Manish Tewari, the Union minister for information and broadcasting, raised an interesting point when he called for a "common examination" for journalists, which would lead to them being awarded "licences" before they could enter the profession. It would lead, claimed Mr Tewari, to "a certain degree of standardisation", which he appeared to think was something that should be encouraged when it came to the reporting of news and the expression of views. This comes some time after the chairman of the Press Council of India, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, set up a committee to investigate whether journalists should be "minimally qualified".
Charitably, Mr Tewari's point could be taken as an opportunity for the media to introspect as to why there are many calls for it to improve the quality of its output. There is little doubt that, as the media space has exploded, much has been produced that is not of sufficient quality or reliability or even credibility. Of course, whether this requires a licence-permit Raj to be introduced for journalism is another question altogether - though a reflexive belief in the virtues of control is the hallmark of the Indira Gandhi-loving United Progressive Alliance, which is in so many fields apparently desirous of returning India to the 1980s. Actually, it is diversity that should be prized in an open society with free expression, not uniformity and "standardisation". It is ridiculous to imagine that an examination, however tough, would, in any case, weed out the corrupt and the incompetent. If that were the case, India would have had the most incorruptible and most efficient bureaucracy in the known universe.
It is, therefore, a little difficult to take Mr Tewari's suggestion entirely seriously. Perhaps he, too, meant it as idle speculation. In which case, the argument could be taken further. If journalism is a field that, like medicine and the law, has an impact on other people's lives to a great degree and thus needs an examination and licensing, surely there are other such professions that need intervention first. Most minds would leap instantly at the possibility of an examination for, say, parliamentarians - perhaps with an additional public interview, or viva voce, for party spokespersons. After all, members of Parliament are certainly in a profession at least as important as journalists, though some journalists may disagree. The uncharitable would suggest that the examination could perhaps include tough questions on what constitutes financial impropriety, a test of how loud your voice is, and a multiple-choice section on the best ways to evade responsibility and transfer blame, in case a member of Parliament becomes a minister. Perhaps, if the licences so granted were made hereditary, Mr Tewari could present such an idea to his Congress party with a clear conscience!