DATE OF JUDGEMENT:
HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE N. KIRUBAKARAN
THE HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE P. VELMURUGAN
Petitioner- Mr. S. Sekaran
Respondent- Director General of Police (DGP), Tamil Nadu and Ors.
Under this judgment, the Madras High Court has directed the state authorities to make a ‘Press Council of Tamil Nadu’ (PCTN) within 3 months so as to protect the pursuits of real journalists and curb the unlawful and unethical practices by the fake journalists who blackmail industrialists, businessmen, authority officials and politicians for their profits.
- A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by petitioner, S. Sekaran, who claimed to be the Editor of a Tamil fortnightly magazine for the last ten years and a press reporter, seeking a direction for the Director General of Police (DGP), Tamil Nadu to conduct a police enquiry into the inflated investigation figures allegedly submitted by the officer of Police.
- The court during this case observed that are many fake journalists who claimed to be genuine members of the press by registering their magazines with the authorities.
- In the course of its reasoning, the Court suggested the presence of some mechanism to spot and check these journalists, impose certain parameters like- minimum circulation for magazines and newspapers and verify the credentials of the parties intimately before issuing press identity cards.
- The main target of the PIL shifted to the difficulty of identifying fake journalists and press reporters when the IGP questioned the credentials of Mr. S. Sekaran. The Government Advocate argued that this PIL was mala fide; that the petitioner wasn't a member of the press; and his magazine “Maneeda Manam” wasn't known to anybody.
- Section 499 of IPC- Defamation. Any person who, in form of words either spoken or intended to be read, signs or visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm the reputation of such person is said to have defamed that person.
- Section 500 of IPC Punishment for defamation- Simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years, or fine, or both.
- Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists- Guideline 6 and 7: General terms of accreditation and procedure of accreditation.
What can be done to curb the problem of fake journalists with mala fide intention indulging in illegal and unethical practices?
- Whenever a PIL is filed with mala fide intention without any public interest or with the motive of vengeance or blackmailing, it is liable to get dismissed. The petitioner, in the present case, filed the PIL with a mala fide motive by not being what he claims to be i.e., a press reporter. The court decided to issue certain guidelines on tackling such issue.
- The judges suggested that there should be a threshold, like a minimum circulation for magazines or newspapers, to qualify as genuine members of the press or any way to verify the credentials of the parties in detail. Many people claim to be press people by printing only a handful of copies, writing negative stories and making allegations about officials and politicians and thereafter blackmailing them.
- The Court directed the four official authorities and five new authorities including the Press Council of India, Madras Union of Journalists, Madras Reporters Guild, Chennai Press Club to answer queries related to the press industry in terms of registration, issuance of ID cards, schemes, accreditation etc.
- After due deliberations, the High Court passed certain guidelines which are summarized below-
- Formation of Press Council of Tamil Nadu with retired judge of the Supreme Court as the head and a team consisting of experienced and reputed journalists, working or retiring within 3 months.
- The Council shall comprise representatives from the journalism industry and members shall be serving journalists of high standing and government servants.
- It will be authorized to recognize press clubs and associations or unions in the state and shall prohibit formation or continuation of clubs or unions or associations based on caste, community or state boundaries.
- Period of election for each association will be fixed and any of the associations which do not conduct the election on time shall be automatically brought under the administration of Press Council of Tamil Nadu to be constituted.
- The Council should offer training or refresher programs for journalists regularly to keep journalists up to date with developments across the country and abroad.
- After constitution of the Press Council of Tamil Nadu, all journalist organizations shall be kept within the state, so that the election might be conducted for those organizations under the supervision of Press Council of Tamil Nadu, within a period of six months thereafter.
- The people aggrieved by the fake news and agenda-based news could lodge complaints with the Press Council of Tamil Nadu which shall summon the news agency.
It is evident from the media reports that a lot of people are claiming to be press reporters and are said to have been committing crimes and blackmailing business people. The image of the press of late is damaged due to the activities of the people that are claiming to be press reporters. The system has to be cleaned so that the interest of genuine journalists/press people is protected. There must be control or supervision of the so-called journalists who are indulging in illegal, unethical practice.
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