LAW RESOURCE INDIA

Press Council has failed: Justice Verma

Posted in FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on November 5, 2011

PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

J.S. Verma fires latest salvo in the war against Markandey Katju‘s comments.The former Chief Justice of India and current head of the television news media’s self-regulatory mechanism, J.S. Verma, has fired the latest salvo in the war of words following the recent controversial comments of Markandey Katju, the former Supreme Court judge and new head of the Press Council of India (PCI).“Everyone knows the Press Council has failed in its mandate, and how ineffective it has been. So why not wind it up or scrap it?” Mr. Justice Verma said in an interview to Outlook magazine. “[PCI] is run on public money, so why not save some money?”

While he was reportedly criticising the institution itself and not any particular individual, Mr. Justice Verma was dismissive about Mr. Justice Katju’s recent statements. “As far as the comments of [Katju] go, all irresponsible talk is best ignored,” he said.

Mr. Justice Verma heads the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), the self-regulatory initiative of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). Since his appointment as PCI chairman a month ago, Mr. Justice Katju has been demanding an expansion of his mandate to include regulation of the television channels as well as newspapers, to create a comprehensive new Media Council.

On Friday, Information and Broadcasting Minister told news agency PTI that such a suggestion was before a Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

In a recent interview, Mr. Justice Katju dismissed the electronic media’s attempts at self-regulation, saying that that it “simply isn’t working” and that a “danda” is needed to put some “fear in the media.” He also made a series of criticisms on the shallow quality of news reporting, and the intellectual calibre of Indian journalists. His comments have triggered condemnation from various TV industry associations, with the NBA shooting off a letter to the Prime Minister, asking him “to intervene and request the Chairman, Press Council of India to engage himself constructively with print media matters, which is the mandate he has under the Press Council Act and not to exceed his remit and to exercise restraint on commenting upon areas which are outside his jurisdiction.”

Mr. Justice Verma warned against a casual dismissal of the NBSA. “We work pro bono, ours is not a body that involves public expense,” he said, contrasting it to the Press Council which is run on the tax-payer’s money.

Meanwhile, the first signs of dissent within the PCI itself have now been expressed, with two Council members issuing the Press Association‘s (PA) objections.

The PA — a group of journalists accredited by the Central government which includes PCI members Kalyan Barooah and Rajeev Ranjan Nag — denounced Mr. Justice Katju’s remarks against journalists, arguing that “to paint the entire media with the same brush also reflects his lack of knowledge about the fourth estate and its contributions and impact.”

“We wish to point out to Justice Katju that the PCI was not only set up to penalise the media by functioning as a regulatory body, but also to protect the rights and freedom of working journalists. But his recent utterances reflect his strong bias against the Indian media,” said the PA statement. It urged the PCI chairman to return his focus to the business of the Council and the long list of pending complaints dating back to several years.

JUSTICE KATJU – MEDIA DEBATE : Bring electronic media under Press Council

Posted in FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on November 5, 2011

PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

Writes to Manmohan Singh seeking more teeth to council

Press Council Chairman Markandey Katju has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggesting that the electronic media should be brought under its purview and should be given “more teeth.”

“I have written to the PM that the electronic media should be brought under Press Council and it should be called Media Council and we should be given more teeth. Those teeth would be used in extreme situations,” Justice Katju told Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN’s Devil’s Advocate programme. Mr. Katju said that he had received a letter from the Prime Minister that his letter had been received and “they are considering it.” The former Supreme Court judge said he had also met Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and that she had told him probably there will be a “consensus.”  Mr. Thapar had asked Mr. Katju whether he was seeking more teeth for Press council.

More powers to PCI

“I want powers to stop government advertisement, I want to suspend license of that media for a certain period if it behaves in a very obnoxious manner, impose fines,” Mr. Katju said while maintaining that all these measures would be used only in extreme situations.

On if these measures would not threaten the freedom of the media, he said, “Everybody is accountable in a democracy. No freedom is absolute. Every freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions. I am accountable, you are accountable, we are accountable to the people.”

Media regulation

Mr. Katju said that he thought TV debates were “frivolous”, and there is no discipline among panelists. “It is not a shouting contest,” he opined.  He also spoke about how he thought things could be changed. “There must be some fear in the media,” he said, quoting Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas that ‘bin bhay hot na preet’ Mr. Katju said, “I have a poor opinion of the media” and added that “they should be working for the interest of the people. They are not working for the interest of the people and sometime they are positively working in an anti-people manner.”

