Guwahati: India observes National Press Day on 16 November with an aim to pay tributes to everyone who contributed to the growth of print media along with its mentor & watchdog the Press Council of India (PCI). Moreover, it’s also an occasion for the practicing media persons to introspect seriously over their noble profession where it has actually been heading in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era.
Since its inception and functioning, the PCI continues to symbolize a free and responsible press in the largest democracy of the world. Among all press or media councils, functioning in various countries, the PCI is recognized as a unique entity that exercises authority over the media and also safeguards independence of the press.
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, such as helping newspapers to maintain their independence and building up a code of conduct for newspapers and journalists in accordance with high professional standards.
It was Mahatma Gandhi, who articulated the concept of self-regulation, in which press councils or similar bodies were founded and still functioning. Under this noble concept, the sole aim of journalism should be the service to humanity. Till the last century, newspapers dominated the media scenario, but lately it has witnessed a drastic fall in the circulation of printed newspapers. The newspapers are actually struggling for survival after the invasion of television channels and digital media outlets.
Arunodoi emerged in 1846 as the first newspaper in northeast India of our region. Today it witnesses the publication of a good number of morning daily newspapers in various languages. Sizable population of the region still depend on physical newspapers for necessary news content. Prior to the pandemic, Guwahati supported the publication of around 30 morning dailies with hundreds of periodicals in various languages.
But relentless corruption in the offices of proprietors and editors, with no promotional activities for the budding journalists where most of the editors maintained double identities (both as a journalist and a creative writer) for their excuses whenever there emerges a socio-political crisis and a visibly low space for the valued readers to make their points publicly when it is really necessary, etc have
steadily ruined the sacred profession.
Once the quality internet becomes available to the common people, a large number of social media users start questioning the professional journalists, for which the media persons were seemingly not ready. Rejection to social media terming it a nuisance by a number of print-editors has deteriorated the situation. Even after claiming to maintain the circulation figure, the newspaper industry can not
reclaim its earlier social influence.
In the recent past, altogether three Guwahati-based television journalists were named and shamed in social media as being beneficiaries of the multi-crore rupees scam in the updation of National Register of Citizens in Assam. Luit Kumar Barman, a businessman turned prominent filmmaker, as well as some scribes named those editor-journalists of city-based satellite news channels in their facebook posts claiming that those media personnel grabbed a huge amount of money, actually meant for thousands of data entry operators (who were engaged as part time workers in NRC Assam updation process).
For records, the accused journalists aggressively supported the draft NRC in various official appearances (reasons best known to them), even though it still faces many questions ranging from its cut-off year (1971) to inclusion of millions of illegal migrants. One accused even made a public comment that those, who support 1951 as the cut-off year to identify the infiltrators in Assam, are idiots only.
For more than a month now, the accused scribes remain silent over the allegation (as if they have gone for hibernation), even though thousands of social media users urged them to clarify their stand over the allegation. Lately senior journalist Dipankar Devsarmah in his post claimed that those scribes (formerly associated with the print media) lavishly spent money in the press club election to have a governing body of their choice. Need not to mention that the concerned electoral exercise was a visibly expensive affair for the Guwahati residents.
Even a large number of leading scribes were lured with personal benefits to manipulate the process, where a good number of city-based veteran journalists were denied their membership (so that they cannot participate in the election). Rumours were spread that a powerful politician was behind their mission. But amazingly, the accused journalists are not being supported by their beneficiary media friends at this time of crisis. Nonetheless, where is the PCI having no authority over news channels and digital outlets to enhance the overall media scenario here !