‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

31 October 2011

The Press Council of India (PCI), a statutory body for “preserving the freedom of the press and maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies”, has a new chairman: Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India.

In an interview with Karan Thapar for CNN-IBN’s weekly programme Devil’s Advocate, Justice Katju, known for his “mayhem, humour and quotability” in the courtroom and his long, ponderous newspaper articles, lets loose:

Karan Thapar: In a recent interaction with newspaper and TV editors, you said the media have become irresponsible and wayward, and that the time has come when some introspection is required. Are you disappointed with the media?

Justice Katju: Very disappointed with the media. I have a poor opinion about the media. I mean this. They should be working for the interests of the people. But they are not working for the interests of the people and sometimes, politically, they are working in an anti-people manner.

You have said one of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information to form rational opinions. Is that not happening altogether or is it not happening sufficiently?

You must first understand the historical context. India is passing through a transitional period in our history. Transition from a feudal-agricultural to a modern-industrial society. This is a painful and agonising period. When Europe was passing through this period, media played a great role. It was a great help in transforming European society.

Is that not happening in India?

No. Just the reverse….

Indian media is very often playing an anti-people role. One, it diverts the attention of the people from the real problems, which are basically economic. 80% people are living in horrible poverty, unemployment, facing price rise, healthcare. You divert attention from those problems and instead you parade parade film stars, fashion parades, cricketers, as if they are the problems.

Two, very often the media (deliberately) divides the people (on religious lines). This is a country of great diversity because it is a country broadly of immigrants. We must respect each other and remain united. After every bomb blast, almost every channel report that Indian Mujahidin or Jaish-e-Mohammed or Harkatul-jihad-e-islam have sent e-mails or SMS claiming responsibility. Now an e-mail can be sent by any mischievous person, but by showing this on TV channels and next day in the newspapers the tendency is to demonise all Muslims in the country as terrorists and bomb throwers.

Third, the media must promote scientific ideas to help the country move forward, like the European media did. Here the media promotes superstition, astrology. You know, 90% of the people in the country are mentally very backward, steeped in casteism, communalism, superstition and so on. Should the media help uplift them and bring them up to a higher mental level and make them part of enlightened India, or should it go down to their level and perpetuate their backwardness? Many channels show astrology, which is pure humbug, total superstition.

You began by saying that you had a very low opinion of the media, that you were deeply dispapointed. I get the impression you don’t think very much of the media at all?

There are some very respected journalists…. General rut is very, very low and I have a poor opinion of most media people. Frankly, I don’t think they have any knowledge of economic theory or political science or literature or philosophy. I don’t think they have studied all this.

So the media is in effect is letting down India.

Yes, absolutely. Because media is very important in this transitional period. The media deals with ideas, it is not an ordinary business, dealing in commodities. Therefore, people need modern scientific ideas. And that’s not happening.

View the full video: ‘Media deliberately dividing people’

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8 Responses to “‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’”

  1. Subramanyan L Says:

    Finally! somebody has the courage to say that the emperor is not wearing clothes!! Justice Katju is absolutely right. As a media person, I feel (usually) ashamend when I see the TV channels screaming out (usually) inane news and call it ‘Breaking News’. I feel frustrated when Arnab Goswami joins a shouting match and then tells pompously ‘India demands an answer’ (He actually means ‘I demand a high TRP). Most channel owners, if not all, play to the galleries and dont focus on issues that affects the country – economic, political etc. They only want to talk about sleazy, steamy stuff or not talk about sensitive issues which actually affects us but have been told by their owners to toe the line. It is worse than disgusting. More power to Justice katju.

  2. G. Nair Says:

    What is Justice Katju’s star?

  3. Mysore Peshva Says:

    Justice Katju is the man!

    Freedom of the press, which one of Justice Katju’s predecessors, Justice J. Venkataramiah called the “the mother of all other liberties” (Indian Express Newspaper v. The Union of India, 1984), is a doctrinal protection in India.

    While the Indian constitution states, “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression” (Article 19(1)(a), it does not mention freedom of press.

    It seems the courts have interpreted Parliament to have intended freedom of the press to be a “penumbra” right of Article 19 (akin to privacy in the United States’ Bill of Rights.) According to India’s First Press Commission, “… Freedom of the press, particularly, of newspapers and periodicals is a species of which freedom of expression is a genus.”

    In that context, Justice Katju’s position is important to maintain a level playing field so that conscientious, competent journalists may thrive in the best interests of the democracy.

  4. Raj Says:

    So, it’s time to review the “great media” in India also. Most of the channels and a section of the print media dish out news in a very unprofessional and immature manner. You do not have to be a seasoned journalist to understood for whom and for what each channel or newspaper stands for. That era of gullible readers who do not understand “news value”, “significance”, “proximity” and so on are gone. Mere sartorial elegance will not bring professionalism, objectivity, and trust in the media. The media has a big role in nurturing the antipathy against politicians and the political system by playing their brand of dirty politics. The media management must understand that the era of blindly believing in the media is over in India. Thanks to their own efforts.

    • N.MAHADEVASWAMY Says:

      It is time to think the role medeia in developing social responsiblity insted of glorifying un wanted thing now the medeia is lost sense of responsiblity

  5. Keo Says:

    Katju is a bit of an idiot, clearly. One of those middle-Indians with the most trite or banal opinions with little or no insight. Being a judge and interpreting the law is one thing, being a public intellectual and interpreting the world is another matter altogether. Sample this article of his:

    http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2559712.ece

    His stumping for his ex-colleague, Gyan Sudha Misra, is sadly funny, among other things. His tenure at the Press Council is going to be fun. Buckle up for a bumpy ride, folks!

  6. Ramesh Says:

    Katju is actually smart. He has very astutely anticipated the moves of the Media and that is why he has preemptively made a statement that the Media is anti-Muslim.

    Now, the media cannot say that he has RSS-leanings ! He has put the media right on the back foot !

  7. krishnan Says:

    Viewers by and large are aware for which party and for whom newspapers and channels are working. Discerning viewers easily distinguish the grain from the chaff. It is not very difficult to see through the genuiness or otherwise of a new report, analysis, or comment piece. People are best judges.


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