He said, “Indian media is very often playing an anti-people role. It often diverts the attention of the people from the real problems which are basically economic. “80 per cent people are living in horrible poverty, unemployment, facing price rise, health care (problems)”. “You (media) divert the attention from those problems and instead you project film stars and fashion parades as if they are the problems of the people,” he said. “Cricket is an opium of the masses. Roman emperors used to say if you cannot give the people bread give them circuses. In India send them to cricket if you cannot give the people bread,” Mr. Katju told Mr. Thapar.

The Council Chairman said, “Whenever bomb blasts take place, in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, within a few hours almost every channel starts showing an e-mail has come or an sms has come that Indian Mujahideen has claimed responsibility or Jaish-e Mohammed or Harkat-ul-Ansar or some Muslim name.”

“You see e-mail or sms…any mischievous person can send but by showing it on TV channels you are in a subtle way conveying the message that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb throwers and you are demonising the Muslims…99 per cent of people of all communities are good people,” Mr. Katju said. “I think it is a deliberate action of the media to divide the people on religious lines and that is totally against the national interest,” he said. Mr. Katju said that India was in a transitional period moving “from feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period in history. When Europe was going through this period, media played a great role.

“In Europe, great writers like Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius, Diderot helped. Diderot said that man would be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” he said. During the interview, Mr. Katju said, “Here the media promotes superstition, astrology. 90 per cent people in the country are mentally very backward, steeped in casteism, communalism, and superstition and so on.” He said, “Should the media uplift them to a higher level and make them a part of an enlightened India or should the media go down to their level and perpetuate their backwardness?”

The former Supreme Court judge said, “Many TV channels show astrology which is purely humbug.” In response to another query, he said that though he respected certain individuals in the media, in “general the rut is very low, I have a poor opinion of media people. I don’t think they have knowledge of economic theory, political science or literature or philosophy.” He said, “People need modern scientific ideas but the reverse is happening.”Citing an instance, Mr. Katju said that “the photograph of a high court judge was shown next to the photograph of a notorious criminal for two consecutive days” on a TV channel. Mr. Katju, who had been a high court judge, said the channel had done a story on baseless allegations against an upright judge. “You condemn a corrupt person I am with you but why should you condemn an honest person.”

Mr. Katju said, “I have a poor opinion of the media” and added that “they should be working for the interest of the people. They are not working for the interest of the people and sometime they are positively working in an anti—people manner.”

He said, “Indian media is very often playing an anti— people role. It often diverts the attention of the people from the real problems which are basically economic. “80 per cent people are living in horrible poverty, unemployment, facing price rise, health care (problems).”

“You (media) divert the attention from those problems and instead you project film stars and fashion parades as if they are the problems of the people,” he said.

“Cricket is an opium of the masses. Roman emperors used to say if you cannot give the people bread give them circuses. In India send them to cricket if you cannot give the people bread,” Katju told Thapar.

The Council Chairman said, “Whenever bomb blasts take place, in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, within a few hours almost every channel starts showing an e—mail has come or an sms has come that Indian Mujahideen has claimed responsibility or Jaish—e Mohammed or Harkat—ul—Ansar or some Muslim name,” he said.

“You see e—mail or sms…any mischievous person can send but by showing it on TV channels you are in a subtle way conveying the message that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb throwers and you are demonising the Muslims…99 per cent of people of all communities are good people,” Katju said.

“I think it is a deliberate action of the media to divide the people on religious lines and that is totally against the national interest,” he said.

Media for development

Mr. Katju said that India was in a transitional period moving “from feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period in history. When Europe was going through this period, media played a great role.

“In Europe, great writers like Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius, Diderot helped. Diderot said that man would be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” he said.

During the interview, Mr. Katju said, “Here the media promotes superstition, astrology. 90 per cent people in the country are mentally very backward, steeped in casteism, communalism, superstition and so on.” He said, “Should the media uplift them to a higher level and make them a part of an enlightened India or should the media go down to their level and perpetuate their backwardness?” The former Supreme Court judge said, “Many TV channels show astrology which is purely humbug.” In response to another query, he said that though he respected certain individuals in the media, in “general the rut is very low, I have a poor opinion of media people. I don’t think they have knowledge of economic theory, political science or literature or philosophy.”

He said, “People need modern scientific ideas but the reverse is happening.” Citing an instance, Mr. Katju said that “the photograph of a high court judge was shown next to the photograph of a notorious criminal for two consecutive days” on a TV channel.

