Our Bureau

Hyderabad, June 1

THE Centre's plans to set up a Media Regulatory Authority or Commission drew mixed response from the panel speakers at a National Roundtable on "Should there be a Lakshman Rekha for News Media?" here today.

While veteran journalist Mr Kuldip Nayar opposed the very idea of such an ultra regulatory authority, TV news journalist Mr Rajdeep Sardesai felt there was a need for such a body, to bring some balance in coverage, in what he described as the "Maddening competition in the media, especially TV, which was rendering it incapable of self-regulation".

Self-regulation was, by an large, the most preferred and advocated idea to make the media more focussed, relevant and play a bigger role in the country's affairs, though how it could be done found no echo at the roundtable organised by the Press Academy of Andhra Pradesh and the Centre for Media Studies, New Delhi.

Mr Ch. Ramoji Rao (Chairman - Eenadu Group); Swamy Agnivesh (Social activist); Mr M.J. Akbar (Editor-in-Chief, Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle); Prof. Shanta Sinha, Secretary, MV Foundation; and Mr K.G. Kannabiran, President, People's Union for Civil Liberties , participated in the discussion.

Inaugurating the meeting, the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr S. Jaipal Reddy, said the regulatory authority would be a quasi-judicial body. It would never scrutinise news and current affairs, but content which could be defined as objectionable. Most developed nations have such bodies.

Mr Reddy advocated that the media should be its own guardian, whatever be its limitations. The Government should not get into the affairs of the press. It should keep at a respectable distance. However, as an observer of the media, he felt the fourth estate was not able to expose the growing corruption.

Pointing out some disturbing trends, the Minister said while the reach of the media has gone up, their impact has come down. While volumes have gone up, the values have come down. Though there is a great leap in diversity of ownership, there is hardly any plurality in opinion. These are matters of serious concern not just for journalists but politicians and concerned citizens, Mr Reddy said.

The Chairman, Press Council of India, Mr Justice G.N. Ray, who was the chief guest, said the Lakshman Rekha for the media should be self-regulatory.

Concurring with the view, Mr Rao said the media should draw its own line and there was no need for any institution, agency and least the Government to do so.

He decried that the cut-throat competition, especially in the TV media to get TRPs has taken an ugly hue. Investigative journalism should have a public purpose and felt that the recent casting couch type operations were nothing but keyhole journalism devoid of any public purpose.

Mr Akbar decried the trend of trivialisation of news, the growing breed of ignorant journalists, psyche that news is on sale and felt there was a need to introspect and shore up the credibility of the media. Swami Agnivesh, while agreeing to the need for some regulation advocated a `Media Watch' Group consisting of eminent citizens concerned about the country.

The Magsaysay award winner, Prof. Shanta Sinha wanted the media to focus on the silent masses and day-to-day struggle issues that are dominant features in the country.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 2, 2005)
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