Physician heal thyself

That is the lesson we draw from Leveson episode

BL Saraf
Publish Date: Dec 12 2012 12:00PM

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