Mr. Katju, who had been a high court judge, said the channel had done a story on baseless allegations against an upright judge. “You condemn a corrupt person I am with you but why should you condemn an honest person.”

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2582746.ece

JUSTICE KATJU – MEDIA DEBATE : Justice Markandey Katju on the role of media in India

Posted in FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on November 5, 2011
JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, argues that the media has a very important role to play in helping the country make the transition from an old feudal society to a modern industrial one quickly, and without much pain.

The Role the Media should be playing in India

by Justice Markandey Katju, (former Judge, Supreme Court of India), Chairman, Press Council of India

To understand the role which the media should be playing in India we have to first understand the historical context. India is presently passing through a transitional period in its history, transition from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society.

This is a very painful and agonizing period in history. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart, but the new, modern, industrial society has not yet been entirely established. Old values are crumbling, everything is in turmoil. We may recollect the line in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth: “Fair is foul and foul is fair”. What was regarded good earlier e.g. the caste system is regarded bad today (at least by the enlightened section of society), and what was regarded bad earlier, e.g. love marriage, is acceptable today (at least to the modern minded persons). One is reminded of Firaq Gorakhpuri’s Urdu couplet:

“Har zarre par ek qaifiyat-e-neemshabi hai  – Ai saaqi-e- dauraan yeh gunahon ki ghadi hai”

In a marvel of condensation this sher (couplet) reflects the transitional age. Zarra means particle, qaifiyat means condition, e means of, neem means half, and shab means night. So the first line in the couplet literally means

“Every particle is in a condition of half night”.

Urdu poetry is often to be understood figuratively, not literally. So this line really means that (in the transitional age) everything is in flux, neither night nor day, neither the old order nor the new. Also, in the middle of the night if we get up we are dazed, in a state of mental confusion, and so are people in a transitional age. In the second line, saaqi is the girl who fills the wine cup, but she is also the person to whom one can confide the innermost thoughts in one’s mind. The poet is imagining a girl, to whom he is describing the features of the transitional era. ‘Yeh gunahon ki ghadi hai’, i.e. it is the time of sin. In this transitional age it is a ‘gunahon ki ghadi’ from both points of view. From the point of view of people of the old, feudal order it is a sin to marry according to your choice, and particularly outside one’s caste or religion, it is a sin to give education to women, it is a sin to treat everyone as equal. At the same time, from the point of view of modern minded people the caste system is a sin, denying education to girls is a sin, and love marriage is quite acceptable. Thus old and new ideas are battling with each other in the transitional age.

It is the duty of all patriotic people, including the media, to help our society get over this transition period quickly and with less pain. The media has a very important role to play in this transition period, as it deals with ideas, not commodities. So by its very nature the media cannot be like an ordinary business.

If we study the history of Europe when it was passing through its transition period, i.e. from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, we find that this was a terrible period in Europe, full of turbulence, turmoil, revolutions, wars, chaos, social churning and intellectual ferment. It was only after passing through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through this fire. We are passing through a very painful period in our history. Historically, the print media emerged in Europe as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time the established organs were all in the hands of the feudal despotic authorities (the king, aristocrats, etc). Hence the people had to create new organs which could represent them. That is why the print media became known as the fourth estate. In Europe and America it represented the voice of the future, as contrasted to the established feudal organs which wanted to preserve the status quo. The media thus played an important role in transforming feudal Europe to modern Europe.

In the Age of Enlightenment in Europe the print media represented the voice of reason. Voltaire attacked religious bigotry and superstitions, and Rousseau attacked feudal despotism. Diderot said that “Man will be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. Thomas Paine proclaimed the Rights of Man, and Junius (whose real name we still do not know) attacked the despotic George III and his ministers (see Will Durant’s ‘The Story of Civilization: Rousseau and Revolution’). Louis XVI, while in the Temple prison saw books by Voltaire and Rousseau in the prison library and said that these two persons have destroyed France. In fact what they had destroyed was not France but the feudal order. In the 19th Century the famous writer Emile Zola in his article ‘J’ Accuse’ accused the French Government of falsely imprisoning Captain Dreyfus in Devil’s Island only because he was a Jew.

In my opinion the Indian media should be playing a role similar to the progressive role played by the media in Europe during the transitional period in Europe. In other words, the Indian media should help our country get over the transition period and became a modern industrial state. This it can do by attacking backward, feudal ideas and practices e.g. casteism, communalism and superstitions, and promoting modern scientific and rational ideas. But is it doing so?

