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No easy answers

No easy answers
Highlights

No easy answers, As a youth, Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley used to contribute to All India Radio’s “Yuva Vani” programmes.

As a youth, Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley used to contribute to All India Radio’s “Yuva Vani” programmes. One may expect a ‘professional’ approach when he deals with media and its many vexed issues. A major transformation may be in the offing if he and his government push it diligently, and without ideological bias.


The intentions seem good, going by what he said last Sunday in his first justice J S Verma Memorial Lecture. The theme “Media freedom and responsibility” itself indicated balancing that is sorely needed. For, Article 19(1) (A) of the Constitution that he quoted (and everyone doers) also has a clause that prescribes “reasonable restrictions.”

Balancing is needed also in the way the government, as he admits himself, cannot be seen as curbing freedom of expression in the present times. He has ruled out interference and censorship. But for that, we shall taste the proverbial pudding first.

Under his charge the government may regulate the ‘live’ coverage of terror-related violence. This is needed after the experience of Mumbai terror attacks when TV channels’ coverage in 2008 helped the terrorists, directly at the cost of the authorities battling them. That the issue has hung fire for seven years is unflattering to both the successive government and the TV channels, the latter failing to arrive at a code of action on their own.

Jaitley’s opposition to the 12 per cent advertisement cap stipulated for TV news channels by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is bound to be applauded by the TV channels. It means more ad revenue for them. They are already seen flouting the rule from the way “return in two minutes” starts long after the ads begin appearing.

Jaitley’s proposal is good in principle. But who is going to lessen the discomfiture of the TV viewers who are subjected to long ‘ad-lashing’? Jaitley has rightly stressed the need to respect privacy of individuals figuring in the media. “Relation between husband and wife must be carefully reported. Parallel media trial must be avoided. High profile cases where media supposes guilt before trial must end. Media must not impact court trials," he said, raising a sensitive issue for which there is no easy answer and the solution may lie, willy-nilly, only in government regulation.

Critics and those affected, see media as “operating above law.” Himself a lawyer, Jaitley referred to sub judice matters, asking media to introspect if the law can be given a go by. Despite his well-intentioned stand on these issues, the fact remains that authorities everywhere and governments and politician of all hues try to ‘manage’ media. Jaitley’s government is unlikely to be an exception.

Call them ‘reforms’ or ‘regulations’, they are best formulated and exercised, honestly and diligently, by media itself.

How the media in general responds and response in particular from the TV channels, whose guild, News Broadcasters’ Association hosted Jaitley’s lecture, remains to be seen.

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