Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Should journalists have a minimum qualification?

Should journalists have a minimum qualification? Isn’t a nose for news enough? These are the questions “professional journalists” are facing today, especially from the citizen-journalists. The popular answer would be, “Sure, anyone can be a journalist.” But in reality, this is far from the truth.

There is no law regarding minimum qualification for journalists. There is not a universal definition for a journalist. There is not even a definition for news. The “man-biting-dog-makes-news” is no longer valid. So in this chaos, why should anyone insist on a qualified journalist?

Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman of Press Council of India, has set up a committee to recommend the minimum qualifications required to become a journalist. This is because, according to him, the quality of reportage in the country was being affected. He is of the opinion that the media has an important influence on the lives of the people and the time has now come when some qualification should be prescribed by law.

This decision has come under widespread critique. Many of the top journalists have disagreed to Justice Katju's arguments. Vinod Mehta, the Editor of Outlook has cited his own example, of being a B.A failed, as his counterargument. Sashi Kumar, who runs Asian College of Journalism, is also against the undue stress on degrees for being a journalism. According to most, journalism is just Image Courtesy: an extension of Freedom of Speech.

But, the harsh truth is, you will need a qualified journalist, as much as you need a qualified doctor, engineer, or any other professional. You may go to a guy who learned medicine through correspondence course for a common cold, or an ingrown toe-nail. But you will not go to a “citizen-doctor”, for even a minor surgery. You may let your friend with an “eye for design” decorate your living room. But you will always call a qualified engineer to construct your house.

Just like that, you may go to a citizen-journalist to hear the gossips, the rumours, the views and the reviews. They may get the data faster. They may write better. They may even be more ethical in their comments. But for pure, unvarnished news, you will always need a journalist.News is not just data. It is not even just information. It is the product of a thinking mind, the mind of a journalist.

Of course, there are exceptions for this. There are gems that shine, though unvarnished. But for every Edward Snowden, there are a million people posting pictures of "Tinkerbell, the wonder-cat that can read".

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