The public needs both gavel and pen

The public needs both gavel and pen

The public needs both gavel and pen

SIDARTH VARDRAJAN IN THE HINDU

The Supreme Court’s proposal to impose guidelines on how to report cases will be harmful to press freedom and democracy, the bedrock of which is an informed public.

The Judiciary is the third branch of government. As with the Executive and Legislature, the public has a right to see and know and understand the functioning of this branch. That is why India, like every other democracy, has embraced the concept of open court proceedings and trials, except in those situations where, for security or other compelling reasons, in camera hearings are required.

In the Mirajkar case (Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar And Ors vs State Of Maharashtra And Anr on 3 March, 1966) a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court under its legendary Chief Justice, P.B. Gajendragadkar, held that “save in exceptional cases, the proceedings of a Court of justice should be open to the public”.

“A Court of justice is a public forum”, the 1966 judgment declares. “It is through publicity that the citizens are convinced that the Court renders evenhanded justice, and it is, therefore, necessary that the trial should be open to the public and there should be no restraint on the publication of the report of the Court proceedings. The publicity generates public confidence in the administration of justice. In rare and exceptional cases only, the Court may hold the trial behind closed doors, or may forbid the publication of the report of its proceedings during the pendency of the litigation.” (emphasis added)

Unrestricted openness

Once the objective of a public trial in open court is accepted, it is obvious that this openness cannot be restricted to those members of the public who have the facility and inclination to be present in a given court at a given time; rather, the reference is to the wider public, to the citizenry as a whole. The only way court proceedings, and the wider functioning of the judicial system, can be subject to public scrutiny is if the media — who are the people’s eyes and ears — have the freedom to both be present in open court and to give an account of what transpires in open court.

It is thanks to contemporary newspaper reports of the day-to-day hearings in landmark cases like Kesavanada Bharati (1973) (certainly in The Hindu, and perhaps elsewhere too) that the public then — and legal scholars now — have an accurate picture of all the intricacies involved, including the oral arguments made and questions raised by the Bench. Many more such examples can be cited.

To be sure, covering the courts requires skill, competence and some domain knowledge of the law, in much the same way that coverage of foreign policy, defence, business and finance, and even politics requires reporters knowledgeable about those subjects. The Supreme Court has seen fit to specify that accredited correspondents must possess a law degree; it has also quantified the amount of reporting experience, at different levels of the judiciary, that these correspondents must have. No other branch of government or public or private institution — not the armed forces or Defence Ministry, not the Ministry of External Affairs, the Police, the Ministry of Agriculture or Health — has insisted on a degree or professional qualification as a condition for accreditation. Nor to my knowledge is a law degree a requirement to get accreditation as a correspondent to the Supreme Courts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, etc. I raise this point here not to challenge the Supreme Court of India‘s system of media accreditation, but merely to note that having raised the bar for entry, imposing further restrictions in the form of guidelines on these correspondents — all of whom have been allowed in precisely because of their knowledge of, and sensitivity towards, the functioning of the Court — seems especially superfluous.

No doubt the most experienced and knowledgeable reporter can make a mistake on a particular matter. These mistakes can be harmless, hurting only the reputation of the concerned journalist or media house. But there can be mistakes which have consequences for the reputations of the parties to a case and their counsel, or to the Bench and Court. If an error by a reporter has adverse consequences for the reputation or standing of the Court or plaintiffs, remedies exist under existing statute and court procedures and it is up to the Bench or the affected parties to invoke those remedies. If a factual mistake has been made, or wrong information conveyed, no media house can claim immunity, on the basis of press freedom, from the ordinary process of law. If the error is innocent, and the Court is convinced this is so, the matter might rest with a simple apology; if, on the other hand, mala fide is suspected, the Court is empowered to take punitive action.

Given these remedies, none of which are necessarily inconsistent with constitutionally guaranteed press freedoms, it would seem unnecessary to impose a regime of “prior restraint” or even “temporary postponement” via guidelines on what aspects of court proceedings may be reported. Indeed, such a regime would have a chilling effect on media coverage of the Supreme Court and, eventually, the entire judiciary, at great cost to the general interest of society.

It is true that the Law Commission has recommended ‘postponement’ of reportage citing jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada, where jury trials are sought to be insulated from public opinion. But in India, there is no trial by jury; and surely the judicial independence of judges — and their vulnerability to what appears in the media — cannot be the same as that of the average citizen-juror.

Of course, it is a matter of concern that sections of the print and visual media sometimes report police accounts of crimes without the necessary qualifiers demonstrating that the truth of the matter is not known. Worse still, these accounts are often attributed not to named officers but to ‘anonymous’ police sources. An individual may thus stand “convicted” in the eyes of the public without any recourse to corrective measures. The bald reporting of a petitioner’s claims or accusations can also mislead the public if presented as fact. These are real problems that require remedying. However, a true reading of Article 19 of the Constitution requires that the press regulate itself in this regard and strive, as a collective, for the highest ethical standards. Given the public’s growing disenchantment with the media in the wake of various scandals, it is also in the media’s interest to heal itself. This is a subject journalists are pursuing at multiple levels within the print media and there is also the oversight of the Press Council of India, which, under the chairmanship of Justice Markandey Katju, has re-energised itself. Imposing further judicial restrictions on democratic access to information concerning Supreme Court proceedings would amount to overkill.

Undermines people’s right

My apprehension is that if the Supreme Court, which sits at the apex of the third branch of government, were to insist that reporters covering it abide by guidelines that the Court itself lays down, this would open the door to the other branches of government — that too, at all levels — making similar demands on the media as a precondition to gaining access to Parliament and Legislatures, Ministries, public institutions, hospitals, universities, etc. The natural instinct of most politicians and bureaucrats is to hide or suppress information on one pretext or another. The adoption of media guidelines by the Supreme Court would embolden them, further undermining the public’s right to be informed. Recently, for example, a Karnataka Assembly committee tasked with investigating the scandal involving Ministers caught on camera watching pornographic material sought to blame the media for recording what the Ministers were doing. Shouldn’t you be focusing just on the official Assembly proceedings, journalists were asked.

