In a recent television interview, chairman of the Press Council of India and former Supreme Court Justice, Markandey Katju, censured Indian journalists for their incompetency and lack of knowledge of major or commonly reported about disciplines such as Political Science, Economics, Science, etc.
In a press note that was recently issued, Katju stated that since there is no minimum qualification to enter the field of journalism, “very often persons with little or inadequate training in journalism enter the profession, and this often leads to negative effects, because such untrained persons often do not maintain high standards of journalism.”
In regard to this, he has proposed a three-member commmittee to look into the matter of poor journalistic standards in the country and submit a report to him with suggestions on minimum qualification that a person would need to achieve to become a journalist. The committte comprises Shravan Garg and Rajeev Sabade, members of the Press Council of India, and Ujwala Barve who is an associate professor of journalism at Pune University. The said report will then be tabled before the Press Council for approval, and later sent over to the Parliament to be debated over. Consequently, several media professionals have expressed their disapproval of Katju’s contention.
Katju is right in pointing out the low standards in Indian journalism, but is the solution to the problem a license? He stated the examples of Law, Medicine and Teaching as the fields that require a subject-specific qualification and have a body that issues licenses to the ones who meet the standards. On similar lines, Katju has argued for a license system in journalism, stating that journalism has become a full-fledged profession. But journalism is different from the professions of medicine or law. Medicine and Law are disciplines that require in-dept knowledge, subject-related skills and understanding and a satisfactory completion of an academic study in order to practice.
Katju’s argument for a legal qualification in journalism raises the question of what it is that journalism requires. Most media houses require a journalist to have a minimum educational qualification such as a graduate degree as an evidence of the person being intellectually capable. Apart from this minimum qualification, the profession requires personal attributes such as news-sense, enthusiasm, analytical ability, imagination, etc. How will a license ensure these attributes? Moreover, unlike Medicine or Law, journalism or freedom of press is implied from the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Indian constitution. Freedom of press, like any other form of speech and expression, is subjected to restrictions under Article 19(2). Thus, any further license to regulate that freedom would be a violation of a person’s fundamental right.
Also, wouldn’t a legal qualification or a license put a journalist at the mercy of the establishment? Wouldn’t any anti-establishment story be manipulated to be termed as professional misconduct leading to a cancellation of the journalist’s license?
According to the Registrar of Newspapers in India, there are 86,754 registered newspapers as of March 31, 2012. Let us suppose that getting a license is made mandatory to enter journalism, how would one ensure that they meet the minimum standards? Are there enough journalism schools in the country to train people to become the kind of journalists Justice Katju believes are ideal? What are the standards of these journalism schools in India? Also, what about the media houses who are inclined towards one political party or the other? How often are their selection processes more about merit, ethics and attributes of the journalist and less about personal connections? Would licenses be also applicable to columnists who state their opinions − whether biased or unbiased?
The definition of journalism is expanding with time. It has grown to include citizen journalism wherein private individuals in society collect, report or expose certain information. Will a citizen now be required to get him/herself a minimum qualification to disseminate information?
A license-raj in journalism would hamper the efforts of grassroot journalism as practised by many. One such example is that of Khabar Lahariya, a local language weekly in Uttar Pradesh, brought out by the collective journalistic works of rural women. Grassroot journalists, RTI activists and human rights activists are the new breed of journalists who provide scoops and expose people and scandals more than big media corporations do. These ‘journalists’ do not necessarily hold even a graduate degree.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick