A jury of their peers

Media freedoms come with responsibilities. A stronger Press Council, composed of media professionals, would be the best regulator

The Indian Express carried a report about two television reporters, from India TV and ABP News, accused of blackmail for allegedly trying to extort Rs 20 lakh from a person by threatening to implicate him in a false case of rape ('Two television reporters accused of sting and blackmail: 'Rs 20 lakh or we air sex tape'', November 9). Earlier, Jindal Steel alleged that Zee News attempted to extort Rs 100 crore from it. There are other allegations of such practices by media personnel. Paid news is apparently a common practice. Madhu Kishwar, a senior journalist herself, said on Rajya Sabha TV that many media people are bribable and manipulable.

When I spoke of regulating the media, there was a hue and cry in a section of it, which painted me as some kind of dictator who, at the behest of the government, wanted to gag or muzzle the media and crush media freedom.

Although I have expressed my views earlier, I would like to give a comprehensive clarification.

There is no such thing as absolute freedom. In our Constitution, Article 19(1)(a), which provides for media freedom (as part of freedom of speech), is subject to Article 19(2), which states that the freedom in Article 19(1) (a) is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. Thus, there cannot be freedom to defame, incite religious riots, or extort and blackmail.

There is a difference between control and regulation. Where there is control, there is no freedom; while under regulation, there is freedom but it is subject to reasonable restrictions. I am in favour of regulation and am opposed to control. The question arises: who is to do this regulation? I am opposed to regulation by the government, but am in favour of regulation by an independent statutory authority like the Press Council of India.

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