I & B Minister revives debate on journalist qualifications

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MANISHNew Delhi, August 19; Five months after Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Markandey Katju set up a committee to determine minimum qualifications for a journalist, Minister for Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Manish Tewari has revived the issue by suggesting a ‘common examination’ for journalists, who would then be required to have ‘licences’ to practice the profession.

Speaking at a symposium on media education here on Monday, Mr. Tewari said rather than having a standard curriculum, media could consider a ‘common examination for journalists.’ Journalists, like lawyers and doctors, could be required to have a licence to practice their profession.

Mr. Tewari recognised that journalism ‘drew to itself people from different fields, with specialisations like a doctorate in economics or international relations,’ and flagged the question, “Would it be fair to subject them to another exam?” Answering it himself, he said, “I think they will not resent it. It will lead to a certain degree of standardisation.”

When reminded that similar proposals had been criticised by media personnel in the past, and asked whether the essence of the media was to have diversity or standardization, Mr Tewari said: “Look, a suggestion has come into the public space. Have a considered debate on it, weigh its pros and cons. There is often a tendency to issue immediate reactions. There is no reason to treat anyone – be it the government or Justice Katju – as adversaries. We will not do anything that is not acceptable to stakeholders.” This, he clarified, was not an official proposal and was motivated by a desire to lift standards in the industry.

Justice Katju set up the panel in March to suggest qualifications for journalists and measures to regulate institutions and departments of journalism. When The Hindu contacted committee convener and PCI member Shravan Garg to enquire about the progress, he said they had met ‘once or twice.’

“We have not been able to do much work. Press Council has asked different stakeholders for views and we will then meet again.” He refused to give a time line regarding when the report would be submitted.

Mr. Tewari made his comments in the context of the divergence in the quality of media education imparted in the country, with many ‘fly-by-night operators.’ But he devoted a large part of his speech to the ‘systemic issues’ across the media landscape – the global crisis in the print media, the fragmentation of the market in the broadcasting sector and its flawed ad-dependent revenue models, and the emergence of new media. “There is no difficulty in the quality of journalists, or even proprietors, many of whom have behaved honourably. The difficulty is in structural issues which have not been addressed.”

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