A shocking story has come to light that one totally fails to understand. Of all the newspapers The Hindu (November 17) and Business Line ( November 17) seem to be the only two to give it prominence. And in this, the newly appointed chairman of the Press Council, Justice Murkandey Katju comes in the picture. The occasion was a meeting of the Press Council that was held in New Delhi, presided over by Justice Katju to celebrate National Press Day. He said he had a statement to make. In 2008, Times Now, the TV Channel had mistakenly shown the picture of Justice PB Sawant, instead of Justice PK Samanta in a story on the Ghaziabad Provident Fund Scam. It was the kind of mistake anybody could make, as Justice Katju suggested. But a case of defamation was filed against Times Now. The trial court which heard the appeal laid a fine of Rs 100 crore in damages. The case went to the Bombay High Court.
According to The Hindu “The High Court asked the channel to deposit Rs 20 crore and give a bank guarantee for Rs 80 crore before hearing its appeal against a trial court’s award….The Supreme Court refused to interfere with the Bombay High Court’s order.” Commenting on this, Justice Katju is reported to have said: “We are all human being and we all make mistakes. In my opinion the appropriate order would have been to give a severe warning to the TV channel to be careful in future. The imposition of a Rs 100 crore fine was, in my opinion, grossly disproportionate to the offence”. And he also said: “With great respect to these orders, I am of the view that they are incorrect and require to be reconsidered”. Thanks a million, Justice Katju.
Again, with all due respect to the High Court judges, may I, as a reporter, sub-editor and editor in my days as a journalist, inform them under what terrible strain media people function? I can fully understand how the mistake was made. “Sawant” and “Samanta” sound alike. The man in charge of Times Now’s photographic section might have given the wrong picture in all good faith. He may not even have known that there were two judges with names that sound alike. One can understand the discomfiture of one judge at being confused with another – especially in connection with a scam. The judge who was wronged could have demanded an immediate apology from Times Now in fullest possible view and surely the channel would have gratefully obliged. A fine of Rs 100 crore surely is totally disproportionate. May I make a suggestion? In future anyone appointed to sit in judgment on the media must first be asked to put in an apprenticeship of one year first as a reporter and then as a News Editor, just to know what it is to be a journalist. And may I, in this connection make a personal observation? Very often I see in print the Red Light district in Mumbai being spelt as Kamathipura! It gets me mad! The correct spelling is Kamatipura and Kamatis are a separate case. Should I take the newspaper to court for damages? When one feels hurt, it is difficult to show a sense of humour. But judges, like journalists, must learn to cultivate it. As a plain and simple reporter I fully stand by Justice Katju’s plea. Your Lordships, kindly, kindly, reconsider your orders. I’ll drink a toast to you.
Incidentally, Justice Katju who has himself come under strong criticism for his comments on the media should be pleases with The Hindu (16 November 16) for reproducing the full text of his comments on the media made elsewhere. Justice was charged with being needlessly offensive. The full text published puts the remarks he made in their perspective. He made it plain that his comments were not meant to damn the entire media “with the same brush”. Every journalist must read the full text of Justice Katju’s remarks for a variety of reasons.
According to him, India today is passing through a transitional period in our history, the transition being from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society and “this is a very painful and agonising period”. According to him, the new modern industrial society has not been full and firmly established, old values are crumbling and new modern values have not yet been put in place. “In this transitional period” Justice Katju noted, “the role of ideas, and therefore of the media, becomes extremely important”. While the country was in great distress, he said, “instead of seriously addressing these issues 90 per cent of the coverage of our media goes to entertainment, for example the lives of film stars, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing etc”. To put the figure at 90 per cent is silly, but then one has to read our newspapers to see to what low levels the media has dipped.
Aishwarya Rai gives birth to a girl. Does it have to be front page news? On November 13, Hindustan Times runs a story which says: “What makes Whiteley Feel Like A Woman? Its Official. Having Sex is the Best Way to Feel Good”. Another story running five columns carries the headline, in Hindi:” Exceuse me aisibhi kya jaldi hai?” A half-page is devoted to “Sexual harassment vs the Real Issues”. The Asian Age (November 13) gives a full page to a report that says Bikinis Not a Smashing Hit with a revealing picture under the little Operation Curvalicious! Sunday DNA (November 13) runs an article under the heading: Where’s the Kama Sutra for the Elderly? The Telegraph (November 14) ran a full half page picture of a bare-breasted woman, the breasts covered by her hands. What kind of journalism is this? But let this be said: not all national dailies push this kind of write-ups. Not The Hindu. Not The Hitavada. Not The Pioneer. We still have papers which would merit Justice Katju’s approbation. He is right in condemning certain developments in the media, which, to say the least, are nauseating. One must be thankful to Justice Katju for daring to speak out against them.