Archive for September, 2007

‘SHOCKING ABUSE OF JUDICIAL POWER’

24 September 2007

Four journalists of the Delhi newspaper Mid-Day have been ordered to be jailed for “contempt of court” following the publication of a cartoon and stories questioning the actions and motivations of former Supreme Court chief justice, Y.K. Sabharwal during the sealing exercise in the national capital.

The editorial below appears in today’s edition of The Hindu, which we run here in full in an expression of solidarity with Mid-Day and its staffers.

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SHOCKING ABUSE OF JUDICIAL POWER

The Delhi High Court’s action in holding the editor, the publisher, the resident editor, and a cartoonist of Mid -Day (published from Delhi) guilty of contempt of court for making allegations of gross judicial misconduct against the former Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal and sentencing them to four months’ imprisonment raises several troubling issues.

In the first place, it draws pointed attention to the absence of an effective and credible institutional mechanism to deal with allegations of misconduct made against judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court. Secondly, it represents an instance of improper use of the contempt power to bar any attempt to raise the issue of judicial misconduct even at the threshold. Thirdly, and most importantly, it underlines the danger to freedom of expression that the judiciary’s virtually untrammelled contempt jurisdiction poses.

If the object of the order was to protect the dignity and reputation of the judiciary from unfounded allegations, it has in fact strengthened the impression that the judiciary as an institution has much to hide and thus undermined its credibility in the eyes of the public.

For some time now, leading lawyers and the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms have been making two broad allegations against Sabharwal. One is that his orders on sealing irregular commercial premises in residential areas of Delhi were ultimately to the benefit of two business associates of his sons who were engaged in developing commercial complexes and malls; because of the sealing drive, property values and rents went up in those areas.

The second charge is that even as he heard the case relating to the tapes said to contain recorded conversations of the Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh and passed an interim order staying their broadcast, the Uttar Pradesh government allotted his sons plots of land in Noida at rates that were a fraction of the market prices.

Mr Sabharwal after his retirement, noting that silence was no longer an option, rebutted these charges point by point in a newspaper article. His contention was that his sons had built up a large and diversified garment export business on their own; that they themselves did not benefit in any way from the sealing orders; that they were in the business of developing information technology complexes rather than commercial complexes; and that their business partners were long time friends. As for the land allotments, they were done in the normal course under different chief ministers and at prices charged for similar plots allotted in the area.

The truth behind the allegations can be established through an enquiry or through judicial proceedings in a defamation suit, for instance. It is strange that even after Mr. Sabharwal showed he was perfectly willing to defend himself in a public forum, the Delhi High Court took upon itself the task of defending his dignity and that of the Supreme Court. It is stranger still that the court should have chosen to make an example of Mid-Day through contempt proceedings while the lawyers who made the same charges in public forums were left untouched.

In this case, the journalists pleaded justification by truth as a defence and offered to prove the allegations they had published. The Delhi High Court sidestepped the issue of truth and instead argued that the article had created the impression that “the Supreme Court permitted itself to be led into fulfilling an ulterior motive of one of its members” and had thereby tarnished the image of the institution as a whole. It was after a long and hard campaign by public spirited lawyers and the media that the traditional position was overturned and truth came to be allowed as a defence in contempt cases through an amendment to the Contempt of Courts Act in 2006. It is shocking that the principle of fairness embodied in the amended Act was totally ignored.

The Mid-Day case has served to highlight the threat to freedom of speech from the judiciary, with the courts imposing wholly unreasonable restrictions by invoking what Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer once memorably characterised as their “vague and wandering jurisdiction with uncertain frontiers” in contempt cases. Quite apart from the built-in unfairness in a judge acting in his own cause, serving as prosecutor, judge, jury, and hangman, a great deal of uncertainty marks the offence of “scandalising the court.”

If one were to look at past judgments for guidance, one would find liberal sentiments that justice is not a cloistered virtue, that judges are not immune from criticism, and that the shoulders of the judiciary are broad enough to shrug off any insult. Alongside such attitudes, there are some ominous edicts on the majesty of the law, that the contempt power is not meant to protect an individual judge but rather the institution of the judiciary, and that public faith in the judiciary ought not to be allowed to be undermined by scurrilous writers.

As several high profile cases, including two involving Arundhati Roy have shown, in contempt more than in other areas of law the individual predilections of judges — how liberal or how touchy they are — go to determine guilt. Courts in the United Kingdom have long let the penal provision for the offence of scandalising the court fall into disuse, and it is time Indian courts abandoned it as well. Never justified under any circumstances, its use to silence critics of possible judicial misconduct would seem to be particularly indefensible.

In protecting and enlarging the rights of citizens and in guarding against abuse of executive power, the judiciary as an institution has served the country exceedingly well. Overzealous defenders of judicial dignity only serve to erode its credibility.

Courtesy: The Hindu

Believe it or not: The strange power of reality TV

24 September 2007

Official India loves to call the seven northeastern States the Seven Sisters.

