The newly appointed chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), Justice Markandeya Katju has started offending the media even before taking full charge of his office and has invited strong condemnation from the Press. Justice Katju knows very little about the media – the print media, that is. He has even drawn criticism from the former Chief Justice of India, Mr JS Verma, current head of the Television News Media’s Self-Regulatory Mechanism known as the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA). Mr Katju, it appears wants to handle both the print and electronic media and is not happy with Mr Verma’s appointment.
In a recent interview, Justice Katju dismissed the electronic media’s attempt at self-regulation, as quoted in The Hindu (November 5), saying that “it simply isn’t working” and that a danda is needed to put some “fear in the media”. He is also reported as having made a series of criticisms on the shallow quality of news reporting and the intellectual calibre of Indian journalists. He needs to be called to give an explanation. Actually, he needs to be pulled up for making insulting remarks about journalists. This has been done by Deccan Herald (November 3) and very appropriately. Nothing that the Editors’ Guild and other media bodies have already condemned the “negative remarks and opposed the airy plans” of Mr Katju, The Herald said when he wants to put “fear” in the minds of the media, he does not realise “that these powers are equivalent to censorship powers which is anathema to democracy”. Mr Katju, the paper said, by his “offensive and uninformed” comments has shown that “he has no comprehension of the functioning of the Press in the country and has “scant grasp of its rights and responsibilities”. The Indian media, the paper said “has a tradition of upholding public interest and self-regulation” and “derives its strength and legitimacy from the freedom of expression granted to citizens by the Constitution”. It added: “It has survived bigger onslaughts on it than Katju’s and can weather the present one also. With the kind of ideas that he has about the Press, the chairman does not deserve to be where he is.”
Incidentally, Mr Katju has also been criticised by two Members of the IPC, as reported by The Hindu (November 5), namely Kalyan Barooh and Rajeev Ranjan Nag who made the point that “to paint the entire media with the same brush also reflects his (Katju’s) lack of knowledge about the Fourth Estate and its contributions and impacts”. The PCI, they said, “was not only set up to penalise the media by functioning as a regulatory body, but also to protect the rights and freedom of working journalists”. They coolly advised him “to return his focus to the business of the Council and the long list of pending complaints dating back to several years”. Incidentally, according to The Times of India (November 5), former Lokayukta, Justice N Santosh Hegde “strongly” wants “the media also should be brought under the Lokpal’s purview in the backdrop of allegations on media houses engaged in paid news business”. But will some one kindly tell us, in the context of what we read daily, what ‘real’ news is and what is not?
Some days ago The Times of India, of all papers, published the picture of a bikini-clad girl exhibiting her physical endowments that would have been better placed in Playboy. The same paper (November 4) published another such picture, this one of Bipasha Basu, which is a still from her upcoming film. She is quoted as saying that she tried on several bikinis for the scene which was to be photographed, but ultimately chose one from her personal wardrobe. Is that big news? Is that news in any sense of the term? For the readers’ information the paper also produced Bipasha’s ‘bikini diet’ whatever that means. What have we come to? The next day there was some answer. The paper in a 5-column spread (appropriately illustrated by another two-column picture of semi-nudes) carried a story that said “Lingerie-buying gets a premium lift”. The story said large malls “today sport some of the best lingeries – Indian brands like Diesel, Chantelle, Simone Perela, Tarah and Cosabella”. “Some brands” the paper said, “like Jockey and Triumph run stand-alone stories, while online lingerie shopping, too, is catching on”. It was a long report, which among other things said that “the premium and super premium segments, priced between Rs 250 and Rs 5,000 per unit, have seen the fastest growth” and that “from having a near zero presence five years ago, these now account for 20-30 per cent of the market”. Said the report: Lovable Lingerie hit the capital market in March this year with the issue being over-subscribed by 35 times. Apparently it closed trade “at a premium of 135 per cent of the issue price of Rs 481.20 at the BSE….” Does such a report come under the title of paid news?
To what extent, one may ask, is the average reader of The Times of India interested in lingeries and their sale of brand names? One raises these questions because increasingly sexy pictures are getting into prominence in our leading newspapers, including Hindustan Times, The Telegraph and their like. The media condemns Justice Katju but can it be, can it just be that he may have a point? The New Indian Express condemned Mr Katju’s penchant for making “controversial statements”, but surprisingly it added: “At a time of falling standards where there are MPs and MLAs with criminal records and an estimated 20 per cent of judges were deemed corrupt by a fellow judge, it will be unfair to expect only journalist to be honest and erudite, even though they are supposed to write the first draft of history…” But the major question is not the journalists’ honesty or probity, but the demands made on him by media proprietors. When a newspaper carries a report on lingerie sales, one begins to wonder how to define news.
The Economic Times (November 4) seems to have a better understanding of news when it reported that a 4 BHK apartment with an area of 2,771 sq ft was recently transacted at Rs 10.08 crore on Senapati Bapat Marg, Upper Worli and in a recent transaction in New Friends Colony, a 1,800 sq ft apartment was sold at a price of Rs 4.25 crore at a time – and this is what I have to say—when 500 million people live on an earning of Rs 32 per day in our cities. Bharatmata ki jai!