In England, News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of illegal interception of phone messages. During investigation it was revealed the reporters of this News Paper had hacked the voicemail of murdered Milly Dowler. On 13th July, 2011 Prime Minister, David Cameron ordered a public inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Leveson to address - as Part 1, “the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including contacts between the press and politicians and the press and the police; it is to consider the extent to which the current regulatory regime has failed and whether there has been a failure to act upon any previous warnings about media misconduct .” Justice Leveson published his report on November 29, 2012; describing British Journalist’s behaviour as `reckless' and `outrageous' and recommended a new `genuinely' independent `regulatory body' under pinned by legislation to prevent another News of the Word kind hacking scandal.
The findings evoked mixed reactions among the British politicians and media persons across the globe. Cameron welcomed many of Leveson’s findings, but has serious concerns regarding the prospect of implementing the changes with legislation. Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition called for full implementation of the report. Deputy P M NickClegg of Liberal Democrats agreed that changes in law were necessary. Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour Party called for statutory regulations of the press and said, `it would be insanity to allow the press to be able to regulate itself'.
Looking around the world, the media these days thinks bad news is good and it is important to be first with the news. So, facts become causality. The journalists take sides conveniently. We had embedded reporters in US - Iraq war, traveling with U S troops to give their version of the events. In India position is no good. Allegations of misdemeanour in the form of `paid news' and ‘extortion’ have surfaced against the media. In Neera Radia tapes disclosure a TV anchor and some senior journalists were heard lobbying for somebody with the high ups in the central government. Recent T V Channel editors and a business man sting episode is another example. Surely, it is not a new phenomenon that journalist get easily co-opted by the powerful, or, surrender meekly before them. During Emergency, with few honourable exceptions, most of the media persons `when asked to bend chose to crawl'. We witness a strange spectacle. One English TV Chanel anchor on every night assumes a role of `National Inquisitor' and orders his panelists to answer him in ‘yes' or ‘No’. Nobody knows on what journalistic authority he assumes ‘National Duty' to hold a `court' and pronounce people guilty. Newspaper has become a product. Catchy advertisements adorn the front pages of the newspapers while as news is relegated to the hinterland.
Here, too, a campaign to stem the rot is under way. Ways to do it are being explored. In this regard, Leveson reports could have a lesson. However, there are divergent views on the press regulation. Former Chief Justice of India, J.S Verma who heads the News Broadcasting Standard Authority ( a self – regulating body on broadcasting ) is against the government regulation of media; though admits that after Radia tapes disclosure there are no holy cows in the media anymore. While as, Press Council Chairman Justice Markandey Katju feels there is no such thing as self – regulation of the press and there should be a statutory media council, like Bar Council and Medical Council, to regulate the press and TV. Politicians cannot be expected to do anything in this regard. They can’t afford to displease the press. They survive on the media for their makeup. It carries what they want and keeps their certain things out of the public domain.
Who will cure the malaise? Could it be - what Harriet Harman calls ‘insanity' of press regulating itself ? Or, go by Therese Coffey, a conservative MP that there should be no interference of the activities of the media. Some feel it will be difficult to draft a legislation for an independent press regulator. The matter is indeed a ticklish one, in as much as we see two highly venerated former Judges of the Apex Court having divergent views. Whatever one may say, there is a need to have an independent press regulator with sufficient powers. Let media industry come up with a solution. For long, press has been administering medicine to all whom it considered ‘ill’ .It is time to tell press - physician heal thyself .
(B L Saraf is Former, Pr District & Sessions Judge. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)