In reality, it’s more like Seven Step-Sisters.

Closer to Bangkok than Delhi as the crow flies, stricken by separatist violence, and waiting for the rest of the country to wake up because of a silly time zone which keeps them behind metaphorically and figuratively, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura—and Sikkim—have long felt ignored, cut off, out of beat with the mainland, and out of sync with each other.

But the Indian version of the American Idol reality television show has apparently done what countless politicians, bureaucrats and “packages” haven’t done. The finalists of the third edition of Indian Idol last night were both from the northeast, Amit Paul from Shillong and eventual winner Prashant Tamang from Darjeeling, and the entire region, in a rare burst of unity and even rarer recognition from the mainstream media, was rooting for them.

More importantly, as an editorial in The Hindu pointed out, Paul bridged the divide between the Khasi-Jaintia-Garo tribes and the non-tribal population, and Tamang is said to have forged “an unprecedented unity” among Nepali-speaking folk in the swathe of hills that comprise Darjeeling and Sikkim.

As the sound of music reverberated before last night’s finals, ministers were exhorting people to click “send” on their cellphones and telephone booths are springing up.

“In other parts of India too, the programme, which is now in its third and most popular season, has got everyone—adolescent, youthful, middle-aged, and elderly—glued to their sets. This cannot but make one wonder. If only this power of television could be harnessed for the social good. If only people took a similar interest in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. If only our idols were more than singing or dancing sensations.”

It takes a village to rear a child, goes an African saying.

In Marshall McLuhan‘s global village, it could well take a reality TV programme to unite it.

Read the full editorial here: The sound of music

Sauce for Al Qaeda ain’t sauce for the President?

23 September 2007

Swear words on the front pages are not uncommon, especially in the United States, but they are not usual.

“BASTARDS,” screamed one American newspaper the day after 9/11. In a word the header captured the general response of incensed readers to the act that brought down the World Trade Center towers.

Now, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, a college newspaper in Colorado is testing the limits of free speech, or least the limits of free speech on campus, with a headline for an editorial, which reads ‘Fuck Bush”. But it sure has got everybody talking, which in a way can be argued on the issue is the key point of journalism.

Read the full story: Profane language puts student editor’s job on the line

Letter from the editor in chief

If your signal is weak, call the chief secretary

23 September 2007

At the beginning of India’s liberalisation, the question a great many economists and columnists (like Tavleen Singh) asked was: should the State be running bakeries instead of looking at the big things in life? The allusion was to Modern Foods, a state-owned company that made bread. Eventually, the company was sold to Hindustan Lever.

A similar question could now be asked: Should the State be in the television business, i.e., should it have its own television channel and should it have its own cable operators to provide cable and satellite TV connections to the electorate to whom it has already provided free television sets using taxpayers’ money?

That’s the question that should be asked in Tamil Nadu where the war between the ruling political family of M. Karunanidhi (and his sons M.K. Stalin and M.K. Azhagiri) and the media family of Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi Maran has now taken on a new hue.

The Marans, whose Sun TV empire fell out of favour with their grand-uncle and cousins after the demise of their father ‘MurasoliMaran, have now offered monthly Direct-to-Home (DTH) services–75 TV channels and 15 radio stations for just Rs 75 a month—to combat the competition posed by the launch of the state-sponsored “Kalaignar TV” (Kalaignar is the nickname of Karunanidhi).

But the “State” is, if nothing else, unrelenting in its drive, desire, determination and dedication to provide opium to the masses.

The state’s chief secretary L.K. Tripathy says the DMK government is also considering the launch of DTH and IPTV. “But now we are content being a Multi-Service Operator (MSO).

Read the full story: Sun TV, Kalaignar TV battle for eye balls

Also read: All it takes to split a family is an opinion poll

Sun goes on the blink in Madras homes

‘How to get from B to A: Great minds like a think’

23 September 2007

CHICAGO: The rise and rise of The Economist in the United States is something media analysts can’t stop speaking about. But the unapologetically elitist tone of its advertising is also a fine lesson in wordplay and branding. This one, on top of a cab near Union Station in Chicago, is a good example of both.

Also read: More reasons to read The Economist

MUST-WATCH: Getting a press pass is very easy

23 September 2007

There are others, of course, but journalists should surely rank very high on the totempole of the most grumbling professionals. Grumbling about our bosses, grumbling about our pay, grumbling about the way our organisations are run, we quickly lose sight of what we are here for, and quietly of all our energy.

How can we recharge our batteries? Here’s one way:

Randy Pausch, a 46-year-old top computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, has been diagnosed with 10 tumours in his liver and has just a few months of good health left. Last week, he said goodbye to his students and the Pittsburgh college with one last lecture called “How to Live Your Childhood Dreams“.

Those dreams range from the sublime (floating in zero gravity, writing an entry in the World Book Encyclopaedia,) to the ridiculous (playing in the national football league, being Captain Kirk, winning big stuffed animals at amusement parks, and being an imagineer at Disney).