In my opinion a large section of the Indian media (particularly the electronic media) does not serve the interest of the people, in fact some of it is positively anti-people.

There are three major defects in the Indian media which I would like to highlight.

1. The media often diverts the attention of the people from the real issues to non issues. The real issues in India are socio-economic, the terrible poverty in which 80% of our people are living, the massive unemployment, the price rise, lack of medical care, education, and backward social practices like honour killing and caste oppression and religious fundamentalism etc. Instead of devoting most of its coverage to these issues the media focuses on non issues like film stars and their lives, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, astrology, cricket, reality shows, etc. There can be no objection to the media providing entertainment to the people, provided this is not overdone. But if 90% of its coverage is related to entertainment, and only 10% to the real issues facing the nation (mentioned above) then there is something seriously wrong with the media. The whole question is of proportion. In the Indian media the sense of proportion has gone crazy. Entertainment got 9 times the coverage that health, education , labour, agriculture and environment together got. Does a hungry or unemployed man want entertainment or food and a job? To give an example, I switched on the T.V. yesterday and what did I see? Lady Gaga has come to India, Kareena Kapoor standing next to her statue in Madame Tussand’s, tourism award being given to a business house, Formula one car race etc. etc. What has all this to do with the problems of the people?

Many channels show cricket day in and day out. Cricket is really the opium of the Indian masses. The Roman Emperors used to say “If you cannot give the people bread give them circuses”. This is precisely the approach of the Indian establishment, duly supported by our media. Keep the people involved in cricket so that they forget their social and economic plight. What is important is not poverty or unemployment or price rise or farmers suicides or lack of housing or healthcare or education, what is important is whether India has beaten New Zealand (or better still Pakistan) in a cricket match, or whether Tendulkar or Yuvraj Singh have scored a century. The Indian media so much hyped up the cricket match at Mohali between India and Pakistan that it became a veritable Mahabharat War!

Enormous space is given by our media to business, and very little to social sectors like health and education. Most media correspondents attend the film stars, fashion parades, pop music, etc. and very few attend to the lives and problems of workers, farmers, students, sex workers, etc. Recently ‘The Hindu’ published that a quarter million farmers committed suicide in the last fifteen years. A Lakme Fashion week was covered by 512 accredited journalists. In that fashion week women were displaying cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves an hour’s flight from Nagpur in the Vidarbha region. Nobody told that story except one or two journalists locally. The media coverage of the education field concentrates (if at all) on the elite colleges like the I.I.Ts, but there is very little coverage of the plight of the tens of thousands of primary schools, particularly in rural areas where education begins.

In Europe the displaced peasants got jobs in the factories which were coming up because of the Industrial Revolution. In India, an the other hand industrial jobs are now hard to come by. Many mills have closed down and have become real estate. The job trend in manufacturing has seen a sharp decline over the last 15 years. For instance, TISCO employed 85,000 workers in 1991 in its steel plant which then manufactured 1 million tons of steel. In 2005 it manufactured 5 million tons of steel but with only 44,000 workers. In mid 90s Bajaj was producing 1 million two wheelers with 24,000 workers. By 2004 it was producing 2.4 million units with 10,500 workers.

Where then do these millions of displaced peasants go? They go to cities where they became domestic servants, street hawkers, or even criminals. It is estimated that there are 1 to 2 lac adolescent girls from Jharkhand working as maids in Delhi. Prostitution is rampant in all cities, due to abject poverty. In the field of health care, it may be pointed out that the number of quacks in every city in India is several times the number of regular doctors. This is because the poor people cannot afford going to a regular doctor. In rural areas the condition is worse. The government doctors posted to primary health centres usually come for a day or two each month, and run their private nursing homes in the cities the rest of the time.

In ‘Shining’ India, the child malnutrition figures are the worst in the world. According to U.N. data, the percentage of under weight children below the age of 5 years in the poorest countries in the world is 25 per cent in Guinea Bissau, 27 per cent in Sierra Leone, 38 per cent in Ethiopia, and 47 per cent in India. The average family in India is consuming 100 kilograms of food grains less than it did 10 years ago (see P. Sainath’s article ‘Slumdogs and Millionaires’). All this is largely ignored by our media which turns a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities facing upto 80 per cent of our people, and instead concentrates on some Potempkin villages where all is glamour and show biz. Our media is largely like Queen Marie Autoinette, who when told that the people have no bread, said that they could eat cake.

