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Tharoor-led parliamentary panel recommends setting up media commission

The panel said it was not satisfied with the current system to measure the TRP

Shashi Tharoor PTI Shashi Tharoor | PTI

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor-led parliamentary standing committee on communication and information technology has recommended setting up a media commission to address the wide range of issues, considering the ever-evolving nature of the news media in the country.

The parliamentary panel looked at the ‘ethical standards in media coverage' through the various regulatory mechanism currently used to ensure fair coverage. The panel asked the Union Government to bestow utmost importance to the freedom and independence of media so that they cover news as impartially as possible without fear and favour. “It is also incumbent upon the Government to ensure the necessary legal and social framework which may encourage the media to respect and follow established values of their profession.”

There are, at present, 1,44,893 newspapers and periodicals which have been registered with Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), while 926 permitted satellite television channels (with 387 channels under news and current affairs category and 539 being under non-news and current affairs category), 36 Doordarshan channels with 2 news and 34 non-news channels, 495 All India Radio FM radio stations and 384 private FM radio stations.

The panel also looked at the suggestion made by the print media watchdog Press Council of India to bring the e-newspapers, news portals, social media and any other platform of news dissemination besides electronic media, under regulatory control. “The PCI has made recommendations to the government to enact a single legislation so as to cover all the media, in line with the Press Council Act, 1978,” the panel said, noting the PCI cannot rule on electronic channels. 

The news channels have self-regulatory mechanism but it is limited to only those channels which are member of a particular body.

“The Committee are of the firm opinion that PCI needs restructuring to cover all types of media and therefore desire that the Ministry should explore the possibility of establishing a wider Media Council encompassing not just the print media but the electronic and digital media as well, and equip it with statutory powers to enforce its orders where required. This would enable it to have a holistic view of the media scenario and take appropriate steps to check irregularities, ensure freedom of speech and professionalism, and maintain the highest ethical standards and credibility, which are so critical for the fourth pillar of democracy.”

The Tharoor-led panel recommended the media commission be created, comprising experts for wider consultations among the interested groups/ stakeholders to evolve a consensus in this regard.

The panel also asked the Union government to look into the possibility of expanding the regulatory framework to monitor e-newspapers. The committee report noted that there was a discussion over having an umbrella statute for the entire broadcasting sector covering print, electronic and online media.

Referring to instances when a punitive action is taken against the channels for allegedly inciting violence, the Committee noted that Rule 6(1)(e) of the Cable Network Rules, 2014 states that “no programme should be carried in the cable service which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote 'anti-national attitudes'.

The panel noted that the I&B ministry has justified that 'anti-national' is commonly understood as opposed to national interests or nationalism. However, the Committee said that the term ‘anti-national attitude’ used in Rule 6(1)(e) of the Cable Network Rules, 2014 may be the cause of unnecessary harassment of the private channels and therefore recommend that the term 'anti-national attitude' be properly defined to remove any ambiguity in the interpretation of the term in the prescribed code.

Talking about the system to measure the TRP, the panel said it was not satisfied with it as it drew the attention of the ministry to the recent 52 reported episodes of manipulation of TRPs by some TV channels rigging the devices used by BARC.

“The Committee also find that the present TRP system is heavily biased towards urban areas and there is a need to change the system of measurement by giving equal weightage to rural and semi-urban areas through increasing the sample size. The Committee also desire that the Ministry should study global practices adopted in the TRP system including the possibility of finding a solution to the privacy issues in the STBs through appropriate technical measures such as the use of scramblers to ensure accuracy, confidentiality and transparency within the TRP system,” the report said.

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