K.K Birla v. Press Council of India

The study will outline the evolution of the press in the nation in connection with the national emergency which was imposed in 1975, where the press is the fourth pillar of the democracy was censored leading to the failure of a democratic rule. The study runs in parity to highlight how the prominent leaders of the nation came in, K.K BIRLA,  the chairman of the national daily, “The Hindustan Times” played a despotic rule to bring about a revolution in Indian Media and press.

Introduction

 In a democracy, the media wields significant power. Even though the media is not directly part of the political system, it has the ability to influence public opinion, to frame the issues of the day and to challenge the policies of the government. Indian Courts have described the freedom of the press as an ‘Ark of the Covenant’ in every democracy2. The freedom of the press/mass media is derived from the fundamental right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. The Press Council of India – was established in 1966 for the twin purposes of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India. The present Council functions under the Press Council Act, 1978.

Historical Analysis: Press council of India (Respondent)

Press Council is a mechanism for the Press to regulate itself. Press in order to function effectively as the watchdog of public interest, it should secure freedom of speech, expression, unfettered and unhindered by any authority. Thus in order to allow efficient and effective working The Press Council of India was first constituted on 4th  July 1966 as an autonomous statutory, quasi-judicial body with Justice J.R Mudholkar as a chairman. The press council Act 1965, listed the following functions of the council in furtherance of its object:

  1. To help newspapers to maintain their independence.
  2. To build up a code of conduct for newspapers and journalists in accordance with high professional standards.
  3. To ensure the part of newspapers and journalists the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
  4. To encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism.
  5. To keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance.

General Power of the Council

  1. Under  Civil procedure Code (1908):
  2. Summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and examining them on oath.
  3. Requiring the discovery and inspection of documents.
  4.  Receiving evidence on affidavits.
  5. Requisitioning any public record or copies thereof from any court or office.
  6.  Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents.
  7.  Any other matter which may be prescribed.
  8.  Nothing in Sub-Section (1) shall be deemed to compel any newspaper news agency editor or journalist to disclose the source of any news or information published by that newspaper or received or reported be that news agency editor or journalist.
  9. Every inquiry held by the council shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).

Limitations on the power of the press council of India.

  1. The PCI has limited powers of enforcing the guidelines issued. It cannot penalize newspapers, news agencies, editors, and journalists for violation of the guidelines.
  2. The PCI only overviews the functioning of print media. That is, it can enforce standards upon newspapers, journals, magazines and other forms of print media.
  3. It does not have the power to review the functioning of electronic media like radio, television and internet media.

Political Scenario

The Indira government enacted laws curbing the right of journalists and limiting the scope of Press reports in all possible ways. The scope was further restricted by the standpoint taken by a majority of proprietors, owners and editors. After the initial resentment and protest against the Emergency and the government, the majority of media fell in line and followed the government approach. Fortunately, a few took a different outlook and resorted to protest and dissent but they were a drop in the ocean. While the government’s illegal and unethical stand has been severely criticized the world over and Indira  Gandhi, her son, Sanjay and her sycophants who supported the Gandhis castigated, there are not many encouraging things to be said about the print media either. It was independent of government control at the time of the proclamation of Emergency but did precious little to maintain its journalistic standards and preserve its moral ground. The subsequent government of Morarji Desai had a liberal outlook towards the Press and the Indian Press regained its vigor and role. But governments and government heads cannot be entrusted with media freedom or ethics. Both of them have to be nurtured and preserved by media themselves otherwise there would be a perpetual threat to its free functioning. After Indira Gandhi came back to power in 1980 she indicated more than once her dislike for the way in which the National Press operated. On January 15, the day after taking office, Mrs. Gandhi advised the Press to be more objective and exercise self-restraint.  

K.K Birla (Petitioner) Vs. Press Council of India (Respondent)

An infamous case of 1975 where a famous Indian Industrialists and the Owner of the famous newspaper Hindustan times without understanding “ Freedom of Press” and “ Editors Freedom” terminated the service of the senior editor, Mr. B.G Verghese, without any reason.