Courts in open societies elsewhere, particularly in North America, may have had occasion to be upset with media coverage of cases but they have not sought to frame guidelines of the sort being envisaged by the Supreme Court of India. The only etiquette rules courts in the United States seem to focus on are the circumstances under which journalists may use recording devices and cameras. Today, the debate on this issue in the United States is focused on whether journalists should be allowed to carry mobile devices into the Supreme Court so that they can “tweet” live from inside without having to come outside the courtroom. The court forbids this. At issue, however, is not the right of the journalist to provide near-live coverage of a hearing, should she so desire but only whether she can use the communication technology on court premises.

Of course, journalists and editors should be honest in accepting that the reason the Supreme Court — and the government — want to step in is because the media act as if they are not accountable to anyone. Aggrieved citizens have no forum they can approach for an effective and swift remedy in the event of being injured by misreporting. Unless newspapers and television stations get serious about self-regulation, the pressure of external regulation will always remain.

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Why such mismatch between public statements and responsibility?

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Elections energize a common man to push a small button on a voting machine with a prayer that his vote goes to a responsible person who as the people’s representative in the assembly or Parliament will safeguard his interests and better his conditions. Since poll speeches are not on signed stamp paper, politicians often attempt to promise the moon to the electorate. In the process, many stray outside the Model Code of Conduct zealously enforced by the Election Commission to keep the polls an even contest between ruling party candidates and other hopefuls.

Prior to appointment of T N Seshan as chief election commissioner on December 12, 1990, the model code of conduct was violated by candidates with impunity. Seshan cracked the constitutional whip and succeeded in cajoling strict adherence to the model code of conduct by political parties and candidates.

Elections are meant to send responsible persons as people’s representatives. But often, elections stir the political and social atmosphere to the extent of making even the most sober among the politicians give statements in clear breach of the model code of conduct.

First, it was law minister Salman Khurshid who made a poll promise of carving out quota for Muslims in jobs. Within a week of him being chastised by the EC, fellow Congressman Beni Prasad Verma repeated the mistake and dared EC to take action. Why did Khurshid, who knows law better than most, commit such a folly? And despite his clear indictment, why would his colleague follow suit?

If these two incidents were not enough, another minister Sriprakash Jaiswal goofed up by declaring that if a Congress government was formed in Uttar Pradesh after the elections, there would be President’s rule.

Threat to impose central rule in a state in the midst of a multi-phase election process is a serious breach of model code of conduct capable of influencing people to cast votes in a particular way.

Whatever be the motive behind these statements, a particular dumbness appears to infect politicians during elections when they refuse to learn from mistakes. They forget that democracy flourishes only in a democratic atmosphere and under democratic conditions.

The same cannot be true of Press Council of India chairperson Justice Markandey Katju, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. It was least expected of Justice Katju, who has tremendous knowledge of law and apex court judgments, to threaten a state government with dismissal.

Looking into certain incidents of violence against journalists in Maharashtra and the state government persistently ignoring PCI’s notices, Justice Katju recently issued a showcause notice accompanied with a threat that if this time the state failed to respond, he would recommend to President to “dismiss the state government” under Article 356(1) of the Constitution.

The Congress-NCP government must be laughing as Justice Katju’s threat is more hilarious than legal. Those who have read the apex court’s landmark judgments on Article 356 in S R Bommai case, Kihoto Holohon case, State of Rajasthan case and the latest one in Rameshwar Prasad case would be scratching their heads in bewilderment. For, the Constitution vests the governor of the state concerned and none else with the power to recommend dismissal of a state government.

The streak of irresponsibility found in persons holding high offices had made the Supreme Court to say, “It is incumbent on each occupant of every high office to be constantly aware of the power in the high office he holds that is meant to be exercised in public interest and only for public good, and that it is not meant to be used for any personal benefit or merely to elevate the personal status of the current holder of that office.” [Rameshwar Prasad vs Union of India, 2006 (2) SCC 1].

For similar reasons, Seshan, despite transforming the Election Commission from a constitutional “lamb” to a “roaring tiger” ready to bite rogue politicians, too faced the apex court’s flak when he imagined himself to be the sole dictatorial protector of elections, which is the heart of democracy.

In T N Seshan vs Uuion of India [1995 (4) SCC 611], the SC had said, “His (Seshan’s) public utterances at times were so abrasive that this court had to caution him to exercise restraint on more occasions than one… This gave the impression that he was keen to project his own image. That he has very often been in newspapers and magazines and on television cannot be denied… The CEC has been seen in a commercial on television and in newspaper advertisement… The CEC is, it would appear, totally oblivious to sense of decorum and discretion that his high office requires even if the cause was laudable.”

We sincerely hope politicians and holders of high offices will take a look at the 1995 judgment and bring sobriety into their public utterances.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Why-such-mismatch-between-public-statements-and-responsibility/articleshow/12048723.cms

Regulation of media in India – A brief overview

PRS LEGISLATIVE

Media in India is mostly self-regulated.  The existing bodies for regulation of media such as the Press Council of India which is a statutory body and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory organization, issue standards which are more in the nature of guidelines.  Recently, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, former Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. M. Katju, has argued that television and radio need to be brought within the scope of the Press Council of India or a similar regulatory body.  We discuss the present model of regulation of different forms of media.

1. What is the Press Council of India (PCI)?

The PCI was established under the PCI Act of 1978 for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.

2. What is the composition of the PCI and who appoints the members?

The PCI consists of a chairman and 28 other members.  The Chairman is selected by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a member elected by the PCI. The members consist of members of the three Lok Sabha members, two members of the Rajya Sabha , six editors of newspapers, seven working journalists other than editors of newspapers,  six persons in the business of managing newspapers, one person who is engaged in the business of managing news agencies, and three persons with special knowledge of public life.

3. What are its functions?

The functions of the PCI include among others (i) helping newspapers maintain their independence; (ii) build a code of conduct for journalists and news agencies; (iii) help maintain “high standards of public taste” and foster responsibility among citizens; and (iv) review developments likely to restrict flow of news.

4. What are its powers?

The PCI has the power to receive complaints of violation of the journalistic ethics, or professional misconduct by an editor or journalist.  The PCI is responsible for enquiring in to complaints received.  It may summon witnesses and take evidence under oath, demand copies of public records to be submitted, even issue warnings and admonish the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.  It can even require any newspaper to publish details of the inquiry.  Decisions of the PCI are final and cannot be appealed before a court of law.

