Posts Tagged ‘Justice Markandey Katju’

How the Press Council of India took shape

23 March 2013

As the fulminations of the chairman of the Press Council of India, Justce Markandey Katju, swing from the ludicrous to the ridiculous, time to look at the day—50 years ago—the PCI took seed, not for its quixotic chief to plead for a convict’s sentence to be commuted or for a sovereign nation to be declared fake, but for the high ideals of the media to be protected.

From The Hindu, dated 23 March 1963:

“A Bill to set up the Press Council will be introduced in the next session of Parliament, said B. Gopala Reddi, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, in the Lok Sabha. Considering the various problems facing the Press, he was convinced that there was no use in delaying the constitution of the Press Council.

“In his reply to the demands for grants for his Ministry, Gopala Reddi said that as soon as legislation for setting up the Press Council was passed, steps would be taken to constitute it. It would go into the various aspects of the Press like, monopoly tendencies, status of the editor, and other matters as envisaged in the report of the Press Commission.

“He pointed out that it had been agreed generally by the members of the Congress Party, the opposition members, and the Government that the powers of the Press should not be in the hands of a few persons. But the questions connected with the functioning of the Press in the country were of a legal and constitutional nature and should be dealt with by the Press Council.”

Justice Katju ‘Sorry’ for calling journos idiots

20 November 2012

Within days of his appointment as the chairman of the Press Council of India in October 2011, immediately following his retirement as a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Markandey Katju ran afoul of his colleagues on the council with his sweeping remark that he had a “poor opinion” of most journalists.

The “tendentious and offensive” remarks, which amounted to the fence eating the crop it was supposed to defend, were roundly criticised by the editors guild of India and the broadcast editors’ association, and by media itself.

Katju was also, often, boycotted by the industry representatives on the press council.

Now, over a year later, some kind of rapprochement has been reached with Justice Katju expressing his “regret” to the Indian newspaper society (INS), the association of media promoters and publishers.

Below is the full text of the INS press release, issued by V. Shankaran, secretary-general of INS:

New Delhi, 19 November 2012

The executive committee of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), which met at New Delhi, considered the regret expressed by Mr Markandey Katju, chairman, press council of India, vide his letter dated 21.09.2012 addressed to the President, INS on his remarks that “majority of media people are of poor intellectual level”.

The members of the Executive Committee after deliberations decided to accept the regret now expressed by Mr. Katju.

Press council chief bats for ‘porngate’ journalists

12 March 2012

Close on the heels of his missives to the chief ministers of Bihar and Maharashtra, the chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), Justice Markandey Katju, has shot off a letter to the speaker of the Karntaka legislative assembly against the crackdown on the media in Karnataka following the Porngate expose.

Below is the full text.

***

The  Hon’ble Speaker
Karnataka  Legislative Assembly,
Bangaluru.

Respected Sir,

Re: Proceedings against mediapersons for telecasting MLAs  watching porn

Some MLAs of the Karnataka legislative assembly were filmed watching porn in the Assembly hall. Instead of commending the mediapersons for their professionalism, proceedings have been started against them.

In my respectful opinion such proceedings against the mediapersons jeopardize the freedom of the media guaranteed as a fundamental right by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India, and seek to create an impression that it is the media which has brought the House into disrepute rather than the MLAs  involved.

I am informed that an inquiry committee has been set up by the House to enquire into the matter.

In my respectful opinion the inquiry committee can certainly ask the mediapersons concerned questions to ascertain the correct facts about this sordid affair. But from what I could gather, the question being asked give the impression that the mediapersons are being treated as an accused of some offence, and are being grilled accordingly.

Since grave Constitutional questions are involved in this episode I would like to dwell on the matter in some detail.

In our country it is the Constitution which is supreme, not the legislature or executive. The people of India, in their wisdom, and following the examples of the American and French Constitutions, did not give the legislature absolute sovereignty but only limited sovereignty.

