As we are celebrating National Press Day on 16 November in India, let’s pay our heartiest tributes to everyone who contributed to the growth of print media and also the Press Council of India (PCI), its mentor and watchdog. Moreover, it should also be an occasion for the practicing media persons to introspect over their noble profession where it has been heading in post-pandemic era.
Since its inception and functioning, the PCI continues to symbolize a free and responsible press in the largest democracy of the world. Among all press or media councils, functioning in various countries, the PCI is recognized as a unique entity that exercises authority over the media and also safeguards independence of the press.
PCI was first constituted on 4 July 1966 as an ‘autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial’ body with Justice JR Mudholkar, then a Supreme Court judge, as its chairman. Under the Press Council Act 1965, various relevant functions are being authorized for the PCI, such as helping newspapers to maintain their independence and building up a code of conduct for newspapers and journalists in accordance with high professional standards.
It was Mahatma Gandhi, who articulated the concept of self-regulation, in which press councils or similar bodies were founded and still functioning. Under this noble concept, the sole aim of journalism should be the service to humanity. Till the last century, newspapers dominated the media scenario. But the number in printed newspapers has drastically reduced in the last two years. In fact, the newspapers are struggling to survive with the rapid invasion of television channels and the most powerful digital media outlets.
Arunodoi emerged in 1846 as the first newspaper of our region. Today it witnesses the publication of a good number of morning daily newspapers in various languages. Sizable population of the region still depend on physical newspapers for necessary news content. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Guwahati supported the publication of around 30 morning dailies with hundreds of periodicals in various languages like Assamese, English, Hindi and Bengali.
Relentless corruption in the offices of proprietors and editors, with no promotional activities for the budding journalists where most of the editors maintained double identities (both as a journalist and a creative writer) for their excuses whenever there emerged a socio-political crisis and a visibly low space for the valued readers to make the editor-journalists accountable when it was necessary, etc have ruined the sacred profession.
Once the quality internet becomes available to the common people, a large number of social media users start questioning the professional journalists, for which the media persons were seemingly not ready. Rejection to social media as a nuisance by many editors simply deteriorated the situation. Even after maintaining the circulation figure lately, the newspapers could not reclaim their earlier social influence.
In the recent past, three Guwahati-based journalists were named and shammed in social media as being the beneficiaries of the multi-crore rupees scam in updation of National Register of Citizens in Assam. Luit Kumar Barman, a prominent businessman turned film maker, and Dipankar Dev Sharma, a senior journalist, have named three editor-journalists of Assamese satellite news channels in the facebook posts claiming that they had grabbed a huge amount of money which was meant for the data entry operators in the tidious process (2015 to 2019).
For now more than three weeks, the accused journalists remain silent over the allegation (as if they have gone for hibernation), even though thousands of facebook users urged them to clarify their position. Significantly, the concerned journalists, once associated with print media, were so vocal in favour of the NRC draft, even though it faced many questions from its cutoff year (1971) to inclusion of hundreds of thousand illegal infiltrators.
It is now surfaced that those journalists lavishly spent money in a city press club body polls to form a governing committee of their choice. They also misguided (lured with personal benefits) a large number of senior journalists based in the city and more amazingly they rumoured about the active support of a powerful politician in their initiative. Nonetheless, where will be the PCI, which has still no authority over news channels and digital outlets, to toil for a better media ambience!