5. What are the limitations on the powers of the PCI?

The powers of the PCI are restricted in two ways. (1) The PCI has limited powers of enforcing the guidelines issued.  It cannot penalize newspapers, news agencies, editors and journalists for violation of the guidelines.  (2) The PCI only overviews the functioning of press media.  That is, it can enforce standards upon newspapers, journals, magazines and other forms of print media.  It does not have the power to review the functioning of the electronic media like radio, television and internet media.

6. Are there other bodies that review television or radio?

For screening films including short films, documentaries, television shows and advertisements in theaters or broadcasting via television the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sanction is required.  The role of the CBFC is limited to controlling content of movies and television shows, etc.  Unlike the PCI, it does not have the power to issue guidelines in relation to standards of news and journalistic conduct. Program and Advertisement Codes for regulating content broadcast on the television, are issued under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.  The District magistrate can seize the equipment of the cable operator in case he broadcasts programs that violate these Codes. Certain standards have been prescribed for content accessible over the internet under the IT Rules 2011.  However, a regulatory body such as the PCI or the CBFC does not exist.  Complaints are addressed to the internet service provider or the host. Radio Channels have to follow the same Programme and Advertisement Code as followed by All India Radio.  Private television and radio channels have to conform to conditions which are part of license agreements.  These include standards for broadcast of content.  Non-compliance may lead to suspension or revocation of license.

7. Is there a process of self regulation by television channels?

Today news channels are governed by mechanisms of self-regulation.  One such mechanism has been created by the News Broadcasters Association.  The NBA has devised a Code of Ethics to regulate television content.  The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), of the NBA, is empowered to warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval and fine the broadcaster a sum upto Rs. 1 lakh for violation of the Code.  Another such organization is the Broadcast Editors’ Association. The Advertising Standards Council of India has also drawn up guidelines on content of advertisements.  These groups govern through agreements and do not have any statutory powers.

8. Is the government proposing to create a regulatory agency for television broadcasters?

In 2006 the government had prepared a Draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2006.  The Bill made it mandatory to seek license for broadcasting any television or radio channel or program.  It also provides standards for regulation of content.  It is the duty of the body to ensure compliance with guidelines issued under the Bill.

http://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/2011/11/16/regulation-of-media-in-india-a-brief-overview/

Why India needs democracy

Sansad Bhavan, parliament building of India.

Image via Wikipedia

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

What is our national aim? To my mind, our national aim must be to make India a highly prosperous country for its citizens, and for that it is necessary to have a high degree of industrialization.

Even setting up and running a single primary school requires a lot of money, e.g. for buying land, erecting the school building and providing for the recurrent expenditure for salaries of teachers, staff, etc. We have to set up in our country not just one primary school, but hundreds of thousands of primary schools, tens of thousands of high schools and colleges and engineering colleges, technical institutes, medical colleges, scientific research centres, hospitals, libraries etc.

Where is the money for all these to come from? Money does not fall from the sky. It can only come from a highly developed industry, and it is industrialization alone which can generate the wealth we need for the welfare of our people. Today India is a poor country. Nobody respects the poor. It is for this reason that we do not have much respect in the world community (whatever we may think of ourselves). One proof of this is that we are not given a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, although we have a population of 1200 million, whereas Britain and France with populations of 60 million each have permanent seats.

It is industrialization alone which can abolish poverty and unemployment, which are the main causes of crime and terrorism, and get us respect in the world community. Also, when there is rapid industrialization, which should be our national target, millions of jobs will be created which will solve the problem of unemployment. For industrialization, development of science is absolutely necessary, and for that freedom is also absolutely necessary, freedom to think, freedom to write, freedom to discuss with others, freedom to explain, freedom to criticize and freedom to dissent.

The growth of science requires certain supportive values, particularly liberty. This is because the thought process cannot develop without freedom. The values of a scientific community viz., pluralism, tolerance, individual freedom and free flow of information are very similar to the values of a democratic society (see ‘Science and the Making of the Modern World’ by John Marks).

A democratic society permits freedom of speech and expression, freedom to practice one’s own religion, which is based on tolerance, and freedom to dissent and criticize. These are precisely the values of a scientific community. In other words, in scientific matters authoritarianism and dogmatism are wholly out of place. Scientists must be largely left free to govern themselves, and have large amount of freedom which is necessary for innovation and creativity. Hence, democracy and liberty go hand in hand with the growth of science because both are based on tolerance, individual freedom and free flow of ideas. In democracy, as in a scientific community, there is freedom to speak, freedom to discuss, freedom to criticize and freedom to dissent.

Justice Louis D. Brandeis, of the U.S. Supreme Court in Whitney vs. California 274 U.S. 357, writing in 1927 observed:

“Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law – the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed”

Similarly, Justice William O. Douglas in Terminiello vs. Chicago 337 US 1 (1949) observed: “….[A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest… There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups”.

In our own country, in ancient times the method of Shastrarthas had been developed. These were debates in which the thinkers of those times had full freedom to speak and to criticize their opponents in the opponent’s presence, and also in the presence of a large assembly of people. There are hundreds of references to such Shastrarthas in our epics and other literature. It was this freedom to freely discuss and criticize in ancient India which resulted in tremendous growth of knowledge even in such ancient times, including not only in philosophy, grammar law, etc. but also scientific knowledge, e.g. mathematics, astronomy, medicines, etc. The names of Aryabhatt, Brahmagupta, Bhaskar, Sushrut and Charak are known to all. With the aid of science we had built mighty civilizations e.g. the Indus Valley Civilization when people in Europe were living in forests.

In this connection, we may also mention about modern European history. England was the first country in the world to industrialize and modernize. This economic process was accompanied with the political struggle for liberty and democracy in the 17th and 18th centuries, which was particularly a struggle between the King and Parliament. As we all know, Parliament won, and this laid the foundation of freedom and civil liberties in England, which was necessary to create the atmosphere which science requires to prosper.