2. The media often divides the people:

Whenever a bomb blast takes place anywhere in India (whether in Bombay or Bangalore or Delhi or anywhere) within a few hours most T.V. channels starts showing that an e-mail or SMS has been received from Indian Mujahideen or Jaish-e-Muhammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam claiming responsibility. The name will always be a Muslim name. Now an e-mail or SMS can be sent by any mischievous person who wants communal hatred. Why should they be shown on T.V. screens, and next day in print (the T.V. news at night often sets the agenda for the print media news next morning)? The subtle message being sent by showing this is that all Muslims are terrorists or bomb throwers. In this way the entire Muslim community in India is demonized, when the truth is that 99 per cent people of all communities are good, whether they are Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or Christians, and of whatever caste, region or language.

India is broadly a country of immigrants. About 92 to 93 per cent people living in India today are descendants of immigrants, and not the original inhabitants (who are the pre-Dravidian tribals or adivasis, comprising of only 7 to 8 per cent of our population). Because we are broadly a country of immigrants there is tremendous diversity in India – so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, etc. Hence it is absolutely essential if we wish to keep united and prosper that there must be tolerance and equal respect to all communities living in India. Those who sow seeds of discord among our people, whether on religious or caste or lingual or regional lines, are really enemies of our people.

The senders of such e-mails and SMS messages are therefore enemies of India, who wish to sow the seeds of discord among us on religious lines. Why should the media, wittingly or unwittingly, become abettors of this national crime?

3. The media promotes superstitions

As I have already mentioned, in this transitional age, the media should help our people to move forward into the modern, scientific age. For this purpose the media should propagate rational and scientific ideas, but instead of doing so a large section of our media propagates superstitions of various kinds. It is true that the intellectual level of the vast majority of Indians is very low, they are steeped in casteism, communalism, and superstitions. The question, however, is whether the media should try to lift up the intellectual level of our people by propagating rational and scientific ideas, or whether it should go down to that low level and seek to perpetuate it?

In Europe during the Age of Enlightenment the media (which was only the print medium at that time) sought to uplift the mental level of the people and change their mindset by propagating ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity and rational thinking. Voltaire attacked superstitions, and Dickens criticized the horrible conditions in jails, schools, orphanages, courts, etc. Should not our media be doing the same?

At one time courageous people like Raja Ram Mohan Roy wrote against sati, child marriage, purdah system etc. (in his newspaper ‘Miratul Akhbar’ and ‘Sambad Kaumudi’). Nikhil Chakraborty wrote about the horrors of the Bengal Famine of 1943. Munshi Premchand an d Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya wrote against feudal practices and women’s oppression. Manto wrote about the horrors of Partition.

But what do we see in the media today?

Many T.V. channels show astrology. Astrology is not to be confused with astronomy. While astronomy is a science, astrology is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense can tell us that there is no rational connection between the movements of the stars and planets, and whether a person will die at the age of 50 years or 80 years, or whether he will be a doctor or engineer or lawyer. No doubt most people in our country believe in astrology, but that is because their mental level is very low. The media should try to bring up that level, rather than to descend to it and perpetuate it.

Many channels mention and show the place where a Hindu god was born, where he lived, etc. Is this is not spreading superstitions.

I am not saying that there are no good journalists at all in the media. There are many excellent journalists. P. Sainath is one of them, whose name should be written in letters of gold in the history of Indian journalism. Had it not been for his highlighting of the farmers suicides in certain states the story (which was suppressed for several years) may never have been told. But such good journalists are the exceptions. The majority consists of people who do not seem to have the desire to serve the public interest.

To remedy this defect in the media I have done two things (1) I propose to have regular meetings with the media (including electronic media) every two months or so. These will not be regular meetings of the entire Press Council, but informal get-togethers where we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to resolve them in the democratic way, that is, by discussion, consultation and dialogue. I believe 90% problems can be resolved in this way (2) In extreme cases, where a section of the media proves incorrigible despite trying the democratic method mentioned above, harsher measures may be required. In this connection I have written to the Prime Minister requesting him to amend the Press Council Act by bringing the electronic media also under the purview of the Press Council (which may be renamed the Media Council) and by giving it more teeth e.g. power to suspend government advertisements, or in extreme cases even the licence of the media houses for some time. As Goswami Tulsidas said ‘Bin bhaya hot na preet’. This, however, will be resorted to only in extreme cases and after the democratic method has failed. It may be objected that this is interfering with the freedom of the media. There is no freedom which is absolute. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions, and are also coupled with responsibilities. In a democracy everyone is accountable to the people, and so is the media.

