It is impossible to believe, but it is true. The last category of people, one would imagine, who would take to violence for whatever reason, are lawyers, and yet there were these black-coated advocates of Bangalore throwing various missiles, including stones and helmets, at the media persons standing outside the City Civil Court Complex in the city, causing serious damage to media vehicles, not to say injuries to their owners that included some women. Six cameramen were hit with tripods of their own cameras, of whom two suffered head injuries. At this point police officials came on the scene. The lawyers reportedly threw at them chairs, stones and, as Deccan Herald (2 March) reported “almost any object they found”, forcing the cops to retreat. Many of them were injured; one was hit on the head and fell down unconscious. Some lawyers took on themselves to burn vehicles and even a police outpost. One more cop was hit by a huge stone, causing injuries to his head and eye.
Enraged at this, the cops went after the lawyers, their rage uncontrolled, defying their own superiors and reportedly setting fire to vehicles allegedly belonging to lawyers. Nothing of this kind has ever happened in living memory and to see that there will be repetition of this in the future, those guilty – and there is plenty of pictorial evidence of that – need to be severely punished, not just for the violence they have indulged in, but even more so for the disgrace they have brought to their profession. As of now there has been no reaction from the chairman of the Press Council of India, Mr Katju nor from any national media organisation, unless they have gone unreported.
Journalists in Bangalore, according to Business Line (6 March) representing both print and electronic media have demanded a Chief Justice of India monitored probe, in a memorandum submitted to the Karnataka High Court Chief Justice, Mr Vikramjit Sen. The Kannada News Channel chief of Janshri, Anant Chinivar has asked the advocates in general to disown those guilty among them. A local court has granted conditional bail to four advocates arrested in connection with the violence. Mahendra Mishra, Managing Director of TV9 and News 9 is quoted as saying that with journalists threatened and their cameras vandalised, it is time something is done before India seems to be turned into a banana republic and he has a case in point.
It is not clear what exactly roused the Bangalore lawyers to behave like street rowdies. Have they all lost a sense of decorum? The media, goodness knows, has its faults, But surely, no media deliberately seeks to damn any one profession with malice aforesaid? According to reports, Karnataka’s Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda has promised to bear the cost of those who were injured during the clashes. One would have thought that a lawyers’ association would come forth to bear the cost out of a sense of shame. We are living in a bleak world.
Today it is the Bangalore lawyer who has lost his mind? Whose turn will it be tomorrow? The media is an easy target and the TV cameraman with his camera and tripod is the easiest of the lot. He is, poor man, only doing his job, to cover real life with real footwork. Is that any reason for him to be targeted by lawless lawyers? A question arises: if the lawyers concerned had any genuine reason to be angry with the media, surely there are ways to sort matters out? What is the Press Council of India for? Isn’t there an All India Newspaper Editors’ Conference? Isn’t there a Press Guild? And if the lawyers had some genuine case against the media, can’t they sue those immediately involved? What are courts for? Even more importantly, what are lawyers for? Can’t they fight a case, not in the street, but in the surroundings they are most familiar with: the courts themselves? One opinion is that which was expounded in The Hindu (22 November, 2011) by Sashi Kumar, chairman of the Media Development Foundation, based in Chennai. Discussing what he considered the “profligate media” deserving punishment he noted that “the media have only themselves to blame for bringing things to such a pass and the sense, if anything “is that the irresponsible, opinionated and corrupt media are finally getting their just desserts”. And to that, adds Sashi Kumar – and no doubt our Bangalore lawyers would be highly pleased to read him: “The disconnect with the public, which has been in the making for some time now, has eroded the moral and institutional high ground the media have enjoyed, so much so that talk of reining in the media through firm measures does not appear misplaced”. But “reining in the media” is not done through physical assault. Or by breaking innocent heads.
There is talk of self-regulation by the media whose usefulness is questioned. Should there be an external regulator? There already is one, as we all know: The Press Council of India, but it has no teeth. Can the media, then, on its own appoint a council drawn from among its own senior staffers? The trouble is that regulation of content by a statutory body is at best, a euphemism for censorship. But then here is another solution, offered by Sashi Kumar. And that is the setting up a forum to address and remedy grivances through a process of mediation, much like the Press Complaints Commission in the United Kingdom. Justice Katju seeks more power for the Press Council of India. His argument is that when politicians, bureaucrats, professional bodies such as the Medical Council of India, the Bar Council of India and auditors are subject to such regulation and when even judges can be impeached, there is no reason why the press alone should claim exemption.
Poor argument, and that, too, from a judge. For the fact remains – and as Sashi Kumar has pointed out – it is only the fourth pillar of democracy, or the Fourth Estate, which is not institutionally to constitutionally accountable. Which is all the more reason why the media must be more self-introspective and listen to the voice of dissent and be more positive in its response. A free press is all very well, but an arrogant press only brings discredit to the media which cannot possibly be what the media lords want to encourage.