Similarly, in France, before the French Revolution of 1789, the thinkers of the Enlightenment — Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Holbach, etc. who attacked feudalism and religious dogmatism paved the way for the Revolution of 1789 which destroyed feudalism, and led to scientific progress. On the other hand, in Italy, Spain and some other countries the Inquisition stifled free thinking and thereby scientific growth. All scientific ideas which were not consistent with the Bible were regarded as crimes e.g. the theory of Copernicus which stated that the earth moved around the sun and not the sun around the earth. As a result, these countries were left far behind England and France, and remained in the feudal dark ages for centuries.

The struggle to establish the scientific outlook was not an easy one. Scientific ideas initially were condemned because they were regarded as opposed to religious dogma. Voltaire and Rousseau had to fly for their lives to other countries. The Church persecuted the greatest scientists with blind cruelty, burning them at the stake (e.g. Bruno), torturing them (e.g. Galileo), and forbidding or destroying their works. As recently as in 1925 the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution was forbidden in the state of Tennessee in U.S.A., and a teacher John Scopes was tried in the famous ‘Monkey Trial’ for teaching that theory. For centuries the Church in Europe played an extremely reactionary role and fought pitilessly against the scientific conception of the world, and against the democratic movements. In India, if we are to progress and rise as a world power, we have to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner in our country, and destroy superstitions, e.g. the belief in astrology and palmistry, and the feudal ideas of casteism and communalism.

Science is that knowledge by which we can understand nature (and human society) and use this knowledge for our benefit. For doing so, the scientists rely on reason, observation and experiment. This obviously cannot be done on the dictates of anyone (though the government can certainly create the atmosphere where these can flourish). Science and democratic values go hand in hand.

In science, there is no final word, unlike in religion. Science questions everything and does not take anything for granted. Obviously, this approach is not permitted in an undemocratic society, e.g. feudal society (which is governed by religion) or fascist society (in which there is a dictator). Thus, Hitler, with his Nazi racial philosophy, caused an enormous setback to science in Germany by persecuting Jewish scientists and banning their works (e.g. Einstein).

Indeed, in India, after the Constitution was adopted in 1950, there was an atmosphere of liberal freedom in view of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution e.g. the right to free speech (Article 19), liberty (Article 21), equality (Articles 14 to 17), religious freedom (Article 25), etc. This helped growth of science and technology in our country, because it created an atmosphere of freedom where people including the scientists, could freely discuss and dissent. If we compare our country with the neighbouring countries, there were no such freedoms in those countries and hence those countries lagged far behind in economic growth.

Apart from the above, the advanced sections of society who want to take the country forward, and have the knowledge to do so, must have a lot of freedom to discuss, debate and criticize each other. They are the pioneers and are often entering into a new field, much of which is unknown. Hence, they must have freedom to think, discuss and criticize.

As pointed out by John Stuart Mill in his celebrated essay ‘On Liberty’, all progress, advancement of knowledge and progressive change and improvement of old ways of thinking, and the consequent old behaviour-patterns, habits, customs and traditions can come about only from free individual dissents and dissentions, innovations, etc. which are at first usually resisted by inert or conservative people (who are usually the vast majority), and by a free competition between the old and new ideas. As pointed out by Mill, in any society ordinarily the majority shares old thoughts and traditions, and there is a strong tendency to insist on conformity and collective unity or solidarity, to repress dissents and innovations, and to tolerate only what the majority agree with. This inevitably works to prevent any progress and to thwart the creative impulses of the more creative and original minds. Extensive freedom to dissent and innovate, in all spheres of life, activity, culture and thought in all directions, including expressing ideas initially thought strange and often disliked by the conservative tradition-bound majority are indispensable for progress. The intellectually advanced and creative individuals are often in the minority, and are regarded as non-conforming eccentrics and deviants, and there is often a tendency to suppress them. This is why liberal democracy, i.e. majority rule but qualified and limited by firm protection of minorities, and individual rights and liberties, even as against the governing majority, is essential for progress. The majority often consists of mediocre persons who wish to continue in the old ways of thinking and practices. Hence the liberties and rights have to be guaranteed to the often powerless tiny minorities and lone individuals so that scientific progress can take place.

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the U.S. Supreme Court in his dissenting judgment in Abrams vs. United States, (1919) observed : “…The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market…”

The importance of the judiciary in India in this connection must also be highlighted in this country. In this connection reference may be made to two decisions of the Supreme Court delivered by me viz., Govt of A.P. and others vs. P. Laxmi Devi [2008 (4) SCC 720, JT 2008 (2) 639 and Deepak Bajaj vs. State of Maharashtra and others [JT 2008 (11) SC 609]. In these cases, I emphasized the importance of liberty for progress, and have observed that the judiciary must act as guardians of the liberties of the people, protecting them against executive, or even legislative arbitrariness or despotism. I have also in my judgments spoken out against honour killing, fake encounters, dowry deaths, etc. India needs democracy and scientific knowledge, and that means patiently spreading scientific ideas amongst the vast masses, raising their cultural level and involving them actively in the task of nation building.

To my mind, harsh and draconian laws will curb liberty, and that will not only violate the right to liberty granted by Article 21 of the Constitution, but will also lead to great evils e.g. increase in corruption in the police and other law enforcing agencies, which will have much more opportunities to extort money from the citizens, apart from impeding scientific and economic growth, which is vital for our country.

I have gone into some detail on this subject because I wished to clarify that I am a strong votary for liberty and have been misunderstood. However, liberty cannot be equated with licence to do anything one wishes. Should one be given the liberty to spread superstitions, to fan caste/or communal hatred, or put over emphasis on film stars, pop music, fashion parades and cricket in a poor country like ours? I think not. All freedoms are coupled with responsibilities, and no freedom is absolute. It is for this reason that I believe that while ordinarily issues relating to the media should be resolved by the democratic method of discussion and dialogue, in rare and exceptional cases (which may not be more than 5 per cent) harsh measures may be required, but that too not by the government but by any independent statutory authority e.g. the Lokpal.

(Justice Markandey Katju is the Chairman of Press Council of India)

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Why-India-needs-democracy/articleshow/10857038.cms

Media Ethics Debate – Justice Markandey Katju clarifies

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, has issued the following clarification on his critical observations of the Indian media.

