Deccan Herald (November 7) carried a Press Trust of India (PTI) report from Vapi, Gujarat on the reception given to LK Advani on his rath yatra by the State Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The report was illustrated with a photograph. The photograph showed an empty, throne-like chair between one seating Advani and the other seating Modi and the report said: “The reported dissent between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani…..came to the fore….with the two keeping a distance while sharing the dais”. The report added: “Despite lauding Advani’s fight against corruption, Modi preferred not to take the throne-like seat next to him….throwing enough hints at their continuing Cold War”. It also reported, wrongly, that Modi “sat two chairs away from Advani”. The headline said: “Modi-Advani Cold Vibes Continue”.
The next day (November 8) The New Indian Express ran a story, also by the PTI which quoted Modi as saying that the chair “remained vacant because State party president RC Faldu was delivering his speech” – obviously from a further away mike. Now several points arise. One, if Faldu, who should normally have been seated next to Advani was up and away, didn’t the reporter realise why the seat was empty? Two, if Faldu was addressing the audience why wasn’t he shown in the picture? Three, the November 8, PTI report said that “the chair between Anant Kumar and Advani” was empty. That was not shown either. In his speech in Bharuch, Modi referring to the PTI story that appeared in many papers, said “Media liked creating a controversy”. He accused media barons of “playing into the hands of certain Congress leaders who are working behind the scenes for planting such news items which are untrue”.
In such circumstances, an explanation from the PTI is called for. If the reporter of the PTI was present during the entire function, surely he would have noticed the presence of Faldu, the BJP state president? In his role it was he who had the right to preside over the meeting, not Modi. But the more important question is: Can a reporter make a comment of his own in describing a given situation or should be rest with stating what is noticeable? The reporter’s comment indicates his prejudices. In his Bharuch speech, PTI quoted Modi as saying to “the crowds”: “Even if I am not in newspaper headlines or TV screens, I have found a place in the hearts of the people”. What the PTI report failed to state was that for that comment he received loud cheers. One may not like Modi. Many don’t. Many hate him. But is it too much to ask that reporting him should be fair and not reflecting one’s prejudices? Would the skies have fallen if the reporter also noted that Modi received wild cheers?
Perhaps Justice Markandeya Katju, the newly-appointed chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) is right, in some of his comments on journalists. Katju has already started one controversy over another. According to Deccan Herald (November 8), “dismissive about the self-regulatory mechanism of the News broadcasting industry” he has challenged TV Channels that if they did not want to come under the Press Council, then they should choose another body like the Lokpal. He is reported to have said: “Self-regulation is no regulation” and that news organisations are “private bodies whose activities have a large influence on the public and so they must be answerable to the public”. Further, he is reported to have said: “How can electronic channels say they are not accountable to anyone but themselves?” Katju is reported to have earlier written a letter to the News Broadcasting association secretary NK Singh, saying: “I would like to know whether the News Broadcasting Association, of which, perhaps, you are the Secretary, are willing to be placed under the Lokpal which is proposed to be set up in the winter session of Parliament. You seem to be reluctant to come under the Press Council of India. Are you also reluctant to come under the Lokpal?”.
According to the report, Katju said, in the matter of self-regulation, even Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court did not have that absolute right and could be impeached by Parliament for misconduct”. Katju does not have many supporters, least in the print media. Writing in The Times of India (November 6) Minaz Merchant, chairman of a Media Group, said that while Justice Katju’s “diagnosis is right, his prescription is not”. He agreed that the Press Council must be given more teeth with “properly legislated regulatory powers”, considering that today the Council can only reprimand newspapers which violate accepted codes of journalistic conduct. “Just as listed companies are supervised by Sebi and other sectors – telecom, insurance banking—have their own regulatory bodies with specific jurisdiction, so should a re-invigorated Press Council” according to Merchant. As he put it, “this will end many of the malpractices that have damaged the media’s credibility which is its only currency”. “Lose it” he says, “as some senior print and television editors did after the Radia tapes scandal – and you have nothing left. It is this toxic nexus between journalists and the Corporate – political establishment that must be broken.” He pointed to the fact that in the British PCC, not one of its seventeen members is from the government or the opposition, the majority being drawn from civil society: professionals, academics and even workers’ representatives. Minhas has the right to speak for the media considering his own role in it. his suggestions deserve consideration. But at the same time, Katju, as a former judge should also know how to hold his tongue. Silly attacks on the media’s staffers is not only in bad taste, but do not stand up to critical examination. We expect better sense from a former Supreme Court Judge.