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As India is celebrating the National Press Day on 16 November, time ripened for acknowledging the contributions made by everyone for the growth of print media along with the watchdog & mentor (Press Council of India). Since its inception & functioning, the press council continues symbolizing a free and responsible press in the largest democracy of the globe.

It would not be exaggerated if one claims that among all press or media councils functioning in various countries all over the world, Press Council of India (PCI) emerges as a unique entity that exercises an authority over the media and safeguards the independence of the press in a multi-diversed populous country like Bharat. For records, the PCI was first constituted on 4 July 1966 as an autonomous, statutory, quasi-judicial body with Justice JR Mudholkar, then a Supreme Court judge, as its chairman. Under the Press Council Act 1965, various relevant functions are being authorized for the PCI like to help newspapers to maintain their independence, to build up a code of conduct for newspapers & journalists in accordance with high professional standards etc.

More responsibilities are listed as to ensure on the part of newspapers & journalists the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both the rights & responsibilities of citizenship, to encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility & public service among all those engaged in the profession etc. Keeping vigil on developments which may tend towards monopoly or concentration of ownership of newspapers, providing facilities for the proper education & training of persons in the profession, promoting a proper functional relationship among all classes of persons engaged in the production or publication of newspapers and developing technical & other research also put in its card.

The PC Act directs that the PCI shall consist of a Chairman and 25 members. Out of the members, three are to represent two houses of Parliament, 13 from working journalist category including editors & representative from news agencies and the rest would be from various fields of education, science, literature, culture, law etc. The chairman, nominated by the Chief Justice of India, and the members of PCI normally held office for a period of three years. Till date, the PCI has been adorned by a galaxy of distinguished personalities including judges, editors, newspaper owners, journalists, media rights activists, litterateurs, educationists, lawyers etc. Justice Mudholkar was followed by Justice N Rajagopala Ayyangar, Justice AN Grover, Justice AN Sen, Justice RS Sarkaria, Justice P B Sawant , Justice Markanday Katju, Justice CK Prasad as its chair.

Among the celebrated editors, who were PCI members include Sarvshri Frank Morraes, Akshay Kumar Jain, BG Verghese, Prem Bhatia, Arun Shourie, Kuldip Nayar, Cho Ramaswamy, AN Sivaraman, Dharmvir Bharati, NK Trikha, VN Narayanan, Ramu Patel, Narla Venkateswar Rao, Nikhil Chakravorty, Raghu Rai, Mammen Mathew etc. Similarly, the council was represented by respected media personalities like Sarvshri G Narshimhan, K M Mathew, CR Irani, NB
Parulekar, AG Sheerey, AR Bhat, Narendra Tiwari, Raj Mohan Gandhi, Yadunath Thatte, Basudev Ray Chowdhury, NR Chandran, GG Mirchandani, Naresh Mohan, VB Gupta, Sarvshri Durga Das, Sailen Chatterji, Prithvis Chakravarti, K Vikram Rao, S Viswam, G N Aharya, Gour Kishore Gosh, A Raghavan, P Raman etc.

Eminent literateurs like Dr Uma Shankar Joshi, Dr Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, Prof KK Srinivasa Iyengar, Prof UR Anantha Murthy, Prof Indira Nath Choudhary etc, lawyers including Ram Jethmalani, Ranjit Mohanty, P Vishwanath Shetty, educationists Dr Alu Dastur, Dr Usha Mehta, Dr Madhuri Shah, Dr Tapas Mazumdar, Dr MV Pylee, Dr K Satchidanandan Murthy etc also graced the PCI as its members. It was India’s father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi who articulated the concept of self-regulation in which the press councils or similar bodies were founded and still functioning. Under the noble concept, the sole aim of journalism should be service to the humanity. As the newspapers possess a great power, it should be controlled from within. Irresponsible exercises of media power would always invite condemnations.

Till the last century, newspapers dominated the media scenario. Even though only 10 to 15 % Indian populace can understand and consume English, the first newspaper in the country (The Bengal Gazette) was published in that language on 29 January 1780 by James Augustus Hicky during the British rule. It was a two-page weekly newspaper, where most of the space was occupied by government advertisements. Then came the Indian Gazette in the later part of 1780 and it was followed by other newspapers like Calcutta Gazette (1784), The Bengal Journal (1785), Madras Courier (1785), Bombay Herald (1789), Bombay Courier (1789), Bombay Gazette (1791), Madras Gazette (1795), India Herald (1796), Calcutta Chronicle (1811 ), Sambad Kaumudi (1822), Mirat-ul-Akhbar (1822), Bombay Samachar (1822) etc. As regional newspapers started hitting the market, we had Arunodoi as the first newspaper in northeast India published in 1846. The alienated region today publishes over hundred morning daily newspapers in various languages. Sizable population of the region still depends on newspapers for necessary news contents. For instance, Guwahati witnesses the publication of nearly 30 morning daily newspapers in various languages like Assamese, English, Hindi, Bengali etc. The billion population nation supports over 82,000 registered newspapers with a cumulative daily circulation of 110 million. Fighting with enormous credibility and marketing crisis, the Indian newspapers continue growing to make it a Rs 3,20,000 million industry.

As India improves the literacy rate up to 75 percent, more citizens now develop the capacity to read newspapers (even in digital forums). By the end of the century, Indian media space was encroached by the television channels. Today India has over 400 privately owned free to air channels telecasting news and related contents for almost 24 hours a day. Millions of audiences in India glue to those channels for newsfeeds because of its fastness, lucidity and entertaining in nature
making it a billion rupee empire.

The growth of alternate media, as India today supports nearly 400 million smart phone users (besides hundred-thousands of computer owners), has however posed a serious threat to both print and electronic (radio and television) media. Because of extreme fastness, cheaper and participatory in temperament, the social media has turned out to be a giant entry breaking various barriers of the mainstream media.

But unfortunately, both the news channels and alternate media outlets in India are yet to be taken under the purview of PCI. Voices have been raised in different forums for enhancing PCI with the inclusion of news channels and also portals under its ambit. Moreover, the working journalists in the county expect the PCI to address their grievances like financial discrimination, safety and security. Should not the PCI needed due empowerment to look after & take care of all relevant issues.

The author is a Guwahati (northeast India) based journalist and media commentator

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