Justice Markandey Katju, the new chairman of the Press Council of India has become a problem for the media. Not a day passes without his making some adverse and more often needlessly hurting attacks on it. the other day he was addressing the convocation ceremony of the Delhi branch of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Instead of raising the intellectual level of his speech – which one expected from a former Supreme Court Judge, he went on an attacking spree. The PCI Chairman took a dig at the media for “hyping issues such as 100th century of Sachin Tendulkar, retirement of Rahul Dravid, pregnancy of Aishwarya Rai and death of film star Dev Anand”. As reported in The Hindu (25 March) Mr Katju was critical of the media for giving “undue” space to entertainment, to “divert attention from real issues”.
According to the chairman of the Press Council “90 per cent of the media coverage goes to entertainment”. As he put it, “the problems of the country are not price rise, employment and poverty, but whether Sachin Tendulkar has scored his 100th century”. Said Mr Katju: “Once he has scored his 100th century, issues like unemployment, hunger and poverty are finished and rivers of milk and honey will flow. When Rahul Dravid retires, it is the greatest catastrophe in history. Rahul Dravid retired, the country is doomed. For days on end, the media hyped it. This is your Indian media”. How far is he justified in making such implicatory remarks? On an earlier occasion Mr Katju had even worse comments to make. He was then speaking in Jaipur to a student audience when he charged the media with losing its “sense of proportion”. As he put it, while the nation was “sitting on a volcano” the media was offering four kinds of opium to the masses, in the shape of religious bigotry, films, cricket and falseheed”. “The intent is clear” he then said, “keep the people drugged so they don’t revolt against poverty and the terrible mess created for them”.
Mr Katju further criticised the electronic media for dividing the people on the lines of caste and religion, by creating an impression that Hindus alone had the first claim over citizenship and others were second rate citizens”. He said : “Minority communities are demoralised in various manners. This is unacceptable in India which is a land of migrants”. For a long time the media put up with such ranting. Then came an editorial in the Free Press Journal (29 February) which no doubt voiced the unsaid views of journalists in general. Entitled ‘Incorrigible Katju’ the edit said: “Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju has become a great nuisance. Not a day passes without him saying something most astounding. After calling journalists names, Katju has now shifted attention to the State Governments… We do not think it is necessary to criticise Katju any longer. The man is incorrigible. The only solution is to ensure his early removal before he makes a complete fool of himself, and in the process, entangles various governments and other agencies in wholly avoidable controversies”.
But, Mr Katju apart, isn’t it time for the media to give his frank remarks some deep thought? A little self-introspection from the media will not hurt. Is he really wrong in his media assessment? Is the media doing justice to the reader? In what way is Aishwarya Rai’s pregnancy meaningful to the average citizen? But then it may well be asked: how much space really has she received in any given period of time? Is Mr Katju needlessly exaggerating his concerns? The PCI Chairman will do well, to allot to a member of the Council staff the job of analyzing news columns of a dozen newspapers to understand reality. That would be more relevant than all his loud talk that only leads to media hassles. But let this be admitted. Overall, one gets the general impression while reading our dailies that trivialisation of news is now becoming almost standard practice.
Read the city editions of some of our dailies in Delhi and Mumbai as a starter. One is dazzled by pages after pages of rampant colour. The editorial seems to presume that the readers are morons not interested in serious vocabulary. Time was when parents used to tell their children that they should diligently read editorials in their city papers to improve their English. One wonders whether such advice is ever heard these days. Edits are no longer taken seriously. They seem more like conversation pieces sans logic, sans vision. The presumption, evidently, is that the younger generation wants “reader-friendly” edits rather than literary pieces propagating profound thoughts. The message is: “Don’t Think. Have a Good Laugh”. The media is critical of MLAs viewing porn while Assemblies are in session. But what can one say of a weekly that had as its attraction an article on sexual Nirvana, supported by a Durx Sex Survey? And a Mumbai daily which discussed where the Kama Sutra is for the elderly and why do women gravitate towards the bad guy? And a Delhi daily which carried an article saying: “It’s official. Having Sex is the Best Way to Feel Good” carrying the matter further in another article with a 5-column heading: Excuse me, aisi bhi kya jaldi hai? For whom are these articles meant?
Incidentally, Mr Katju thinks the media gave too much publicity to the death of Dev Anand? But there were others who passed away in 2011 like Shammi Kapoor, Mansoon Ali Khan Pataudi, Bhimsen Joshi, Jagjit Singh and Bhupen Hazarika? Did they also get high publicity? Newspaper sales are rising. DNA (26 December 2011) claimed that it was selling six lakh copies every day. The Times of India (7 March 2012), the world’s largest selling English newspaper widened its lead over other newspapers in the fourth quarter of 2011 showing its “readership surge” to 15.96 lakh, almost double the size of the Number 2 English daily, its sister publication Mumbai Mirror. The paper claims that its readership is more than two times that of Hindustan Times and three and a half times that of The Hindu. The Hindu, incidentally, has launched its kozhekode edition on 29 January 2012 at its 17th printing centre. How would Mr Katju assess the popularity of these two papers?