I have expressed my views relating to the media in several T.V. interviews I gave as well as in my articles in some newspapers.

However, many people, including many media people, wanted clarification and amplification of some of the issues I had raised. Many media people (including several T.V. channels) wanted interviews with me but I told them that I will not give interviews for some time, since it does not create a good impression if one keeps giving interviews frequently. However, since some controversy appears to have been raised about what I said a clarification is in order.

Today India is passing through a transitional period in our history, the transition being 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 been fully and firmly established. Old values are crumbling, but new modern values have not yet been put in place. Everything is in flux, in turmoil. What was regarded good yesterday, is regarded bad today, and what was regarded bad is regarded good. As Shakespeare said in Macbeth “Fair is foul and foul is fair”.

If one studies the history of Europe from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, when the transition from feudalism to modern society was taking place, one will know that this transitional period was full of turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, chaos, social churning, and intellectual ferment. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through that fire. We are going through a very painful period in our country’s history, which, I guess, will last another 15 to 20 years. I wish this transition would take place painlessly and immediately but unfortunately that is not how history functions.

In this transition period the role of ideas, and therefore of the media, becomes extremely important. At a particular historical juncture, ideas become a material force. For instance, the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, and of religious freedom (secularism) became powerful material forces during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and particularly during the American and French Revolutions. In the age of transition in Europe, the media (which was only the print media at that time) played a great, historical role in the transformation of feudal Europe to modern Europe.

Historically, the print medium arose as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time, the established organs of power were all in the hands of the feudal, despotic authorities (kings, aristocrats, etc.). Hence the people had to create new organs which could represent their interests. That is why the print medium became known as the Fourth Estate. In Europe and America it represented the voice of the future, as a contrast to the established feudal organs which wanted to preserve status quo.

Great writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, ‘Junius’ (whose real name we yet do not know) played an outstanding role in this connection (see Will Durant’s ‘The Age of Voltaire’ and ‘Rousseau and Revolution’). The Encyclopaedists like Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius, Holbach etc. created the Age of Reason, which paved the way for a modern Europe. Diderot wrote that “Men will be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. Voltaire, in his satirical novels ‘Candide’ and ‘Zadig’ lashed out at religious bigotry, superstitions, and irrationalism. Rousseau in his ‘Social Contract’ attacked feudal despotism by propounding the theory of the ‘general will’ (which broadly stands for popular sovereignty). Thomas Paine wrote about the Right of Man, and Junius attacked the corruption of the Ministers of the despotic George III. Dickens criticized the terrible social conditions in 19th Century England. These, and many others, were responsible for creating modern Europe.

In my opinion the Indian media too should play a progressive role similar to the one played by the European media. This it can do by attacking backward and feudal ideas and practices like casteism, communalism, superstitions, oppression of women, etc. and propagating modern rational and scientific ideas, secularism, and tolerance.

At one time a section of our media played a great role in our country. Raja Ram Mohan Roy courageously attacked backward customs like sati, child marriage, purda, etc in his newspapers ‘Miratul Akbhar’ and ‘Sambad Kaumudi’. Nikhil Chakravarty wrote about the horrors of the Bengal Famine of 1943. Munshi Premchand and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya wrote against feudal practices and oppression of women. Saadat Hasan Manto wrote about the horrors of Partition.

When I criticized the Indian media, and particularly the electronic media for not playing such a progressive and socially responsible role, I was furiously attacked by a section of the media for my views. Some even launched a personal attack on me saying that I was an agent of the government.

I could have retaliated back in the same tone by saying that most media persons are agents of the corporates who have hired them, but I refrained from doing so as I did not want to stoop down to their level. When serious issues are raised about the functioning of the media it was expected that those issues would be addressed seriously instead of launching personal attacks on me, or simply dismissing me as ‘irresponsible’ (as one Exalted Person has done).

By criticizing the media I wanted to persuade the media to change its manner of functioning and not that I wanted to destroy it. The Indian media has a historical role to play in the age of transition, and I wanted to remind the media persons of their historical duty to the nation. Instead of taking my criticism in the correct spirit, a veritable diatribe was launched against me by a section of the media, which painted me as some kind of dictatorial monster.

The great Hindi poet Rahim has written:

“Nindak nearey raakhiye

Aangan kuti Chawaye”

The media should regard me as their well wisher. I criticized them because I wanted media persons to give up many of their defects (some of which I had mentioned in my T.V. interviews and articles) and follow the path of honour which the European media was following, and which will give them the respect of the Indian people.

I mentioned that 80% of our countrymen are living in horrible poverty, there is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, lack of medical care, education etc. and barbaric social practices like honour killing, dowry death, caste oppression, religious bigotry, etc. Instead of seriously addressing these issues 90% of the coverage of our media goes to entertainment, e.g., lives of film stars, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, cricket etc, or showing superstitions like astrology.

No doubt the media should provide some entertainment also to the people, but if 90% of its coverage is devoted to entertainment, and only 10% to all the socio-economic issues put together, then the sense of priorities of the media has gone haywire. The real issues before the people are the socio-economic issues, and the media is seeking to divert their attention to the non issues like film stars, fashion parades, disco, pop, cricket etc. Does a hungry or unemployed man require entertainment, or food and a job? It is because of this lack of a sense of priorities and for showing superstitions, that I criticized the media.

One should not be afraid of criticism, nor should one resent it. People can criticize me as much as they like, I will not resent it, and maybe I will benefit from it. But similarly the media too should not mind if I criticize them. My aim in doing so is to make them better media people. While criticizing, however, fairness requires that one should report the words of one’s opponent accurately, without twisting or distorting them. That was the method used by our philosophers. They would first state the views of their opponent, in what was called as the ‘purvapaksha’. This was done with such accuracy and intellectual honesty that if the opponent were present he could not have stated his views better. Thereafter it was sought to be refuted. In this connection one may read Madhavacharya’s ‘Sarva Darshan Sangrah’ (Madhavacharya was the founder of the Dvait school of Vedanta). The views of the Charvaks (Materialist thinkers), the Buddhists, Jains, etc are stated in the ‘purvapaksha’ with such accuracy that if they were present they could not have put them better.

