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How not to be a journalist

As in the case of lawyers and doctors,a formal qualification must be prescribed for journalists

Written by Markandey Katju | Published: March 25, 2013 3:58:33 am

As in the case of lawyers and doctors,a formal qualification must be prescribed for journalists

Journalists comment on everything under the sun. But when someone comments on their profession,they let loose furious fusillades flaunting the slogan,“the freedom of the media in danger”. Most condemn even the suggestion of a public debate on the issue of media regulation and responsibilities.

No one can deny my credentials as a strong supporter of media freedom wherever and whenever it was threatened. But at the same time,I have called for media responsibility. What is wrong with that? Every social activity has to be regulated,because man is by nature a social being,as Aristotle said. No freedom can be absolute,it is always subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. It follows that every profession also has to be regulated.

I am against control of the media,but am in favour of regulation. The difference between the two is that in control,there is no freedom,whereas in regulation,there is freedom subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. My suggestion for prescribing some minimum qualifications for journalists and regulating the schools of journalism has resulted in denunciations from many quarters. So let me explain my view.

Journalism is a profession. When a professional field is at an undeveloped stage,there is no need for formal training or qualifications. For instance,in Europe,up to the 18th and early 19th centuries,when medical science was still relatively undeveloped,there was no formal qualification required to become a doctor. One sat with a doctor,saw how he worked and became a doctor. But when medical science became a developed field,the need for formal training and qualification became imperative. The same is true of other professions like law,teaching,chartered accountancy etc.

It is said that one learns journalism in the field. But one learns much of the legal profession in the field,too,after one has obtained a law degree. Why then the requirement to have a law degree to become a lawyer? Why have the requirement of an MBBS degree to become a doctor? Why not just allow a person to sit with a lawyer or doctor,watch him work for a few years and become a lawyer or a doctor? The answer is that when the field has become developed there is a need for formal training where the theoretical principles and basic skills are taught. Later,when one has completed this formal course and obtained the qualification,one will no doubt learn a lot in the field.

It is true that there have been many great journalists without formal training or qualification. But they have been great in spite of this,not because of it. There must have been many journalists who remained mediocre and did not flower into great journalists because they lacked formal training.

Today,many people enter the field of journalism with little or inadequate training and this often leads to negative effects because they often do not maintain high standards of journalism. Since the media has an important influence in our lives,and since the field of journalism is now quite developed,the time has come when a formal qualification should be prescribed for those wanting to become journalists.

Regarding the view that one learns journalism only by entering in the field,senior journalist Vinod Sharma said in a recent TV discussion that nowadays,what one learns on the job is trickery,making improper compromises etc. So should one not be taught ethical principles in journalism? In the institutes and departments of journalism that have sprouted all over the country,technical and ethical skills in journalism are taught. These will no doubt be of great use when one enters the field after obtaining the qualification.

Also,this is the age of specialisation. To report on financial matters,for example,one has to have at least a rudimentary idea of finance. All this knowledge can be provided in a good school of journalism. Unfortunately many departments and institutes lack proper teaching staff,facilities and infrastructure. Hence,I have requested the committee constituted by me to give their recommendations.

This committee will study the matter in detail. Everyone is welcome to give their suggestions. The Press Council can also organise a seminar for this purpose and invite the media and others to give their views. After the committee submits its report,I will place it before the Press Council. The council may accept the report or reject it,or accept it with modifications. If the report is accepted,with or without modifications,I will send it to the Central government. If the government does not reject it,it will be sent to Parliament,which,as is the usual procedure,will send it to a select committee. The select committee,after considering it,will send its recommendations to Parliament. It will become law only when the president gives his consent.

It is evident that my suggestion is not creating a law (which indeed I have no power to create),and it will have to pass through several procedural stages before it becomes law if at all,it does. What,then,is all the hullabaloo about? Can one not even make a suggestion? It is time that mediapersons realise that I am not their enemy but their friend.

The writer,a former judge of the Supreme Court,is chairman of the Press Council of India

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