Katju seems obsessed?
The debate on whether or not the media – especially the social media – should be “regulated” is getting hotter by the day. In a letter to Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju urged government to set up a team of experts to find ways and means of checking social media against its misuse by defaming people and groups. Katju referred a recent example of dissemination of a CD which had been distorted for defaming a reputed senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, a Member of Parliament besides being a spokesman for the Congress Party. In his letter Katju rued that the social media kept unloading the CD despite a Court injunction against it and despite the author admitting that he had doctored it. This is shocking. And it is bringing the entire media – and not just the social media – ito disrepute. Katju followed his letter to the Information Minister with an article in The Hindu (2 May) in which he said that the media (both print and electronic) needs to be regulated. He made a distinction between “regulation” and “control”. He pointed out that the difference between the two is that “in control there is no freedom”, whereas in regulation “there is freedom but subject to reasonable restrictions”. That is playing with words. But let that go.
The fact is that the media needs to indulge itself in some self-introspection. There is no question but that some of the leading media has come to cheapen itself. One can’t blame the media if it wants to indulge in what is plainly gutter journalism. It is for the reader to respond to it. Like the conservative and fundamentalist mullahs who want Muslim women to wear burquas and Muslim people as a whole to abhor music, dance etc, Katju wants the media to be deadly boring, sticking, if it were to listen to this arch-conservative, to play up “serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers’ suicide, dowry deaths, female foeticide” etc. Great. But life is not one long moan. Even the poor would like to know something about Sachin Tendulkar or Actress X or Y. That is human nature. There is nothing to be gained by constant finger-pointing. If the media breaks law, it can be taken to court.
No journalist of any standing would like to break journalistic ethics. Mr Katju, I am speaking with the experience of 65 years behind me. Of course, some journalists can be bought. So can some dispensers of law. Of course media houses are owned by businessmen. Who else should own them: by judges? Doctors? Of course these owners want to make profit. Why shouldn’t they? Or what is business for? If they are indulging in paid news, get the Parliament to pass a law prohibiting it. Please, Mr Katju, don’t compare the media with doctors, lawyers, Chartered Accountants and other such bodies. The press is unique. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything.
According to statistics, 185 journalists have been killed since 1992 for their work. How many doctors, Judges, and Chartered Accountants have been killed for telling the truth? Pakistan tops the list with 58 killed, followed by India with 39. According to The Hindu (3 May), in a Joint Statement issued by the Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) and the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC), the two leading media bodies have called on the governments in every region to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information. Mr Katju would pardon me if I say he sounds biased and vindictive. According to him “media owners cannot say that they should be allowed to make profits even if the rest of society suffers”. Where did the media owners say that? Is it Mr Katju’s view that because society suffers, the media must also suffer? What sort of logic is that?
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia was reported as saying that the media should understand that the guide-lines it wants to lay down will have nothing to do with the punishment part and that what is intended is only an exercise to make the media know that they cannot go beyond a “particular limit”. But what will the Court do if the media crosses the “particular limit”? Won’t it punish the allegedly guilty party? Wouldn’t it be more to the point to ask the Parliament to pass a law based on guide-lines? Do “guide-lines” have the same powers as an Act passed by Parliament? These questions are raised with all due respect to the Court to clear doubts.
This writer has seen the steady decline in journalistic values over the years, the shameless resort to sexy pictures, the trivialisation of editorials, the overt publicity given to ‘society’ men and women of no consequence, the paid news syndrome and ought else. Indian society is in turmoil. Money has become the ruling force in social concourse. These are issues not for the Court to tackle but for society itself to handle. But if society itself has gone berserk to whom can one look up for guidance? We need leaders of high moral standing to chastise the media; the Court may mean well but it should stay out of the mess. It is not that the entire media has gone berserk. There are class newspapers and weeklies that merit our approbation. There are columnists and writers of extraordinary merit. They write knowledgeable about all the issues that Mr Katju has raised and all power to them. To ignore them and to focus attention on a failing few is to ignore reality. If one can offer a guideline to Mr Katju and the rest, what they should do is to invite editors and publishers and proprietors of various media, individually and separately for behind-the-scene conversation that could turn out to be more meaningful and rewarding instead of seeking to publicly damning the media and insulting journalists. Grow up Mr Katju. There is a lot of work that demands attention but running down the media time in and time out is not the best way of getting things done. The media merely reflects society because it is part of it. Let us start with remaking society knowing fully well that it is easier said than done.?