Unfortunately, this practice is often not followed by our media, and my words were distorted by many, and then I was furiously attacked. To give only two examples: (1) In my interview to Mr. Karan Thapar, I stated that in my opinion the majority of media people are of a poor intellectual level. This statement of mine was twisted and distorted by several persons on T.V. channels who quoted me as saying that all media persons are ‘uneducated’ and ‘illiterate’. I telephoned the lady journalist who anchored one of such T.V. panel discussions and asked her why she had distorted my words. She had begun the panel discussion by saying “Katju called journalists uneducated”. She said she only interpreted what I said. I told her that first she should have quoted my exact words, and then only should she have interpreted them. I would like to clarify this further.

Firstly, I did not make a statement about all media people but only of the majority. There are many media people for whom I have great respect. I had mentioned the name of Mr. P. Sainath, whose name should be written in letters of gold in the history of India journalism (for highlighting farmer’s suicides and other farmers issues). I can name several others. Mr. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Mr. Shreenivas Reddy did a commendable job in exposing in detail the scandal of paid news. I also have high respect for Mr. Vinod Mehta, Mr. Vinod Sharma, Mr. N. Ram and many others.

I may also mention that before my interview with Mr. Karan Thanpar I sat for about 10 minutes in his office having a cup of coffee with him. At that time I mentioned the name of Emile Zola to him, and he immediately said ‘J’ Accuse’. That one word made him go up high in my esteem. I earlier did not have a very high opinion of him, but that single word completely changed my opinion, and I realized I was in the presence of a highly educated man.

So I wish to clarify have that I did not paint the entire media with the same brush, but my words were totally distorted. Secondly, I did not say that this majority was uneducated or illiterate. This again was a deliberate distortion of what I said. I never used the word ‘uneducated’. I said that the majority is of a poor intellectual level. A person may have passed B.A. or M.A. but yet may be of a poor intellectual level.

Thirdly, even if one did not agree with my view, he could have coolly and patiently disagreed in a civil tone and expressed his own views instead of shouting and raving on the TV screen and giving an ugly display of temper. And this by a person who belongs to a profession a large section of which is accused of the scandal of paid news, Radia tapes, etc. Really, the Lady doth protest too much! (Shakespeare: Hamlet).

(2) I have again and again said in my articles, speeches and TV interviews that I am not in favour of harsh measures against the media. In a democracy, issues are ordinarily resolved by discussion, persuasion, consultation, and dialogue, and that is the method I prefer, rather than using harsh measures. If a channel/newspaper has done something wrong I would prefer to call the persons responsible ad patiently explain to them that what they have done is not proper. I am sure that in 90% or more cases that would be sufficient. I strongly believe that 90% of people who are doing wrong things can be reformed and made good people.

It is only in extreme cases, which would only be about 5 to 10%, that harsh measures would be required, and that too after repeated use of the democratic method has failed and the person proves incorrigible.

This statement of mine was again distorted and a false impression created that I wanted to impose emergency in the country, cartoons were published in some newspapers showing me as some kind of dictator, etc., etc.

The truth is that I have always been a strong votary for liberty, and the proof of this is my judgments in the Supreme Court and the High Court in which I have consistently held that judges are guardians of the liberties of the citizens, and they will be failing in their duties if they do not uphold these liberties. However, liberty does not mean license to do anything one wishes. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest, and are coupled with responsibilities.

We may now discuss the question of self regulation.

Self regulation by electronic media

At present, there is no regulatory authority to cover the electronic media. The Press Council of India governs only the print media, and even in cases of violation of journalistic ethics by the latter the only punishment which can be given is admonition or censure.

I have written to the Prime Minister requesting him to initiate legislation to amend the Press Council Act by (1) bringing electronic media also under the ambit of the Press Council, and (2) giving more teeth to the Press Council.

The electronic media has strongly opposed bringing it under the Press Council. Their claim is of self regulation. But even Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts do not have such an absolute right. They can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. Lawyers are under the Bar Council, who can suspend or cancel their license for professional misconduct. Doctors come under the Medical Council who can suspend/cancel their license. Auditors are in the same position. Why then is the electronic media shy of coming under any regulatory authority? Why these double standards? If they do not wish to come under the Press Council (because the present Chairman is a wicked and/or undesirable person) then the N.B.A., and B.E.A. should indicate under which regulatory authority they wish to come. Are they willing to come under the proposed Lokpal? I have repeatedly raised this question in several newspapers, but my question has always been met either by stony silence on the part of the N.B.A., and B.E.A. or dismissing the very question as ‘irresponsible’.

T.V. news and shows have a large influence on a wide section of our public. Hence in my opinion T.V. channels must also be made accountable to the public.

If the electronic media insists on self regulation, then by the same logic politicians, bureaucrats, etc., must also be granted the right of self regulation, instead of being placed under the Lokpal. Or does the electronic media regard itself so holy, so ‘doodh ka dhula’ that nobody should regulate it except itself. In that case, what is paid news, Radia tapes, etc? Is that the work of saints?

In fact there is no such thing as self regulation, which is an oxymoron. Everybody is accountable to the people in a democracy, and so is the media.

JUSTICE KATJU- MEDIA ETHICS DEBATE ‘Every particle is in a condition of half night’

topographic map of India

Image via Wikipedia

Nirupama Subramanian in The Hindu

Justice Katju’s criticism has triggered a welcome debate and introspection in the media but it is also expected of the Press Council chairman to take a more nuanced view of the complex terrain before him.

A Pakistani columnist once asked me: “What is it with you all? You claim to have a free media and yet, when I was in Delhi last year, it took me less than 15 minutes to run through some six or seven papers. They’re full of trivia. There’s nothing to read in them, not even on the front pages.” His words came back to me after Justice Markandey Katju‘s outburst against Indian journalism. It is not just the two of them either.Some months ago, a well-known Delhi-based Bharatanatyam dancer told me how “sad” she felt about the Indian media scene. She was an aggrieved party: “I cannot understand this,” she said, “no paper will review my performances. They have all done away with their review pages. Yet journalists call me all the time to find out what my favourite restaurant is, or what my favourite food is. There is an excessive focus on me, and none on my work.”