Thus the Indian Constitution does not incorporate Hobbes’ theory of absolute sovereignty (see ‘Leviathan’) but instead it incorporates Locke’s theory of limited sovereignty (see ‘the Second Treatise on Civil Government’) and Rousseau’s theory of sovereignty of the people (see ‘The Social Contract’).

Hence neither the legislature nor the executive can violate the constitutional provisions, particularly the fundamental rights like Article 19 (1) (a).

In a democracy it is the people who are supreme, and all authorities, whether legislative, executive or judicial, are only servants of the people. This is also borne out from the Preamble to the Indian Constitution which states:

“We, the People of India,…………..do hereby adopt, enact and give ourselves this Constitution.”

Since the people are the masters , and the legislators only their representatives, surely the public has the right to be informed of the activities of the legislators. And the media is an agency of the people to give them this information.

Hence I do not see what wrong the media has done by telecasting the watching of porn by the MLAs in the House. To my mind the media were only doing their duty to the people of informing them of the shameful manner in which some of their representatives were behaving.

In this connection I would like to refer to the following words in the judgment of Justice Hugo Black of the US Supreme Court in New York Times  vs. U.S 403 U.S. 713, 1973  (the Pentagon Papers case):

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers deserve to be commended for serving the purpose which the Founding Father saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of the government which led to the Vietnam War the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

To use similar language, far from deserving condemnation, the mediapersons who revealed to the nation the disgusting scenes of MLAs  watching porn in the House deserve to be applauded for their courageous reporting.

Ordinarily, in a democracy all proceedings in a Legislative Assembly must be freely telecast and reported so that the people, who are the supreme authority in a democracy, know how their representatives are behaving. There may, of course, be exceptional situations where this cannot be done.

For example, in the Second World War many secret sessions of the House of Commons were held so that Nazi spies may not know the views of the British political leaders. But such secrecy can only be in exceptional situations. I fail to see what was the exceptional situation in Karnataka which could justify prohibiting mediapersons to report events in the House.

I would therefore respectfully request you to reconsider your decision and withdraw the proceedings against the mediapersons, and instead take strong action against the M.L.A.s who have brought disgrace to the House.

Justice Markandey Katju

Chairman, Press Council of India

An Emergency-style witchhunt of the media?

26 November 2011

The top item (above) in the gossip column of The Indian Express today lends further credence to the conspiracy theory doing the rounds in Delhi that there may be a pattern to, and a devious intent behind, all that is happening to the media in recent weeks: the sweeping remarks of press council chairman Justice Markandey Katju, the notification of the Majithia wage board recommendations for journalists, the talk of regulation of the electronic media, the curbs on crossmedia ownership, etc.

And that in circa 2011—following the exposes of the gigantic scams and scandals that powered the anti-corruption movement—the Congress-led UPA government may have quietly ushered in a very sophisticated form of whiplashing and witchhunting the media, without the formal declaration of censorship as in 1975.

Image: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: Should media corruption come under Lok Pal?

B.G. VERGHESE: The declaration of Emergency in 1975

KULDIP NAYAR: Hindu and HT were were worst offenders

‘Justice Katju’s remarks not wide of the mark’

3 November 2011

In all the primal breast-beating over the new Press Council chairman’s sweeping generalisations, few journalists have tried to sanely dissect Justice Markandey Katju‘s remarks. Indeed, as a tweet ironically noted: “Most of the articles opposing Justice Katju’s interview actually end up proving whatever he said about the media there.”

Kumar Ketkar, the editor of the Marathi daily Divya Marathi, took on the pashas of political correctness on television but was shouted down. The veteran Bombay-based opinion writer Sidharth Bhatia attempts a more nuanced parsing of Justice Katju’s observations in today’s Asian Age.

***

By SIDHARTH BHATIA

Anyone who is concerned about the Indian media scene today, whether he is connected to it as a practitioner or as a consumer, would probably agree with many of the comments made by Justice Markandey Katju, the new chairman of the Press Council.

