Tuesday, September 25, 2007
WOMEN JOURNALISTS CALL FOR PUBLIC DEBATE
ON BROADCAST BILL AND CONTENT CODE
The Network of Women in Media, India registers its concern about the Broadcast Bill (Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2007 and Content Code (Self-Regulation Guidelines for the Broadcasting Sector). As media professionals aware of the important role of media in society, we welcome the long-delayed effort towards media regulation, which is a feature of all mature democracies that respect the fundamental human right to freedom of expression, of which freedom of the press/media is a crucial part. The Supreme Court of India has also clearly stated that the airwaves belong to the public and that their use is to be regulated by a public authority in the interests of the public.
We are disturbed about the non-transparent and non-inclusive process of drafting the legislation, and the absence of public consultation and informed debate.
We question the claim of Minister for Information and Broadcasting Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi that only "the broadcast media" are opposed to the establishment of a broadcasting regulatory authority. Several independent and informed commentators have expressed their reservations about the Bill as well as the nature of the authority outlined in it. Many have also argued against the draft Code and for professional, ethics-based self-regulation. We urge the Ministry to place on its website the written responses it has received to the draft documents, some of which contain serious and detailed comments and recommendations.
We also question Mr Dasmunsi's assertion that, besides cable operators, "consumer groups, NGOs and women's groups," support the Ministry's efforts to regulate the media. It is incumbent upon him to make public the identity of those who participated in the discussions, ostensibly on behalf of the public. Such transparency will create a more conducive environment for the necessary open debate on media regulation in India.
Twelve years ago, the Supreme Court directed the central government to take steps to establish an independent public regulatory authority -- representative of all classes and interests in society. Unfortunately, the Broadcasting Authority of India (BRAI), as described in the Bill, cannot be seen as autonomous, considering the overarching influence of the government. We firmly believe that only a genuinely autonomous institution will have any credibility.
The NWMI holds that:
1.. The first step towards media regulation that respects and protects freedom of expression is the setting up of a properly constituted, competent and independent public authority empowered with a clear mandate and guaranteed autonomy.
2.. While we share the evidently widespread public concern about the functioning of sections of the media in recent times, we believe knee-jerk reactions to media malpractices do not bode well for media regulation in a democracy. The regulation of mass media in the public interest must maintain the necessary complex and delicate balance between the market and the state so that neither can interfere with freedom of expression and thereby prevent the media from serving the public.
3.. The draft Broadcast Bill and Content Code do not meet the standards expected of the world's most populous democracy with a long tradition of a vigorous and vibrant media playing a critical but constructive role in the polity.
We therefore call upon the I&B Ministry to issue a series of consultation papers on different aspects of media regulation and to initiate a participatory and informed public debate involving media professionals and journalists' associations, among other sections of civil society. We believe media regulation is too critical an issue to be decided upon without broad consultation.
Rajashri Dasgupta (Kolkata)
Vasanthi Hariprakash (Bangalore)
Manipadma Jena (Bhubaneswar)
Ammu Joseph (Bangalore)
Anjali Mathur (Mumbai)
Meena Menon (Mumbai)
Laxmi Murthy (Delhi/Kathmandu)
Jyoti Punwani (Mumbai)
Kalpana Sharma (Mumbai)
Charumathi Supraja (Hyderabad)
Shree Venkatram (Delhi)
On behalf of The Network of Women in Media, India
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