Let’s face it: plenty of journalists too would agree that both Indian electronic and print media are obsessed with celebrity and trivia and are given to sensationalism. In fact, journalists have long been concerned — much before the Press Council chairman voiced his criticism — about the amount of journalistic energies and space/time devoted to the coverage of fluff, and the shallow treatment meted out to what Justice Katju described as the “real” issues.

The impulse to dumb down is only increasing under the pressure of 24×7 news cycles, and as the competition to snare young readers and viewers grows. On television, all news is spectacle, and even the irrelevant gains importance as ‘breaking news.’ I remember switching on the television in my hotel room in Jaisalmer some years ago, to be greeted by this important Breaking News: “Jail mey karva chauth” — a report about women prisoners celebrating this north Indian festival of wifely piety.

Journalists get constantly told by those who claim to know better to ‘lighten up,’ that Indian readers are getting younger, they have short attention spans, and they do not want to read gloom and doom stories about India not shining; if these stories have to be covered, they must be delivered to these attention-deficit readers/viewers in bite-sized pieces; coverage must be about personalities, even if about politicians; the coverage must cater to young, aspirational India’s race for upwardly mobile lifestyles rather than the multiple crises in the country, even if these crises will ultimately work towards thwarting those very aspirations.

So bring in the beautiful people, go easy on farmers’ suicides and rural employment generation. In this model, science journalism cannot get more cerebral than whether mobile phones give you cancer; international news would ideally feature breaking up — or breaking down — teenage pop stars, film stars, and supermodels, and the Jasmine Revolution would fare better as a new line of perfume, and Arab Spring a brand of sparkling mineral water that Angelina Jolie drinks on her UNHCR trips.

“This is what young people want today” is the market mantra. If that is correct, and we do not know that, the question is, as media — presuming that media are a substantially different entity from a fizzy drink — do we lead our ‘consumers,’ or should we allow ourselves to be led by what sections of these consumers consider ‘boring’ or ‘interesting’? Steve Jobs, whose market strategies are much admired by the pundits, is said to have nursed a healthy disrespect for market research, saying “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

Dumbing down aside, in the past couple of years, the gory stories of media corruption, paid news, and the Radia tapes controversy have all taken the sheen off Indian journalism.

Yet I find myself disagreeing with Justice Katju’s broad swipe. It is easy to tar the entire media with one broad brush of criticism. But not all journalists are the same, just as not all judges are the same. There are many journalists who are doing exactly what Justice Katju thinks journalists should be doing, and they are not necessarily all high-profile. It also needs to be said that the media have made a lot more positive contribution than they are given credit for. Much of the corruption that has come to light over the last one year, all the scams that are currently churning the Indian polity, would have gone unnoticed had it not been for exposés by news organisations. Just in the last year, the government has had to sack Cabinet Ministers and Chief Ministers in response to the great 2G heist, the CWG and the Adarsh scams, all of which were unearthed by the media.

We are living through a complex period of economic, social and demographic change. Even Justice Katju, in an article inThe Hinduon the media that was a forerunner to his interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN‘s Devil’s Advocate programme, quoted his favourite Firaq Gorkahpuri couplet to make this point:Har zarre par ek qaifiyat-e-neemshabi hai, Ai saaqi-e- dauraan yeh gunahon ki ghadi hai. Translating this literally as “every particle is in a condition of half-night; it’s a time of sin,” Justice Katju spoke of the pains of living through an era of transition.

It is a nice thought that the media must separate themselves from the flux in which they exist, but the truth is that the media, and the people who work in them, are also a reflection — a snapshot — of society at any particular time. My Pakistani columnist friend who complained about the lightness of Indian newspapers is used to the steady high-fibre fare of strategic and political analyses offered up in the Pakistani papers. But that is a reflection of Pakistan’s country situation.

India’s situation is a bit more mixed than that. For that reason, any newspaper or television channel has the challenging job of accommodating a wide variety of interests, and there is no point being in denial about this. At one end is the need to cater to a mass of people who seem to be on an endless buying spree, from cars to clothes and everything in between; at the other, the need to remind them that there are people who cannot buy even one square meal a day. The challenge for media organisations is to get the mix right, without compromising on the essentials of journalism. The world’s best newspapers (not necessarily the ones with the largest circulation) are the ones that have mastered this mix.

For instance, the visit of the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, excited much criticism that the coverage focussed more on her looks, clothes, Birken bag, and her glasses than on the substance of her discussions with her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna. From a reporter’s perspective, when a Minister of a country with a worse Human Development Index than yours lands at your airport with a $10,000 handbag, pricey shades, and “classy pearls,” it is bound to attract media comment. This is not trivialising news. It is news. The criticism that the coverage of her film star looks was excessive and breathless may not be misplaced. But there is nothing startlingly wrong if a newspaper’s fashion reporter dissects the pearls, and a foreign affairs reporter covers the substance of the visit, as most mainline newspapers did.

Yes, it is true that journalists could be better informed about the subjects they cover, and could be possessed of more general knowledge. But that is more a commentary on our education system than on journalism itself. Some of the best journalists may not know their Shakespeare or Emile Zola, but that has not been known to affect the quality of their work.

It must also be said in defence of my tribe that journalism is far more open to criticism than some other professions. Who can criticise the judiciary this way and get away with it? Partly, this is in the nature of the work we do — the ‘product’ of our labour and its authors are out there in the public realm, for everyone to evaluate. There is no hiding.

Journalism may lack a capacity for introspection, though that too is not entirely true. But there is absolutely no doubt that outside regulation, such as by using government advertisements as a weapon against media organisations as Justice Katju suggests, is dangerous. It is already used by the government to silence media criticism, and it is hardly a solution that one would expect someone of Justice Katju’s calibre to come up with. To the extent his comments have triggered debate and introspection in the media and jolted us out of smug back-slapping complacency, he has made a positive contribution. But it is also expected of the chairman of the Press Council to separate himself from Everyman, and take a more nuanced view of the complex terrain before him.