In an interview to Karan Thapar — who chose to play just a straightforward questioner rather than a provocateur — Justice Katju was sharply critical of the media; among other things, he called it obsessed with frivolous matters (filmstars etc), invidious in its approach and anti-people.

These are harsh words and sweeping generalisations but cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Justice Katju has a very poor opinion of the Indian media. He lists three ways in which it is not serving the interests of Indian society: it diverts the attention of the Indian people from real problems (economic issues) by over-focussing on trivia, cricket, Bollywood and the like; it divides the people by highlighting, without evidence, the connection of organisations like the Indian Mujahideen moments after a bomb blast, which subtly conveys the message that all Muslims are terrorists; and instead of enlightening citizens, it propagated superstitions, astrology and the like.

Justice Katju does not mince words in the interview: “The majority (of people in the media), I’m sorry to say, are of a very poor intellectual level… I doubt whether they have any idea of economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature. I have grave doubts whether they are well read in all this, which they should be.”

This is strong language coming from anyone, and when they come from the man who will preside over the Press Council, which often hears complaints against the media, they assume an extra edge. They clearly set the tone of what his tenure will be like.

Those who have been used to the Press Council being a generally benign, even toothless body, would do well to pay attention to what he thinks.

Now much of what Justice Katju says is not new.

In media circles, the falling standards of the profession have been a subject of discussion for a very long time. For example, it is almost universally admitted that younger journalists joining newspapers, magazines or television channels are much less aware of Indian history, politics and society than their counterparts a few decades ago.

This can partly be blamed on the education system, which relies more on rote learning than on genuine enquiry. A system where students can and do get 99 per cent marks can only be an assembly line where talent and intellect is measured by grades which reflect a good memory and little else.

To cater to the demand for journalists, colleges have eagerly taken to offering media courses at the bachelors level, but without the requisite faculty; a lot of the output of these courses is, to put in bluntly, rubbish. But such is the need in a sector that has grown exponentially over the last decade and more, that almost everyone lands a job soon enough, writing or thinking skills be damned.

There are scores of channels and hundreds of publications looking for staff and the general tendency is to just take what you can get and then hope that they will learn something on the job.

The bigger question is, what of the job itself?

Regrettably, Justice Katju’s remarks about the frivolous nature of the media are not wide of the mark. Though it is wrong to paint the entire media scene with one brush — the “media” can include the serious as well as the trashy channels, the quality papers as well as the rags — the perception is that TV channels are about hyperbole and the newspapers are dumbing down news.

The person holding the remote control sees either panellists shouting at each other, film songs, filmstars airing their views on everything, cricket and astrology. And this is on news, not entertainment channels. One often hears viewers ask — why do correspondents get so breathless while reporting, why do anchors shout so much? Bollywood stories make it on the front pages and the supplements are of course full of glamour.

But this is not the whole truth.

There are sober anchors as well as serious and competent reporters (and good journalism too). Many TV channels give us top quality stories on the “real issues”, many newspapers write on important matters that concern the polity. But, as any mediaperson will tell you, perception triumphs reality and Justice Katju is articulating the common perception.

As a judge and as an erudite and analytical mind, one only wishes he had taken a more balanced and nuanced view instead of blindly hitting out at the profession.

The Editors’ Guild has come out with a condemnation of Justice Katju’s remarks. Media practitioners also need to point out to Justice Katju and other critics that such broad brushstroke criticism does not do justice to the many thousands of journalists who do a good and honest job.

The average journalist is not on television, not a columnist with his or her picture in the papers, not someone who regularly hobnobs with the rich and powerful at seminars or parties. Tucked away in small papers (and big too) are journalists who do their work with great competence and sincerity. They do know about history, economic theory, literature and poetry and do understand the role of the media in a democratic and changing society. They do not hanker after sarkari titles or parliamentary seats or even television panel discussions.

