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 draw backs 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 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 of life are very much different. We sort of exist in the opposite end of the spectrum. So I have a completely different outlook of media than him.

Before I go into why I disagree with some of the things he talked about let me start by saying lets not forget 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 patrticipating in unethical practices. Corruption and foulplay 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 need to know what is ethical reporting and what is not and that can be taught under the Qualification course. Yeah he is right, more focus should be given on ethical reporting. No doubts about that. But, qualification degrees and institutes are a solution to that? NO. If so... we would not have even had corruption and malpractices in dealings of IAS, IFS and IPS officers. Qualified and corrupt Lawyers, CAs, Doctors, Engineers. So yes, everyone knows it is bad - but still they practice it. So where one has 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 do you think even if he learns about ethical journalism in an institute he 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 actually practice that? Teach them what is good or bad no issues - but those good and bad comes 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 have to work and fight the whole system from unethical families, unethical processes and unethical media houses.


So one thing is very 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 have to live in the society to understand how it works. We have to poke the social structures enough to find its flaws. We have to be out there to know. Its 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 put a chapter on finance in the qualification course and that is why a qualification course is required. Point is media houses are very welcoming to qualified financial people who starts writing on financial matters and starts reporting on them. So you tell me - you will 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 it? The later 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 and putting 5 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.

So a qualification 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? Have you forgotten to become a doctor or engineer half the bright population of this country have to 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 few lakhs on private and foreign institutions. The whole heart and love factor will vanish and only children of the social elite will have access to this medium. Are you going to do away the quota system then? No - right? So be practical.

Hurts Established Professionals:
It doesn't hurt me as I am on the employer side but will hurt if I was in 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 jobs and a clause is there you need a formal qualification like MBBS or LLB, where do you think they will go? Waste 5 years mid career again trying to get a qualification degree because of this idea? 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 out on 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 very honestly yet to meet someone 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 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 on creating bench marks for institutes. Point is they just have to 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 just have to comply to 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 :). 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 has to 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 that 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 make 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 pros and cons of everything.

My next objective is to make my protest to be heard at Press Council so please pass this one to someone there for consideration as 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 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 and employers and employees too. Else be 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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