But they were his dreams, and as he puts it, “I was there”. Pausch goes on to talk about them with verve, humour and panache. He staves off pity by demonstrating how fit he is. He reveals that he has had a deathbed conversion. And he talks of how easy it is to get a Press pass.

The Wall Street Journal has called it “the lecture of a lifetime”.

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# We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

# It’s all about the fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. Otherwise the fancy stuff won’t work.

# When you are screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you any more, then it means they have given up.

# Life’s a gift. If you wait long enough, other people will show you their good side.

# In the face of adversity, don’t complain, just work harder. Your patience will eventually be rewarded.

# Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

# Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls aren’t there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want things.

Watch the lecture: Dying professor’s lecture of a lifetime

Send him a question: Dear Professor Randy Pausch

In the end, a long life becomes a one-liner

22 September 2007

Obituary writing, like large swathes of newspaper writing, is a poorly developed and unevolving art in India. Except for the likes of Haresh Pandya from Rajkot, Gujarat, who files long, detailed obituaries for The Guardian, London, and The New York Times, our obituaries are ridiculously skimpy, colourless and plainly insulting to lives that are no more.

Result, obituaries have been reduced to fillers, if not a revenue driver for the accountants, and more often than not, a curriculum vitae with an updated lead. And when the deceased person is a journalist, heaven help us. Examine this exhibit from today’s Star of Mysore, as short an obituary as you can visualise. But at least it answers the five Ws and and the H.

Bangalore: K.R. Prahlad (54), news editor, Doordarshan Kendra (Bangalore), died at his residence this morning following a cardiac arrest. Hailing from Mysore, Prahlad leaves his wife, an employee of All India Radio, Bangalore, and two children.

Also read: Even God cries when the best come to join him

K.R. Prahlad (1953-2007)

Why isn’t your byline up in neon lights?

19 September 2007

On Broadwick Street in London, there is a pub called John Snow, named after the doctor who identified the water pump nearby as the source of an outbreak of cholera. In Plymouth, there is a pub named after Major-General Sir Jeremy Moore, who passed away recently.

Yes, there is an “Orwell‘s” in Glasgow, and there are plenty of Shakespeares.  And the poet Louis MacNeice once won a competition to think of the most revolting name for a pub with the suggestion “The Dog Returns”.

But why are there so few pubs and bars named after writers (and the other dogs, journalists)?

Read the full article: Some beer-soaked namesake

So you think there’s only one kind of magazine?

18 September 2007

Welcome to GOOD, the YouTube magazine for people who want to do well by doing good.

Forget tomorrow’s, give us yesterday’s news

17 September 2007

The dirty old man of Indian journalism, Khushwant Singh, has a good question in his latest column in the Hindustan Times. Where, he asks, is yesterday’s news? In other words, whatever happens to the stories that the media pursues like a pack of hounds for a while, and then—suddenly, mysteriously, inexplicably, uniformally—falls silent?

“There are some things about our judiciary and the media that continue to baffle us. For some days our papers and TV channels are full of news of proceedings in law courts; then suddenly they disappear and we are left guessing about their outcome.

“Stories break out but seldom come to a conclusion. Some have even stuck to my mind.

“Years ago, the house of Pandit Sukh Ram, Minister of the Central Cabinet, was raided by the police and crores of unaccounted cash was recovered. Both he and his lady friend were accused of accepting bribes. Sukh Ram is still active in Himachal Pradesh politics. But does anyone know whether he or his lady friend were ever acquitted or convicted? What happened to the money that was recovered?

“Then there was case of Ravi Inder Singh Sidhu, who as Chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission, selected hundreds of officers in return for cash. Crores worth of currency notes were recovered from his house. He spent some years in jail before he was let out on bail. What happened to the cases piled against him? Where does he hide his face now?

“The case against ex-Chief of Naval Staff-turned businessman Admiral Suresh Nanda’s grandson, Sanjeev Nanda, for running over and killing six men sleeping on the footpath received extensive publicity for a few days and then mysteriously went into oblivion.

“The more notorious is the case against former Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, his son Jagat and his buddy Sehgal. They were involved in the Oil-for-Food scam worth thousands of crores. Associated with their name was the colourful Mathrani appointed as an ambassador by Natwar. This ambassador was reported in some journal to be a patron of prostitutes and took a couple of his lady friends with him when representing his credentials. Where does Mathrani hang out?

“We know more about Natwar. He tried to sow seeds of discord between the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. When that failed, he rubbished both of them; he swore loyalty to the Congress party one day, and was seen with the Samajwadi’s the next day. As representative of the Congress he proposed the name of the man opposing the nominee of the Congress Party for the President of the Republic. How does anyone deal with a character like him? What happens to all the tainted cash seized by the police? By now it must run into thousands of crores. Is it accounted for as revenue from corrupt practices?

“We would like to know, but there is no one to tell us about them.”

Read the full column: With malice towards all

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