Read Order: S.Sekaran v. The State of Tamilnadu represented by its Secretary to Government and ors

Pankaj Bajpai

Chennai, August 30, 2021: In order to curtail the menace of fake journalists, the Madras High Court has directed the State Government to appoint “Press Council of Tamil Nadu” consisting of a team of experienced and reputed journalists, both working and retired, retired Civil servants and Police officials in the rank of IAS and IPS, headed by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court, within a period of three months.

The Division Bench of Justice P. Velamurugan and Justice N. Kirubakaran stated that such Council shall have the sole authority to recognise press clubs and journalists associations or unions in the state of Tamil Nadu and it shall not allow or recognize formation or continuation of clubs or unions or associations based on caste, community or state boundaries.

The biggest threat to media freedom, and right to speech and expression available to journalists, is the multitude of journalists’ associations that have sprung up in Chennai and districts. There is no regulation for these associations. It is said that 10 to 20 part-time journalists come together, float a fancy letter-pad association, and then start issuing identity cards with bold PRESS declaration on payment of anything from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000. Part time journalists use these cards to do kattapanchayat or blackmail officials, businessmen and politicians at local levels”, observed the Division Bench.

Therefore, the High Court said that to curb this menace which is fast spiraling out of control, stringent action is required, which if not contained now, anything may happen any time, as PRESS card-holding people are able to pass through security curbs easily almost always.

One must keep in mind that assassins of our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi himself were able to go close to him, because one of them (Sivarasan) acted out a ‘journalist’ role. Another such crime cannot be ruled out, if this trend of fake journalist continues”, highlighted the Bench.

Opining that a responsible media is necessary to sustain good democracy through dissemination of correct news/information sans sensationalism and committed to national interests, the High Court noted that it is the responsibility of the Government and the recognized/established media organizations to ensure that only good journalists run this news industry and it does not fall into the hands of evil people and anti-national forces, blackmailers and fraudsters.

The Division Bench went on to reiterate that it is a common sight these days to find posh SUV cards with a “PRESS” sticker on the front glass shield and “Human Rights” label on the back glass, being driven by unscrupulous fraudsters masquerading as journalists.

There have been quite a number of instances of such fraudsters being booked by the police after being caught committing heinous crimes under the “PRESS” labeling, added the Bench.

Emphasizing that being the fourth pillar of democracy, journalism must remain clean & strong, the Bench found that the politicians, land sharks, smugglers and even murderers have been seen to be hand in gloves with these “mafia journalists” and these“journalists” have floated fake media associations and unions, enrolling all sorts of anti-social elements as members and issuing them with “PRESS” ID cards, which they in turn use as a money-making device.

Although the DIPR is aware of this but the officials turn a blind eye to avoid any wrath in the hands of those fake journalists, added the Bench.

The High Court therefore directed the State Government not to issue press stickers, I.D cards and other benefits, unless the organization or media house discloses the number of employees, salary steps, TDS details, tax paid to the Government and proof that it sells certain number of copies or has certain viewership.

In addition, the Court said that after the constitution of Press Council of Tamil Nadu, all journalists’organizations shall be kept in the suspended animation, so that the election could be conducted for those organizations under the supervision of Press Council of Tamil Nadu, within a period of six months thereafter.

Justice Velamurugan also said that people aggrieved by the fake news or motivated and agenda-based news could lodge complaints with the Press Council of Tamil Nadu which shall summon the news agency or media house or the reporter concerned and probe the veracity of the complaints.

Depending upon the finding, the Council shall have powers to order the source of the offending news item to carry a rejoinder or apology or publish the response of the de facto complainant prominently, added Justice Velamurugan.

0 CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment