, an accredited journalist should not be considered as an elite, because the status could be altered abruptly with the change of professional portfolios in the media houses.

Headed by renowned journalist Ashok Kumar Tandon, the committee comprises senior scribes namely Sachidanand Murthy, Shekhar Aiyar, Amitabh Sinha, Shishir Kumar Sinha, Ravinder Kumar, Hitesh Shankar, Smriti K Ramachandran, Amit Kumar, Vasudha Venugopal along with Kanchan Prasad from Press Information Bureau as its members.

According to the government institution Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), the largest democracy on Earth with one billion-plus population supports over 1,15,000 registered publications with more than 17,500 in the newspaper category. Those are published in different languages including English, Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannadi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Odia, Assamese, Manipuri, Bodo, Khasi, Mizo, etc.

It has over 1,600 satellite television channels including local cable networks where more than 400 are hardcore news related outlets. At the same time, over 400 million Indians use social media in different categories. Lately many professional journalists have abandoned the mainstream media (where many of them were sacked by the management) and joined the digital platforms including the newly designed radio stations to exercise the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

Prior to the debate, north-eastern scribes brain-stormed over the recent concern expressed by Madras High Court in a directive to Tamil Nadu government to constitute a press council so that the menace of fake news/journalists could be legally addressed. The higher court ordered the State government to form ‘Press Council of Tamil Nadu’ within a specific period to eliminate the bogus journalists from the media fraternity.

The court observed that it has become a common sight these days to find posh cars with ‘Press’ stickers on the front windshield being driven by unscrupulous fraudsters masquerading as working journalists. There have been quite a number of instances of such fraudsters being booked by the police. Politicians, land sharks, smugglers and even murderers have been seen to be hand in glove with these journalists.

The State directorate of information and public relations is aware of this, but the officials turn a blind eye, to avoid any wrath in the hands of those fake journalists. This needs to be stopped to ensure that journalism remains clean and strong. In view of the above position, necessary directions have to be issued to clean up the media in the interest of the public, added the court observation.

The court even asked the government to avoid allocating any house or grant directly to any applicant journalists unless it is routed through the council to be constituted, which after due diligence can issue such benefits. It shall prohibit conduct of State conferences or meetings by journalist’s associations without permission or approval from the council, which shall get details on the source of income and other relevant details before giving permission to them.

The common people aggrieved by the fake news or motivated and agenda-based news can send their complaints on fake journalists to the welfare board, which shall inquire and initiate criminal action against such scribes as they are simply a menace and threat to the society. The council is proposed to have the power to direct the carrier of offending news items for a rejoinder or an apology urgently.

Mentionable is that an active forum of journalists of the north-eastern region recently opined that the media persons across the country should introspect over the situation focusing on the Chennai court observations. Journalists’ Forum Assam (JFA), in a recent statement, also urged the mainstream media houses to reveal their financial balance-sheets describing how much money they spent annually for the benefits of their own employees including the working journalists.

It becomes necessary as many media house-owners allegedly syphon money from the gross collection for the organization and invest in different ventures. The practice only harms the financial health of the particular media group,which is later put by the management as an argument not to increase the salaries and other benefits to their employees. The JFA however made it clear that it has absolutely no interest over the manner how the media managements spend the net profits (as it their prerogatives).

The forum also pointed out that the so-called glamourous and highly paid editor- journalists should think of disclosing their assets (along with liabilities) as well to establish their integrity first in an exemplary manner, because they often demand transparency from the employees in other sectors. After all, an urgent necessity has arisen to address the eroding goodwill to the media fraternity from its valued readers, listeners and viewers, before it’s too late.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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