Should Electronic Media Be Brought Under Press Council?
Who has not heard of Justice Markandey Katju? He is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court who is known for giving landmark judgments. It is reliably learnt from various newspapers that some time back he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and vociferously suggested that it was high time the electronic media was brought under the Press Council so that it be reined in. This has obviously invited the ire of the Editors Guild of India which has strongly resisted implementing any such thing as suggested by Justice Katju who is the chairman of the Press Council. It has also triggered a heated debate on whether or not electronic media should be brought under the Press Council.
Recently, Justice Markandey Katju told Karan Thapar on the CNN IBN’s Devil’s Advocate programme: “I have written to the PM that the electronic media should be brought under the Press Council and it should be called Media Council and we should be given more teeth. Those teeth would be used in extreme situations.” This clearly implies that he is not too happy with the way electronic media is being run by its managers and owners.
Justice Katju also said that the Prime Minister had replied to his letter by stating that they were considering it which all said and done is a very big development and has to be taken with full seriousness. Not stopping here, Justice Katju further said that he had met Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha—Sushma Swaraj who told him probably there would be a consensus. When Karan Thapar asked Justice Katju whether he was seeking more teeth for the Press Council, he minced no words in saying categorically: “I want powers to stop government advertisement. I want to suspend the licence of that media for a certain period if it behaves in a very obnoxious manner, impose fines.”
We all know how the media sometimes highlight the virulent speeches of fundamentalist leaders which deserve no coverage. Also, sometimes the media show too much of terror attacks as we saw during 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 thus enabling the handlers of terrorists in Pakistan to inform all latest moves by security forces thus enabling terrorists to kill some of our soldiers which could have been avoided had media refrained from giving bit-by-bit information about how our soldiers were planning to attack them. The media must exercise caution and refrain from sensationalising any particular event beyond a limit.
Even though some may say that Justice Katju’s views are extreme as the Editors Guild of India feels, few rather very few will question the logic behind it. After all, who doesn’t know how government advertisements keep dishing out every now and then. And that too for a long time in which a common man finds nothing new and feels bored and so he changes the channel but much to his disgust the same advertisement appears on other channels also. Against this backdrop, Justice Katju’s stand seems completely justified. Moreover, Justice Katju has had an excellent, impeccable track record as a Supreme Court Judge who never hesitates to call a spade a spade. Even his worst critics concede this incontestable truth.
When asked whether these measures would not threaten the freedom of the media, Justice Katju was forthcoming in his reply: “Everybody is accountable in a democracy. No freedom is absolute. Every freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions. I am accountable, you are accountable, and we are accountable to the people.” He was also very critical of the TV debates which he termed “frivolous” and castigated the panellists for not maintaining discipline and told Karan Thapar in no uncertain terms: “It is no shouting contest.”
He further said that there must be some fear in the media while quoting Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas that “bin bhay hot na preet”. Those who are regular viewers of such TV debates know fully well that Justice Katju has said nothing new and very often we fail to even listen what those appearing in TV debates are saying as their voices are drowned in overshouting each other especially if they are from opposite parties. Even though some leaders are very courteous while speaking on such shows, but they can be counted on fingers of one hand only.
It is about time and instead of sharply criticising Justice Katju, our electronic media and the Editors Guild of India did some strong self-introspection. If they do it rationally and honestly, they will fall in line with what Justice Katju said. He may be very strong on his words but no one can question his intention and bona fide. He said bluntly, “I have a very poor opinion of the media. They should be working for the interest of the people. They are not working for the interest of the people and sometimes they are positively working in an anti-people manner. They often divert the attention of the people from the real problems which are basically economic. Eighty per cent of people are living in abject poverty, unemployment, facing price rise, health care (problems). You (media) divert the attention from these problems and instead you project film stars and fashion parades as if they are the problems of the people. Cricket is an opium of the masses. Roman emperors used to say if you cannot give the people bread give them circuses. In India send them to cricket if you cannot give the people bread.” What wrong has Justice Katju said?
Justice Katju was also particularly critical of Muslims being branded as terrorists. He said: “Whenever bomb blasts take place in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, within a few hours almost every channel starts showing an e-mail has come or an SMS has come that Indian Mujahideen has claimed responsibility or Jaish-e-Mohammed or Harkat-ul-Ansar or some Muslim name. You see an e-mail or SMS… any mischievous person can send but by showing it on TV channels you are in a subtle way conveying the message that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb throwers and you are demonising the Muslims… 99 per cent of people of all communities are good people.”
Justice Katju further said: “I think it is a deliberate action of the media to divide the people on religious lines and that is totally against the national interest.” One will never attribute such motives to the media but one can say this much that intentionally or accidentally all this does not serve national cause. And for highlighting this one has to give full credit to Justice Katju who is one of the brightest gems our judiciary and Supreme Court has been a witness to.
By Sanjeev Sirohi