For a free, responsible press

Print edition : September 01, 2001
Interview with Justice K. Jayachandra Reddy.

Justice K. Jayachandra Reddy took over as the Chairman of the Press Council of India on August 17. He started his career as a lawyer in the Madras and Andhra Pradesh High Courts. He was elevated to the Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1975 and appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court in 1990. During his stint as the Chairman of the National Law Commission during 1995-1997, he studied the criminal justice delivery system, which he characterised as "cruel". There was a heavy backlog of cases and there were instances of even suspects spending long periods in jail. "The public is losing faith in the system," he said and added that he tried to bring about a change in it. Under him, the Commission suggested changes to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. It also recommended the establishment of civil and criminal investigating agencies that are independent of law-enforcing agencies. In 1999, Jayachandra Reddy was appointed member of the experts' group constituted by the United Nations to evaluate the functioning of the international criminal tribunals on Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

RAJEEV BHATT

In an interview to S.K. Pande minutes after assuming office, 72-year-old Jayachandra Reddy gave a brief idea about his perception of the role of the press and the Press Council. Excerpts:

What are your plans for the Press Council?

It is too early for me to suggest any improvements. The previous Chairmen have done their best and done a great deal. The freedom of the press has to be respected and professional standards must be maintained.

What would you say about the smutty depiction of women in a section of the media?

I generally agree with you that this has become a trend. It is against the grain of our culture and something should be done.

Attacks on the press are increasing. Recently journalists were attacked by the police in Chennai and the Council is inquiring into the incident. Often journalists doing investigative reports are targeted. Is not there a pattern in such attacks? Also, is not there a case for introducing risk insurance cover for journalists?

I was shocked to read press reports on what had happened in Chennai. It is not only in the recent past. There were such attacks earlier too. It is necessary to do something. We believe in a welfare state and journalists perform an important function. Some support has to be there not only for journalists but for their helpless family members in case they are killed.

The media have been highly commercialised. Missionary zeal seems to have given way to profit motives. Some have termed it the new media bazaar.

I don't want to use the word 'media bazaar' but a public institution like the press should not be there just to make profits alone. There is, however, a need to keep in mind newspaper economics too.

The situation has changed since the Second Press Commission gave its reports. Is it not time for a new Commission?

So much has happened. Perhaps yes, there could be one.

Some people have suggested that the Press Council be expanded by bringing the electronic media within its purview and be called the Media Council. Others have suggested the creation of separate councils for the print and electronic media.

The matter will have to be studied in detail.

Past Chairmen of the Council and others have suggested that the Council be given more powers.

It is an important issue. When established norms are not followed (by the media) and the Council's recommendations cannot be put into effect, the very purpose of the Council is defeated. As in the case of the Human Rights Commission, something will have to be done. Perhaps an amendment to the law will be necessary.

What is the role of the press?

I believe that the media have a very vital role in a democracy, especially in a developing country like ours. It should be a free press but it is very important that it should mould public opinion in the right direction, keeping in view national integrity. India is a develveloping country. The Council has to see that the newspapers have a high standard and play a public service role. Press freedom has to be preserved but the press has to be responsible too.

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