 Issues

  1. Defining Section 12(2) (a) and (e) Of press council India.
  2. Defining the meaning and the scope of the term freedom of press, Independence of newspaper and Independence of the editor of the newspaper.

Argument on Behalf of Petitioner

  1. Section 12 is intended, to help newspapers only if there is an encroachment on the freedom of the newspapers from Government or public authorities and this complaint comes under the Industrial Dispute Act. Thus, PCI has no power to interfere or adjudicate under the provision to Section 12 (2) of the Act. He also alleged that the journalist and the editors as they are involved in the controversy can’t vote or make decisions as it would result in biasedness.

Argument on Behalf of Respondent

  1. The power to require any newspaper to publish the particulars of the inquiry, and the elaborate procedure set down in the regulations for the hearing of the complaints, all lead to the conclusion that the Press Council has to act quasi-judicially.
  2. The editor who is been working scrupulously and faithfully pursued the policy described in the Memorandum of Association of Hindustan Times Ltd. and even brought prestigious to the Newspaper should be paid 6-month salary and gratuity by the owner after giving a valid reason for terminating his service.
  3. The last circumstance which has been pointed out is that the affidavit of the Secretary clearly shows that the real fight was between the petitioner and the PCI and not between the petitioner and complainants.

Judgment

 Delhi High Court observed PCI is a quasi-judicial body and can take decisions if any miss happening or irrelevant discussion is taken on behalf of freedom of the press be it be the state, the government of any individual body. The concept of freedom of Press mentioned in Section 12 of the Act in addition to is being a fundamental right is made, a statutory right with statutory machinery to preserve it. Whenever there is infringement or impingement of the freedom of the press and independence of the newspaper, irrespective of the source of the threat, the jurisdiction of the Press Council is attracted. If there is a violation of the right to the liberty of the Press be that by the State, State functionary, Public Authority, companies, individual or any person real or fictional it will give jurisdiction to the Press Council to pronounce on the impropriety of the action complained of. The Press Council has the responsibility of fostering the development of the Press protecting it from external pressure, irrespective of the source or origin of the pressure.

Conclusion

In today’s world, we say that media has full control and the editor is said to the gatekeeper of the newspaper. But we are not aware that due to beneficial how are they been exploited. There are cases where the owner/ proprietors have the only control over the newspaper. They use them as their mouthpiece, they force the editor to write accordingly or else they are exploited in the way such as they have to leave their post or even their job, this however is defaming or disregarding them. Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru while defending Press freedom, warning of the danger its irresponsible exercise entails stressed: ” If there is no responsibility and no obligation attached to it, freedom gradually Withers away. This is true of a nation’s freedom and it applies as much to the Press as to any other group, organization or individual.”

Questions

1. Who was the chairman of the Hindustan Times?

K.K Birla was the chairman of the Hindustan Times.

2. Does the Cases Outside the jurisdiction of the Press Council of India Come under the Industrial Dispute Act?

No, the Press Council of India being the Quasi-Judicial body even the cases outside the jurisdiction are covered under the Act.

3. What are the limitations of the PCI?

The only overview views the functioning of the Print Media, cannot penalize the print media, cannot overview the functioning of electronic media.

4. When was the first press council of India constituted?

4th July 1966

5. Who was the senior editor that was fired by the chairman of Hindustan times?

Mr. B.G Verghese.

References

  1. https://www.slideshare.net/mimichanda/press-council-of-india-53773164
  2. https://mib.gov.in/acts/press-council-act-1978
  3. https://thewire.in/history/emergency-free-press
  4. http://presscouncil.nic.in/OldWebsite/history.htm
  5. file:///C:/Users/Akshat%20Tripathi/Downloads/A4.pdf
  6. https://indianjournalismreview.com/page/2/?s=the+sunday+guardian

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