To sum up: The Indian media must now introspect and develop a sense of responsibility and maturity.That does not mean that it cannot be reformed. My belief is that 80 per cent people who are doing wrong things can be made good people by patient persuasion, pointing out their errors, and gently leading them to the honourable path which the print media in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment was following.

JUSTICE KATJU – MEDIA DEBATE : Press freedom must be examined

Posted in MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on November 5, 2011
JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

As I have already mentioned, in this transitional age, the media should help our people move forward into the modern, scientific age. For this purpose the media should propagate rational and scientific ideas, but instead of doing so, a large section of our media propagates superstitions of various kinds. It is true that the intellectual level of the vast majority of Indians is very low — they are steeped in casteism, communalism and superstition. The question, however, is: Should the media try to lift up the intellectual level of our people by propagating rational and scientific ideas, or should it should go down to that low level and seek to perpetuate it? In Europe, during the Age of Enlightenment, the media (which was only the print medium at that time) sought to uplift the mental level of the people and change their mindset by propagating ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity and rational thinking. Voltaire attacked superstition and Dickens criticised the horrible conditions in jails, schools, orphanages, courts etc. Should not our media be doing the same?

At one time, courageous people like Raja Ram Mohun Roy wrote against sati, child marriage and the purdah system in his newspapers Miratul Akhbar and Sambad Kaumudi. Nikhil Chakravartty wrote about the horrors of the Bengal Famine of 1943. Munshi Premchand and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote against feudal practices and women’s oppression. Saadat Hasan Manto wrote about the horrors of Partition.

But what do we see in the media today?

Many TV channels show astrology-based programmes. Astrology is not to be confused with astronomy. While astronomy is a science, astrology is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense can tell us that there is no rational connection between the movements of the stars and planets, and whether a person will die at the age of 50 or 80, or whether he will be a doctor or engineer or lawyer. No doubt most people in our country believe in astrology, but that is because their mental level is very low. The media should try to bring up that level, rather than to descend to it and perpetuate it. Many channels mention and show the place where a Hindu god was born, where he lived, etc. Is this is not spreading superstition?

I am not saying that there are no good journalists at all in the media. There are many excellent journalists. P. Sainath is one such, whose name should be written in letters of gold in the history of Indian journalism. Had it not been for his highlighting of farmers’ suicides in certain states, the story (which was suppressed for several years) may never have been told. But such good journalists are the exceptions. The majority consists of people who do not seem to have the desire to serve the public interest.

To remedy this defect in the media, I have done two things. First, I propose to have regular meetings with the media (including the electronic media) every two months or so. These will not be regular meetings of the entire Press Council, but informal get-togethers where we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to resolve them in a democratic way, that is, by discussion, consultation and dialogue. I believe 90 per cent of the problems can be resolved in this way. Second, in extreme cases, where a section of the media proves incorrigible despite trying the democratic method mentioned above, harsher measures may be required. In this connection, I have written to the prime minister requesting him to amend the Press Council Act by bringing the electronic media also under the purview of the Press Council (which may be renamed the Media Council) and by giving it more teeth — for example, the power to suspend government advertisements or in extreme cases, even the licence of the media houses for some time. As Goswami Tulsidas said: “Bin bhaya hot na preet.” This, however, will be resorted to only in extreme cases and after the democratic method has failed.

It may be objected that this is interfering with the freedom of the media. There is no freedom which is absolute. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions, and are also coupled with responsibilities. In a democracy everyone is accountable to the people, and so is the media.

To sum up: The Indian media must now introspect and develop a sense of responsibility and maturity. That does not mean that it cannot be reformed. My belief is that 80 per cent of those who are doing the wrong thing can be made good people by patient persuasion, pointing out their errors and gently leading them to the honourable path which the print media in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment was following.

(Concluded)

The writer is a former Supreme Court judge and chairman of the Press Council of India

JUSTICE KATJU – MEDIA DEBATE : Why our media is anti-people

Posted in DEMOCRACY, FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, MEDIA ETHICS, MEDIA ISSUES, MEDIA LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on November 5, 2011
JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

To understand the role which the media should be playing in India we have to first understand the historical context. India is presently passing through a transitional period in its history: a transition from a feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart; but the new, modern, industrial society has not yet been entirely established. Old values are crumbling, everything is in turmoil. Recollect Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Fair is foul and foul is fair” — what was regarded good earlier, for example the caste system, is regarded bad today (at least by the enlightened section of society), and what was regarded bad earlier, such as marriage for love, is acceptable today (at least to the modern-minded). It is the duty of all patriotic people, including the media, to help our society get over this transition period quickly and with less pain. The media has a very important role to play in this transition period, as it deals with ideas, not commodities. So by its very nature the media cannot be like an ordinary business.

