National Press Day: Long Live Honest Journalism

Even though the Indian media fraternity observes National Press Day on 16 November commemorating the day since when the Press Council of India (PCI) starts functioning, it’s unfortunate that the quasi-judicial body still has no authority over news channels and digital media outlets. While rich tributes are paid to everyone who contributed to the growth of print media and also its mentor & watchdog (PCI), it should be an occasion for the practicing media persons to introspect seriously over their noble profession, where it has actually been heading in the post-Covid-19 era.

Since its inception and functioning, the PCI continues to symbolize a free and responsible press in the largest democracy of the world. Among all press or media councils, functioning in various countries, the PCI is recognized as a unique entity that exercises authority over the media and also safeguards independence of the press. Under the Press Council Act 1965, various relevant functions such as helping newspapers to maintain their independence and building up a code of conduct for newspapers and journalists in accordance with high professional standards are being authorized for the PCI. Undoubtedly, the sole aim of journalism should be the service to humanity. Till the last century, newspapers dominated the media scenario, but lately it has witnessed a drastic fall in the circulation of printed newspapers. The newspaper industry is actually struggling for survival after the invasion of satellite television channels and digital outlets.

Since the days of Arunodoi (1846), northeast India has witnessed the publication of a good number of morning dailies in various languages. Prior to the pandemic, Guwahati supported the publication of around 30 dailies with hundreds of periodicals. But the endless corruption among many editors and a visibly low space for the valued readers/audience/viewers to make their official points even in need have steadily ruined the sacred profession.

Once the quality internet becomes available to the common people, a large number of social media users start questioning the professional journalists and the professional media persons were seemingly not ready for that. Rejection to social media terming it a nuisance by a number of print-editors has also deteriorated the situation. In the recent past, altogether three Guwahati-based television journalists (who started careers as print journalists) were named and shamed in social media as being beneficiaries of the National Register of Citizens updation scam in Assam scam.

At least one prominent filmmaker identified a television talk show host in his facebook post that the scribe had grabbed a huge amount of money which was due for the temporary workers (data entry operators) in the process. The accused television journalist aggressively supported the draft NRC in various official appearances (reasons best known to him), even though it still faces many pertinent questions ranging from its cut-off year (1971) to inclusion of millions of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. In a public comment, the tainted scribe even compared those who support 1951 as the cut-off year to identify the infiltrators in Assam (as it is done across the country) as idiots.

Lately a senior print journalist in his post claimed that the accused scribe even spent money in the local press club election to get an executive committee of his choice. Need not to mention that the concerned electoral exercise was a visible expensive affair to the common city residents as well. A large number of leading print journalists were denied their membership, so that they could not participate in the election, neither as candidates nor voters. Rumours were spread that a powerful politician was behind their mission, which turned false later.

In both cases, when thousands of alternate media users accused the journalist and press club authority of corruption and mismanagement, they remained silent. Months back, a list of beneficiaries from the coal mafia went viral in social media where some journalists and press associations were named. Amazingly, they did not make any response. PCI should have intervened in all those matters for the sack of India’s media fraternity, but it has limited authority. Thus, existence of the statutory body has been denied by those dishonest media persons. What more we are waiting for!