The confrontation between the State and the media in connection with the freedom of expression, the decline of public trust in media in the backdrop of increased unethical practices in the media sphere, and the ‘misuse’ of the press freedom on the other side, have been the subjects of sharp debate in the recent times. On the one side, there are objections from the media field that the State-controlled mechanisms are trying to suppress the fundamental right of the freedom of speech and expression in the name of media regulation, and on the other, there are allegations from the State that the media is overreaching the boundaries of Press Ethics behind the shield of the freedom of speech and expression. However, there is a visible decline in the public faith for media, which has ultimately led to serious reflections over the need to regulate the media practices. But the question unanswered is ‘who should regulate’? In a country like India where freedom of expression is the lifeblood of democratic values, State or a State-controlled mechanism regulating media – is unimaginable. If at all there is one independent mechanism supervising media practices, can it be ‘independent’ in real terms? Further, if one can rely on ‘self-regulation’ as many advocates of press freedom suggest, will it be practical?
JusticeMarkandey Katju has been repetitively pressing for more teeth for the PressCouncil of India from the day he took over as the Chairman of the PCI, which according to him is the need of the hour to remind the press its obligations towards the society. Justice Katju’s demand and observations towards the declining standards of journalism, has faced the wrath of several media entities, while it has also been appreciated and welcomed by several individuals and organizations. Interestingly, while serious discussions were on regarding these issues in India, Justice Leveson Inquiry in England submitted its report recommending an independent self-regulatory watchdog backed by a strong legislation to regulate the activities of media. Though there is no formal connection between the media scenario in India and Justice Leveson Inquiry in England, there are several issues to ponder over regarding the status of media in India and across the world. The present paper is an attempt to have certain reflections over freedom of expression and media regulation in India in the backdrop of England’s Justice Leveson Inquiry that was appointed after the closure of the ‘News of the World’ following serious allegations over unethical practices by the newspaper. The paper examines the pros and cons of adopting certain recommendations of Justice Leveson Inquiry in the Indian context. The paper suggests a possible mechanism, which can be a blend of the positive dimensions of both the Press Council of India and the Justice Leveson’s report.
Keywords: Press ethics, media regulation, freedom of expression, Press Council of India, Justice Leveson Inquiry
(The paper was presented during a UGC-sponsored National Conference on 'Media Ethics and Social Responsibility' organized by St. Joseph's College, Bangalore on 29-30 November 2013)