Monday 25 March 2013

Why I Disagree with Markandey Katju on the Formal Qualification in Journalism Issue

Today I read this article written by Markandey Katju (Former Supreme Court Judge and Chairman of Press Council of India) where he is talking about forming a committee to see if a formal qualification like MBBS or LLB or CA should be made compulsory to join the media industry. I have certain objections to the idea floated by him. I have worked with various news channels in the past and have been involved in electronic publishing and news and documentary production for over one and half decades now, so I can see certain drawbacks in his ideas. So, I am going to argue that in this article. What's more important, I am not employed by any media company but run my own media business, so I am seeing both sides of the coin and going to talk about both on behalf of the Employee and the Employer.

The suggestion is coming from a very respected person indeed, no-doubts on that, but also its coming from  someone who has grown up and worked in a system which has not dynamically evolved since the independence and still heavily depends on laws and rules and regulations set up by the British centuries ago - a mechanism which depends heavily on slow paperwork and red tapes and takes over 20 years to settle some disputes. So having worked with such a system a person is bound to think in terms of things that can slow down a mechanism in the name of progress. But a person like me is just the opposite. I believe in limitless possibilities and freedom and self-control and ethical practices. So, our outlook on life is quite different. We exist at the opposite end of the spectrum. I have a completely different outlook of the media industry than him.

Before I go into why I disagree with some of the things he talked about, let me start by saying let's not forget a few things. The prime being corruption and unethical practices are very rampant in India. As a result, we have qualified and corrupt IAS, IFS and IPS officers. Qualified and corrupt Lawyers, CAs, Doctors, Engineers also. Here children grow up in a society where many parents are giving and taking bribes and participating in unethical practices. Corruption and foul play are everywhere these children look. I wish I could change that. But that's another story.

Ethics Can't be Taught in the Institutes: 
In a certain section of his article, he was talking about journalists needing to know what ethical reporting is and what is not and that can be taught under the Qualification course. Yes, he is right, more focus should be given to ethical reporting. No doubts about that. But are qualification degrees and institutes a solution to that? NO. If so... we would not have even had corruption and malpractices in dealings of IAS, IFS and IPS officers or let's say even in the Judiciary! Qualified and corrupt Lawyers, CAs, Doctors, Engineers. So yes, everyone knows what is bad and what is good - but still they do bad deeds as they profit from it. So where does one have to start then to implement ethics? At the grass root. In homes. A child who has grown up seeing his father giving and taking bribes and lying to people or stealing, do you think even if that child who has grown up in a corrupt family and society, learns about ethical journalism in an institute he or she is going to practice that?

There is a certain chapter/section for Business Management students where they learn about Business Ethics, how many of them practice that? Teach them what is good or bad, no issues - but those good and bad come from upbringing. Ethical families and societies produce ethical journalists and unethical families, and unethical societies produce unethical journalistic practices and surely work environment. A person who works in a company which takes money from corporate and political parties to do good stories on them - how ethical you expect a journalist of that organisation to be? You must work and fight the entire system from unethical families, unethical processes, and unethical media houses.

One thing is noticeably clear - a qualification like MBBS or LLB for joining journalism is not the answer for ethical practices. Work the system. Stop unethical practices practiced by some sections of the mainstream media. 

Don't Kill the Flexibility of the System:
Journalism is something that can be easily picked up. You need not mug up thousands of books to understand how the mechanism and system works like that in the case of Doctors and Lawyers.  Our field of study lies out there. We must live in society to understand how it works. We must poke the social structures enough to find their flaws. We must be out there to know. It's not something that requires 5 years of qualification course but requires decades of open-minded understanding, limitless studies, and some serious analytic thinking. Which you cultivate over the years once you enter the profession and build your niche. 

I do agree that someone reporting on finance needs to know about finance. So, the solution is not to put a chapter on finance in the qualification course and that is why a qualification course is required. The point is media houses are very welcoming to qualified financial people who start writing on financial matters and start reporting on them. So, you tell me - you would like to see a so-called qualified reporter reporting on financial matters or see a qualified finance professional who is into writing/journalism now writing about finance? The latter one, right? That's why a flexible system is required. A novice finance journalist grows up under a veteran finance editor who has years and years of experience and knows more than a finance professional even. So, putting a qualification clause prevents us from picking experts from specialist industries and putting five chapters on finance in journalism course doesn't solve the problem. Keep scopes for cross industry exchanges, its needed in media. It also happens that Mr. Markandey who is a former Supreme Court judge he is the Chairperson of Press Council of India. Now if the system was not flexible would that have been possible? I really doubt that. Does Mr. Markandey have a Journalism qualification to comment on Journalism? As the system is flexible, he can be what he is and what he can say or write about. Else, next time you print his article or view ask for his Journalism Degree.

