That was the subject of the workshop held by the Foundation for Media Professionals today in New Delhi for the sake of visiting journalists from Thailand. I was part of the panel which addressed different dimensions of this subject. Other participants were Teesta Setalwad, Sevanti Ninan, Vinita Deshmukh, and Satya Sivaraman. S.Srinivasan was the moderator. The focus of my brief presentation was how media had contributed to communal violence in the past, from partition to the Gujarat carnage.
Despite clear evidence to the role of the media in causing such conflicts, media could not be held accountable legally. I discussed generally the IPC provisions of Sections 153A and B, 295A and 505. Satya Sivaraman was concerned with the underlying reasons, rather than the precipitating factors like inflammatory reporting. After all, he said, journalists reflect the society they hail from. The reasons for their bias and distortion perhaps lie in the school text books, he suggested.
Teesta, drawing from her Gujarat experience, said her efforts to bring to book the Gujarati newspapers, Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar for their contributory role in the 2002 Gujarat carnage came to naught because of Section 196 (1) of the Cr.P.C. which requires that no Court shall take cognizance of any of the offences under S.153A and B, 295A and 505 except with the previous sanction of the Central Government or the State Government. Asked whether she has challenged the refusal of the authorities to accord sanction, she said the challenge is pending in the High Court.
Tarunabh has, in one of his posts, has underlined the need to repeal Section 197, Cr.P.C. for according impunity on public servants. I wonder why should journalists enjoy such a privilege, not available to a non-journalist? The object of Section 196, according to Supreme Court, appears to prevent unauthorised persons from intruding in matters of State by instituting prosecutions and to secure that such prosecutions, for reasons of policy, shall only be instituted under the authority of Government. But I found the text book explanations of this provision bizarre. R.V.Kelkar's book, (4th edition, p.223) says that it is quite possible that in a given case the very filing of a prosecution after tempers have cooled down may generate class feelings which could well be avoided by the Government by refusing to accord sanction. In another context, when the Gujarat Government accorded sanction to prosecute Ashis Nandy under this very provision, I doubted the objectivity of the State Government in doing so in this article. (hate and abuse)