Justice Katju wants stronger powers for the Press Council, which he wants to rechristen the Media Council so that television can be brought under its purview. In extreme cases, he wants to suspend licences of publications and channels. This may sound wonderful and path-breaking but is not the silver bullet that will change things overnight. Journalists are not going to become smarter, wiser or more mature.

The media is not going to shed its so-called obsession with trivia.

What is more, managements, who too have some responsibility at the state of affairs, are not likely to mend their ways. All it will do is to set up an antagonistic relationship between the media and the council; the early signs that this will happen are already visible.

Any attempt to “reform” the media and make it more professional will have to be a long drawn, process-driven affair. As chairman of the Press Council, Justice Katju can definitely contribute to that transition, but not if he is holding onto his prejudices and carrying a danda.

(This piece was originally published in the Asian Age and is reproduced here with permission)

Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Has Justice Katju been appointed by Josef Stalin?

‘Has Justice Katju been appointed by Stalin?’

3 November 2011

The “tendentious and offensiveremarks of the new chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, on the state of the media and the quality of journalists—and his articulation for greater powers, including over television news channels—has predictably, a) touched a raw nerve, b) stirred a hornet’s nest, c) set the cat among the paper tigers, d) exposed the media’s achilles’ heel, or e) all of the above.

The Editors’ Guild of India*, the Broadcast Editors’ Asociation, the Indian Journalists’ Association have all reacted sharply, while public opinion seems to be on the side of the press council chief, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. To a question on the CNN-IBN programme “Face the Nation” last night, 73% viewers said there was no need for Justice Katju to apologise (but who believes these polls any way?).

While Justice Katju tries to “place” an article in newspapers to further elucidate his views and some in the media say he said nothing that should not have been said, at least two Delhi-based English newspapers have thought the controversy fit enough for editorials.

Mint, the business daily from the Hindustan Times stable, has an edit titled “Educating Justice Katju“:

“Perhaps Justice Katju is not aware of what journalists do. The basic task of any journalist is to gather news and report it. Most of his or her working day is spent doing that. This is true of the cub reporter and of the senior editor.

“It is true that newsrooms, newspaper columns and TV channels are noisy. But that is only a reflection of the society at large: journalists don’t exist in ether. What is true of Indians is true of Indian journalists.

“Now it would be wonderful if all journalists could appreciate Caravaggio, read Catullus’s poetry, know Thucydides by the chapter and creatively use advanced macroeconomics to interpret the daily ebb and flow of events. It would not only make the press a more cultured institution, but possibly make India a better country. It is also true that few, if any, journalists are enabled to do that.

“These are expensive tastes that require extensive (and yes, expensive) education. Few journalists can afford that, even if most of them want to. The reason: there’s a huge divergence between personal and social returns from such education. This is a wider problem and it afflicts many other professions. To blame the press for being “illiterate” is misinformed, if not downright wrong.”

Mail Today, the compact daily from the India Today group, pulls no punches. “He doesn’t deserve to be press council chief” is its rather straightforward headline:

“Justice Katju’s attitude towards the media is one of undisguised disgust. Clearly, he seems to have been misled about his work as the PCI Chairman.

“He seems to think that he has been appointed by Josef Stalin to forcefully “ modernise” the media. Actually he has been appointed under the Press Council of India Act and his main job is to ensure that the press remains free in this country.

“A second task is that of raising the standards of the media discourse, not through chastisement— where, in any case he can merely admonish— but dialogue and persuasion. But this is something you cannot do if you hold the media in utter contempt.

“It would appear that Justice Katju, who had a streak of the self- publicist even as a judge, is pursuing a bizarre agenda which may end up embarrassing those who pushed for his appointment as the Chairman of the Press Council of India.”

* Disclosures apply

Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Raju Narisetti: ‘Good journalists, poor journalism, zero standards’

Aakar Patel: Indian journalism is regularly second-rate

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