Historically, the print media emerged in Europe as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time the established organs were all in the hands of despotic feudal authorities. Hence, the people had to create new organs which could represent them. That is why the print media became known as the “fourth estate.” In Europe and America it represented the voice of the future, as contrasted to the established feudal organs, which wanted to preserve the status quo. The media thus played an important role in transforming feudal Europe to modern Europe. In my opinion the Indian media should be playing a role similar to the progressive role played by the media in Europe during its transitional period. This it can do by attacking backward, feudal ideas and practices — casteism, communalism and superstition — while promoting modern scientific and rational ideas. But is it doing so?

In my opinion, a large section of the Indian media (particularly the electronic media) does not serve the interest of the people; in fact, some of it is positively anti-people. There are three major defects in the Indian media which I would like to highlight. First, the media often diverts the attention of the people from the real issues to non-issues. The real issues in India are socio-economic — the terrible poverty in which 80 per cent of our people live, inflation, the lack of medical care, education and backward social practices like honour-killing, caste oppression and religious fundamentalism. Instead of devoting most of its coverage to these issues, the media focuses on non-issues — like film stars and their lives, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, astrology, cricket, reality shows and so on.

There can be no objection to the media providing entertainment to the people, provided this is not overdone. But if 90 per cent of its coverage is related to entertainment, and only 10 per cent to the real issues mentioned above, then something is seriously wrong. Its sense of proportion has gone crazy. Entertainment may get as much as nine times the coverage that health, education , labour, agriculture and environment together get. Does a hungry or unemployed man want entertainment — or food and a job?

To give an example, I switched on the TV recently, and what did I see? Lady Gaga has come to India; Kareena Kapoor standing next to her statue in Madame Tussauds; a tourism award being given to a business house; Formula One racing, etc, etc. What has all this to do with the problems of the people?

Many channels show cricket day in and day out. The Roman emperors used to say: “If you cannot give the people bread, give them circuses.” This is precisely the approach of the Indian establishment, duly supported by our media. Keep the people involved in cricket, so that they forget their social and economic plight. What is important is not poverty or unemployment, what is important is whether India has beaten New Zealand (or better still Pakistan), or whether Tendulkar or Yuvraj Singh have scored a century. Recently, The Hindu published that a quarter of a million farmers committed suicide in the last 15 years. The Lakme Fashion Week was covered by 512 accredited journalists. In that fashion week, women were wearing cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves an hour’s flight from Nagpur. Nobody told that story, except one or two journalists locally. In Europe, displaced peasants got jobs in the factories created by the Industrial Revolution. In India, on the other hand, industrial jobs are now hard to come by. Many mills have closed down and have become real estate. The job trend in manufacturing has seen a sharp decline over the last 15 years. For instance, TISCO employed 85,000 workers in 1991 in its steel plant, which then manufactured 1 million tonnes of steel. In 2005, it manufactured 5 million tonnes — but with only 44,000 workers. In the mid ’90s, Bajaj was producing a million two-wheelers with 24,000 workers. By 2004, it was producing 2.4 million units, with 10,500 workers.

Where then do these millions of displaced peasants go? They go to cities — where they become domestic servants, street hawkers, or even criminals. It is estimated that there are one to two lakh adolescent girls from Jharkhand working as maids in Delhi. Prostitution is rampant in all cities, due to abject poverty.

All this is largely ignored by our media, which turns a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities facing up to 80 per cent of our people, instead concentrating on some glamorous Potemkin villages. Second, the media often divides the people. Whenever a bomb blast takes place anywhere in India, within a few hours TV channels start saying an e-mail or SMS has been received from Indian Mujahideen or Jaish-e-Muhammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam claiming responsibility. The name will always be a Muslim name. Now an e-mail or SMS can be sent by any mischievous person who wants communal hatred. Why should they be shown on TV screens, and next day in print? The subtle message being sent by showing this is that all Muslims are terrorists or bomb-throwers.

About 92 to 93 per cent of the people living in India today are descendants of immigrants. Thus, there is tremendous diversity in India: so many religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups. It is absolutely essential that if we wish to keep united and prosper, there must be tolerance and equal respect to all communities. Those who sow the seeds of discord among our people, whether on religious or caste or linguistic or regional lines, are really enemies of our people. The senders of such e-mails and SMS messages are therefore enemies of India, who wish to sow the seeds of discord among us on religious lines. Why should the media, wittingly or unwittingly, become abettors of this national crime?

