No point if PCI cannot help journalists, improve press standards, says BR Gupta after quitting it

PCI member BR Gupta has resigned from the council, saying that even though the media was going through a crisis, the council was not in a position to help them

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media

Ashlin Mathew

Press Council of India (PCI) member BR Gupta has resigned from the council, saying that even though the media was going through a crisis, the council was not in a position to help them.

Gupta is head of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Banaras Hindu University and was appointed to the PCI for a three-year term on May 30, 2018. The PCI chairman Justice CK Prasad has not yet accepted Gupta’s resignation.

“The media is going through a crisis and this is known to every journalist. We are not in a position to help the media come out from the crisis. This is one of the basis reasons that I have resigned,” said Gupta.

The Press Council of India was formed in 1966 with the aim of preserving the freedom of the press and maintaining and improving the standards of press in the country. It is a statutory, quasi-judicial authority functioning as a watchdog of the press and adjudicatescomplaints against and by the press for violation of ethics and for violation of the freedom of the press respectively

“There are problems related to media’s professional standards and press freedom. If the Press Council cannot help them, if you are unable to maintain the quality and standard of journalism, unable to restore press freedom when the media is in deep crisis, what is the point of being there? This is the only forum available. I agree this does not represent all media, but only print media, even then we are not able to do something good; so what is the point of being there? Just to go and collect allowances and come back? So, I decided if I cannot do anything for the betterment of the media, it is better to quit. That is why I tendered the resignation,” added Gupta.

The PCI can at least recommend and suggest measures, argued Gupta, while acknowledging that the council cannot function in vacuum. “If you ask someone to make good quality food, we have to provide them with materials to be able to make good food. So, to maintain good journalism, what is the planning and processes you have put in place? We just sit to look at a few complaints and then come out. The objective of setting up the council was different,” pointed out Gupta.

The Constitution guarantees citizens liberty and the press must aspire to give this liberty to the citizens. “When we are not discharging our duty to that end because we are pressurised, it means that there is something wrong with us – either the media or the controlling body or the system. We are in a crisis. There was no personal enmity. I am not doing justice to my job. May 30 is celebrated as Hindi Journalism day, and it made me think about when will we bring justice? Who will journalists go and tell their stories to? We write about people who are more affected than us,” explained Gupta.

He said that he was questioning himself and everyone as to how to emerge out of this crisis. He believes that eventually everyone will run to the court, but Gupta did not think that is viable for everyone either. “When press freedom is questioned, they go to court; when papers are shutdown, people go to court; when wages are not paid, they go to court. Democracy depending on a court is problematic. This is a crisis of different proportions,” added Gupta.

Speaking about the Press Council of India, former member and journalist Paranjoy GuhaThakurta said, “It’s no surprise that BR Gupta has resigned.Though it is a quasi-judicial body set up by an act of Parliament, it has no powers to punish anyone or levy a fine. At best you can say that it has moral weight. Currently, it seems that the Chairman has virtually abdicated the Council’s responsibility to uphold the rights of journalists and stand up for journalists.”

Thakurta pointed to instances when the chairperson suo moto intervened in Arnab Goswami’s case, but when there was a request to send a fact-finding team to Kashmir, the Chairperson took his time. He has not intervened when it came to other journalistseither. “The bias of the PCI has become blatant and obvious to everyone. No longer does it have a Chairperson like Justice Sawant, who did not hesitate to criticise owners of newspapers or journalists who were not truthful,” highlighted Thakurta.

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