Speech on ‘Special Correspondents of Journalism in India’

The institution of Special Correspondent is still in its early stages in India, and so it has some of the faults that are inseparable from any new branch of a profession. One fault arises from multiple representations.

Some of the senior correspondents in Delhi function as a one-man news syndicate rather than on the salutary principle of one man one newspaper, with the advantage of complete concentration on development of a really “special” coverage for that newspaper.

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Multiple representations may have served its purpose in conditions in which the general body of newspapers with their limited financial resources could not maintain a correspondent each to serve each of them exclusively. Conditions are now comparatively better, and the trend must therefore be away from concentration and syndication and towards individual representation.

A parallel development must be the division and specialisation of correspondents in Delhi and elsewhere in the political, diplomatic and parliamentary spheres. Here again the present practice is for one correspondent to function under these various nomenclatures.

The system of special correspondents is regulated in its dealings with the administration by rules of accreditation.

A similar system is coming into existence at the State capitals. The working of the rules of accreditation has disclosed defects to which the Federation has drawn attention.

One principal defect is that Indian language papers are placed at a disadvantage and their representatives have in practice to wait longer for accreditation than those of English newspapers.

The complaint has been made that in many instances non-nationals visiting India as representatives of non-Indian newspapers and news agencies obtain ready recognition and accreditation while the cases of Indian journalists are kept pending for weeks or months.

The most serious defect arises from the character and composition of the Central Press Advisory Committee, the only professional body whose advice is sought before accreditation is given.

This Committee, as stated earlier, is nominated by the All India Newspaper Editors Conference, on which a large number of newspapers in India are not represented.

The rules of accreditation work in a way that encourages the process of multiple representation to which we have referred above.

After waiting in vain for accreditation, some newspapers have been compelled in the past to give up the idea of having their own staff men and to enter into “string” arrangements with existing correspondents.

In the States the system of accreditation is still in the process of evolution and working journalists feel that there is still time for the States to avoid some of the defects noticed at the Centre.

There are certain other undesirable developments in this connection to which reference may be made in the courses of oral evidence.

These and other classes of conduct emphasise the need for a professional code. The Federation has adopted such a code. Its acceptance is no easier than the voluntary acceptance of any other form of self-restraint.

Correspondents reporting the proceedings of legislatures and local bodies have a few problems peculiar to themselves. Complaints have been received of municipal and district board authorities treating correspondents with discourtesy.

In the House of the People a large number of correspondents at present face a sudden deterioration of status, arising mainly from classification and gradation of elementary facilities, to which all journalists working in the Press Gallery should normally, be entitled.

An attempt is in progress for Press Gallery correspondents to form a separate association of their own through which to represent their case to the Speaker on this and other matters.