A journalism qualification, which is a degree, is not the solution. Its only limiting scopes for the media to grow and creates scopes for malpractices and more unethical systems that are present in degree granting educational systems in India. Then well, have you forgotten the quota raj? Have you forgotten to become a doctor or engineer, half the bright population of this country must spend few lakhs to study in private institutes here and abroad? They don't get seats in govt. institutions because of various quotas. So, creating a qualification degree will also lead to journalists coming out from families who can afford to spend a few lakhs on private and foreign institutions. The love for journalism and quest for truth will vanish and only children of the social elite will have access to this medium. Are you going to do away with the quota system then? No - right? So, let's be practical.

Hurts Established Professionals:
It doesn't hurt me as I am on the employer side, but it would hurt if I was on the employee side. I am a guy with film making qualifications who entered the TV News sector and grew. Many veteran and respected journalists and media producers are there like me who have passed out from various media institutes. If they search for media jobs and a clause is there you need a formal qualification like MBBS for Doctors or LLB for Lawyers, where do you think they will go? Waste 5-year mid-career again trying to get a qualification degree because of this idea of Mr Markandey who is not even a journalist and doesn't even hold any formal journalism degree or diploma, still heads Press Council of India? I have seen some Govt. institutions putting clauses like - you need a degree from a certain institution - effectively what happens in that case - a fine producer like me who has been part of the Jury for Digital Emmy Awards - three times in a row... I can't apply there if I was looking for a job. So, who is missing things? Me, people like me or organisations like them. I am not going into detail how shabby programming quality are of those organisations.

Make World Class Media Institutes:
I am honestly yet to meet someone in the media industry who doesn't have some sort of diploma/degree/certificate related to some field of media studies. Except for the specialist converts like coming from the fields of finance, management etc. They gradually pick it up. Remember in the media we thrive in flexibility. And we can take care of ourselves and our people... what is needed is ethical practices in a society and environment where corruption and unethical practices rule.

So, more emphasis should be given to creating benchmarks for institutes. They must upgrade their teaching skills and what they teach. Don't focus on Qualification Degrees focus on reinforcing the media institutes, put a Rating system on them or be strict with them. They must comply with international teaching standards.

Make Guidelines not Regulations:
While I am thinking this way... I will support a bill on minimum qualification required to be a MLA or MP though. And yes, a Journalism Degree should be made mandatory to be the Chairman of Press Council of India. There is a lot of work to do in India. Self regulation is the Mantra in the case of media companies. To do that, ethical practices and thinking must evolve and not Control/Regulation. Guidelines and self-control is the need of the day. Whenever you have regulations those can be pulled by ruling parties and govt. institutions to harass media companies who are advocate of freedom of speech in India.

To sum it up, all I can say is yes, changes are required but not something that will choke the system. The qualification degrees and even regulation will choke the system and corruption will thrive. When you think of it, because of the flexibility of the media industry we have a former Supreme Court Judge as the Chairperson of Press Council of India (even if by law) ... who is passing recommendations from the perspective of a lawyer and judge and not that of a journalist or media producer. I suggest making a body of veteran News Paper and TV News Editors and let them work on it. They will know the media system and how it works from the root. They will know the pros and cons of everything.

My next objective is to make my protest be heard at the Press Council so please pass this one to someone there for consideration as to what a media producer thinks about this issue. I will request other media professionals to also to read what he has written and object to it if you find the approach to be wrong. Think of the pros and cons. There will be a debate I know. I am letting my objection to be heard publicly. They should hear from other media producers, employers, and employees too. Else be prepared for another set of red tapes and rules and regulations and much hype in the wrong direction. The rest is up to you.

(My reaction is based on an article by Markandey Katju, former Supreme Court Judge and present Chairman of Press Council of India. Article published by Indian Express, March 25, 2013, Page 13, Titled - How Not to Be a Journalist)


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