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A new role for chartered accountants
June, 28th 2007

Essentially a number-cruncher, will the role of a news channel censor suit the chartered accountant?

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry is all set to usher in a new form of audit content audit that would be mandatory for news channels. And guess who is the most preferred choice for this arguably arduous and hazardous job: Chartered accountants, followed by advocates and thereafter senior journalists.

From the information available, the content auditor would have to be around practically 24 hours, performing the functions of an internal censor board. One doesnt know whether a chartered accountant can be the content auditor of more than one channel. It would be useful to remember in this connection that a chartered accountant can bag at the most 20 company audits. Though all audits are about content, the IB Ministry proposal may well leave a Chartered Accountant content with just one.

More seriously, why a chartered accountant? The IB Ministry seems to be harbouring under the wrong notion that all forms of audit necessarily have to be done by a chartered accountant.

In the past, professional institutions have bared their fangs and clashed with one another for audit sweepstakes with the Bar Council jumping into the fray when tax audit was mandated.

Even this time round, one could witness similar jostling for a share of action, if not for exclusivity, if only to keep the respective rank and file happy.

The IB Ministry seems to have got the order of preference wrong it ought to have put senior journalists as the first choice because s/he is the one who fills the bill eminently. A chartered accountant is a number cruncher and as such the profession is not suitable for the proposed role though in all fairness it must be conceded that there may a few belonging to the profession who may individually make the grade by reason of having worn the hat of a journalist as well.

The moot question however is the workability of the concept of content audit. The chief editor of a news channel would have the power to overrule the objection raised by the content auditor.

Would this not render the content auditor toothless assuming in the first place that s/he needs teeth? For all one knows, the chief editor may exercise this option and face the consequences if any later on, given the fierce oneupmanship among the news channels.

Not too appealing

The appellate mechanism contemplated betrays considerable naivet the aggrieved party can appeal to the content auditor himself or to the proposed self-regulatory body (to be on the lines of Advertising Standards Council of India, ASCI); both are to dispose the appeal within 30 days.

Given the perishable nature of news and news-rooms demanding action here and now, one wonders whether there would be any takers for this appellate mechanism.

More fundamentally, why censorship of the electronic news media when the print media is not proposed to be similarly hamstrung?

A plausible explanation could be that the electronic media grabs attention by the scruff of the neck.

But an inane and unworkable censorship mechanism is no answer to this. If anything there can be a deterrent post facto penal mechanism for irresponsible journalism.

S. Murlidharan
(The author is a New Delhi-based Chartered Accountant.)

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