Press Council is toothless, how can it bite without strong teeth?

National Press Day has been celebrated under the auspices of the Press Council of India on the 16th of November every year since 1995 when it was decided to celebrate it on the day when the Press Council was enacted by the Parliament. It may be mentioned here that the first Press Commission was constituted on 23rd September 1952 to study the state of affairs of the Press under the Chairmanship of Justice G S Rajyadhyaksha. Many eminent persons from different streams were its members. It was set up to secure freedom of speech and expression, to curb yellow journalism, sensationalism, malicious attacks on public men, indecency and vulgarity, bias in the presentation of news and lack of responsibility in comment, to inquire about the control, management and ownership, the financial structure as well as other important aspects of the newspaper industry in the country.
It submitted its report on 14th July 1954. It made two very important recommendations; one was the enactment of the Working Journalist Act and the other was for the statutory Press Council of India. The Working Journalist Act was enacted in 1955 within a few months of the submission of the Press Commission’s report but the Press Council of India came into existence on 16th November 1966. In those days only the Print medium was in existence. In the name of electronic medium, the government controlled Akashvani was there but that had nothing to do either with the Working Journalist Act or with the Press Council of India. There was no freedom for Akahvani, it had and even now it has to work as per the policies framed by the government
To cut a long story short in this year’s celebration of National Press Day, the Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar was the guest of honour, who exhorted the Press Council by saying that it was not ‘the time to show teeth but a time to bite against those spreading the fake and false news. And the bite must be strong because those who are serving with high ethical standards must be encouraged only by those not doing so being visited with exemplary consequences.’
Dhankhar also said that it was the moral duty of the media to tell the truth, nothing but the truth. He cited a recent incident about a newspaper in Telangana publishing that the V-P’s Twitter handle carries a fake photograph of a parliamentary committee. He also cited another incident from the past, when as Governor of West Bengal, he suffered when a senior journalist alleged, he was summoning the Chief Minister of West Bengal to Raj Bhavan every day.
What is, however, very surprising is that Dhankhar is asking the Press Council not to show its teeth but to bite strongly. It appears that he is blissfully ignorant about the fact that the Press Council of India is a toothless tiger. It has no teeth at all. It can only put moral pressure on the newspapers by either, warning, reprimanding or censuring the erring newspapers or journalists. It has no powers beyond that. It may be stated here that yours truly was also a member of the Press Council for two consecutive terms i.e., for six years. He and his organisation Indian Federation of Working Journalist (IFWJ) has been demanding a complete overhauling of the Press Council of India.
The first thing that needs to be done is that the Press Council should be converted into the Media Council by the Parliament of Bharat by bringing all genres of media that are Print, Electronic, Web, Digital and social media into its ambit. Then it would be in a position to take note of the errors of all types of media. The second most important thing is that it should have enough powers to take stringent action against the erring defaulters otherwise nobody will care even two hoots for its directions/ orders/ suggestions.
The other thing that should be done is to have eminent journalists, trade unionists, literature and law apart from Members of Parliament and other social activists of honesty and credibility in the Press Council. But at present there is hardly any important journalist, who is a member of the Press Council.
The biggest crisis that the country is facing today is that of the credibility of media and this can be restored only when the Media Council possesses some powers. It should not only have the teeth to show but strong enough to bite the errants. Today the biggest problem comes from social media, which often indulges in deep fakery with the help of new technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The crisis of credibility is more because, social media, operates without any gatekeepers. The expression ‘fake news’ has never been heard so loudly before as it is these days and social media is the main sinner.