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India needs strong defamation law to discipline journalists: Dr Prannoy Roy

MUMBAI: NDTV co-chaiperson Dr Roy said that while Indian journalists are very talented, they lack discipline. “We have the most vibrant, talented, hungry and intelligent bunch of journalists compared to any country. But we lack a certain discipline because of just one factor—we need strong defamation law.”

Prannoy RoyExplaining further, he said that some newspapers have 300 defamation cases against them, but they have a ‘who-cares’ attitude as these cases will take 20 years. “We need strong defamation law so that if I defame somebody, I should be punished. So I will have the discipline to stop short. But this is something we don’t have in India,” Roy added.

He said that he has been fighting for discipline for quite some time, even if it goes against the news business. “A number of my colleagues say that it will hurt us, but I say it may hurt in the short term. If we don’t change, the media will lose credibility in India. Because you can’t just go defaming everybody, you can’t just say what you like without backing it up. We need to have some discipline.”

When asked about self-regulation, he bluntly said that it’s not working. “I cannot rely on self-regulation. It is not working,” he said. “Definitely the government should not involve. If government comes, I will fight. It should be the judiciary. Judiciary should impose some form of punishment for defamation. Everybody needs some discipline. We can’t live in an anarchic world. There are very good defamation laws—let the judiciary implement them.”

Praising the quality of Indian journalists, he said, “We have got trainers who come from all over the world, and when they train our people, not just NDTV but Indian youngsters, they say that they have never found such raw material anywhere in the world.”

“And it’s true. We are argumentative, we question everything. We are not people who will take anything as given,” he added.

On the serious news versus sensationalism debate, he said that the viewers will decide. Citing an example of the UK market, he said that the tabloid ‘Daily Mirror’ has seven times more readership than ‘The Times’. “But ‘The Times’ gets 10 times the ad rates per square inch. Look at ‘The Economist’, the most successful financial business model for any magazine. It doesn’t have a huge readership, but it has influential readership, and that’s why the advertisers pay premium,” Roy said.

Roy is hopeful that once BARC comes into being, there will be a better ratings currency. “My only contention was a large sample size. If you have a 25,000-sample size, nobody can fiddle. With 9,000-sample size [current TAM], the number of houses watching news is 700. If you fiddle with 10 houses, you change everything. Once we have a large sample size, it will do us good,” he added.