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/why-our-media-is-antipeople/870441/0

Bill to cleanse politics of criminals in winter session

Posted in ACCOUNTABILITY, CORRUPTION, CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, DEMOCRACY, ELECTION LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on November 5, 2011

Nov 4, 2011, 03.51AM IST TNN[ Dhananjay Mahapatra ]

NEW DELHI: The government is proposing radical reforms to ensure decriminalization of politics and intends to table a bill in the winter session of Parliament proposing to debar candidates facing trial in serious and heinous offences. At present, under the Representation of People Act, only persons convicted by a trial court and sentenced to more than two years imprisonment are debarred from elections for a period of six years, which commences from the date of completion of the prison term. This allows persons facing multiple murder charges to contest elections. Moreover, even if a sitting MP or an MLA is convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than two years jail midway through his term, he continues to be a people’s representative and can attend Parliament or assembly if he files an appeal in the higher court and gets a stay on the conviction. The proposed legislation, first reported by TOI on June 17, is going to be strict on such exigencies and says those who are chargesheeted by police, CBI or other investigating agencies for murder, acts of terrorism, rape, dacoity and similar serious and heinous offences would be debarred from contesting elections till the trial court acquits them. The legislation is part of the larger bouquet of anti-corruption measures government has embarked upon to blunt the attacks it has faced from Team Anna as well as political opponents over the issue of corruption. Government plans to pass three legislations: Lokpal Bill, Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and Whistleblowers Protection Bill in the winter session. Besides, it has also planned to introduce Grievance Redressal Bill which, while ensuring smooth delivery of services, will also tackle corruption in providing the same. Conceived as an alternative to Team Anna’s insistence that the proposed Lokpal should be tasked with tackling corruption among lower bureaucracy as well, the Grievance Redressal Bill is being projected as a better way of fighting “cutting edge graft”. Government sources point out that under the Lokpal bill, failure to deliver a service is proposed to be treated as an act of corruption. They say this could only delay the delivery of government services since establishing a criminal charge could take time. As against this, the Grievances Redressal Bill provides to separate corruption from failure to deliver a public service/good and, thus ensuring that the grievance for the failure of delivery of service is redressed within a fortnight. During the discussion on stricter measures to decriminalize politics last week in the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, law minister Salman Khurshid argued strongly for the bill. These proposals on electoral reforms were firmed up during the tenure of Khurshid’s predecessor M Veerappa Moily, who had constituted a Committee on Electoral Reforms to recommend to the government concrete ways in which the electoral system could be strengthened through legislative means. Khurshid also laid stress on amending the existing provisions of RP Act to make filing of false affidavits by candidates along with nomination papers to declare their assets and criminal antecedents a serious offence which could attract a permanent ban on contesting elections. By this way, disclosure of criminal background would be made non-negotiable.

It means, if a candidate deliberately conceals his criminal antecedents and is found guilty, then he will be forced to abandon a career in electoral politics. The proposed amendments, discussed in the CCPA, also include withdrawing immunity to sitting MPs and MLAs from continuing with their tenure after being held guilty and sentenced to more than two years imprisonment even if they get the conviction stayed by a higher court on appeal. By this, the government intends to force an elected representative to resign from his membership from Parliament or assembly the moment a trial court finds him guilty of an offence and sentences him to more than two years imprisonment.

dhananjay.mahapatra@timesgroup.com

A public interest litigation petition filed in the Supreme Court by members of the India Rejuvenation Initiative, for fast-tracking criminal cases pending against MPs and MLAs, said: “Given a situation in which ‘winnability’ is the sole criterion for selection of candidates and those with deep pockets alone can hope to win elections, a criminal who has amassed money and influence through a ‘mix of terror and patronage’, has greater chances of winning than a clean and decent individual without such’ capabilities’. And most often criminals do win, which is why they are increasingly present in the country’s representative institutions.” The consequences of this trend “are seen in the increasing criminalisation of the process of governance with ministers, legislators, bureaucrats and unscrupulous businessmen combining to plunder public funds and prey on the public.” Criminal cases against politicians pending before courts either for trial or in appeal must be disposed of speedily, if necessary, by appointing special courts, the petition said. A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Jasti Chelameswar issued notice to the Centre, all States and the Election Commission after hearing senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan.

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