SOURCE:  http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2630733.ece

JUSTICE KATJU- MEDIA ETHICS DEBATE ‘I am a votary of liberty; my criticism of the media is aimed at making them better’

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

OPED ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU – JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU

‘There is no such thing as self-regulation, every institution is accountable to the people.’ We publish here an edited excerpt from a clarification issued by Press Council chairman Markandey Katju. The full text of his clarification can be read at http://www.thehindu.com. ‘No doubt, the media should provide some entertainment also to the people. But if 90 per cent of their coverage is devoted to entertainment, and only 10 per cent to all the socio-economic issues put together, then the sense of priorities of the media has gone haywire.’

I have expressed my views relating to the media in several TV interviews I gave as well as in my articles in some newspapers. However, many people, including media people, wanted clarification and amplification of some of the issues I had raised. Since some controversy appears to have been raised about what I said, a clarification is in order.

Full Text

Today India is passing through a transitional period in our history, the transition being from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period in history. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart, but the new modern industrial society has not been fully and firmly established. Old values are crumbling, but new modern values have not yet been put in place. Everything is in flux, in turmoil. As Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

If one studies the history of Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, when the transition from feudalism to modern society was taking place, one realises that this transitional period was full of turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, chaos, social churning, and intellectual ferment. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through that fire. We are going through a very painful period in our country’s history, which, I guess, will last another 15 to 20 years. I wish this transition would take place painlessly and immediately but unfortunately that is not how history functions.

In this transition period, the role of ideas, and therefore of the media, becomes extremely important. At a particular historical juncture, ideas become a material force. For instance, the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, and of religious freedom (secularism) became powerful material forces during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, and particularly during the American and French Revolutions. In the age of transition in Europe, the media (which were only the print media at that time) played a great, historical role in the transformation of feudal Europe to modern Europe.

In my opinion, the Indian media too should play a progressive role similar to the one played by the European media [during that age of transition]. This it can do by attacking backward and feudal ideas and practices like casteism, communalism, superstitions, women’s oppression, etc. and propagating modern, rational and scientific ideas, secularism, and tolerance. At one time, a section of our media played a great role in our country.

Manner of functioning

When I criticised the Indian media, and particularly the broadcast media, for not playing such a progressive and socially responsible role, I was furiously attacked by a section of the media for my views. Some even launched a personal attack on me saying that I was an agent of the government. When serious issues are raised about the functioning of the media, it was expected that those issues would be addressed seriously.

By criticising the media, I wanted to persuade them to change their manner of functioning — not that I wanted to destroy them. The Indian media have a historical role to play in the age of transition, and I wanted to remind media persons of their historical duty to the nation. Instead of taking my criticism in the correct spirit, a veritable diatribe was launched against me by a section of the media, which painted me as some kind of dictatorial monster.

More focus on entertainment

The media should regard me as their well-wisher. I criticised them because I wanted media persons to give up many of their defects and follow the path of honour which the European press was following, and which will give them the respect of the Indian people.

I mentioned that 80 per cent of our countrymen are living in horrible poverty; there is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, lack of medical care, education, etc. and barbaric social practices like honour killings, dowry deaths, caste oppression, and religious bigotry. 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, cricket, etc, or showing superstitions like astrology.

No doubt, the media should provide some entertainment also to the people. But if 90 per cent of their coverage is devoted to entertainment, and only 10 per cent to all the socio-economic issues put together, then the sense of priorities of the media has gone haywire. The real issues before the people are socio-economic, and the media are seeking to divert their attention to the non-issues like film stars, fashion parades, disco, pop, cricket, and so on. It is for this lack of a sense of priorities, and for showing superstitions, that I criticised the media.

What I said

One should not be afraid of criticism, nor should one resent it. People can criticise me as much as they like, I will not resent it, and maybe I will benefit from it. But similarly the media should not mind if I criticise them. My aim in doing so is to make them better media people.

While criticising, however, fairness requires that one should report the words of one’s opponent accurately, without twisting or distorting them. That was the method used by our philosophers. They would first state the views of their opponent, in what was called as the ‘purvapaksha.’ This was done with such accuracy and intellectual honesty that if the opponent were present, he could not have stated his views better. Thereafter it was sought to be refuted.

Unfortunately, this practice is often not followed by our media.

First, I did not make a statement aboutallmedia people but only of the majority. There are many media people for whom I have great respect. So I wish to clarify here that I did not paint the entire media with the same brush. Second, I did not say that this majority was uneducated or illiterate. This again was a deliberate distortion of what I said. I never used the word ‘uneducated.’ I said that the majority is of a poor intellectual level. A person may have passed B.A. or M.A. but yet may be of a poor intellectual level.

I have again and again said in my articles, speeches, and TV interviews that I am not in favour of harsh measures against the media.

In a democracy, issues are ordinarily resolved by discussion, persuasion, consultation, and dialogue, and that is the method I prefer, rather than using harsh measures. If a channel or newspaper has done something wrong I would prefer to call the persons responsible and patiently explain to them that what they have done is not proper. I am sure that in 90 per cent or more cases that would be sufficient. I strongly believe that 90 per cent of people who are doing wrong things can be reformed and made good people.

It is only in extreme cases, which would only be about five to 10 per cent, that harsh measures would be required, and that too after repeated use of the democratic method has failed and the person proves incorrigible. This statement of mine was again distorted and a false impression created that I wanted to impose emergency in the country. Cartoons were published in some newspapers showing me as some kind of dictator.The truth is that I have always been a strong votary for liberty, and the proof of this is my judgments in the Supreme Court and the High Court in which I have consistently held that judges are guardians of the liberties of the citizens, and they will be failing in their duties if they do not uphold these liberties. However, liberty does not mean licence to do anything one wishes. All freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest, and are coupled with responsibilities.

We may now discuss the question of self-regulation.

Self-regulation by broadcast media

At present, there is no regulatory authority to cover the electronic media. The Press Council of India governs only the print media, and even in cases of violation of journalistic ethics by the latter, the only punishment that can be given is admonition or censure. I have written to the Prime Minister requesting him to initiate legislation to amend the Press Council Act by (1) bringing the electronic media also under the ambit of the Press Council, and (2) giving more teeth to the Press Council.

The electronic media have strongly opposed bringing them under the Press Council. Their claim is of self-regulation. But even Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts do not have such an absolute right. They can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. Lawyers are under the Bar Council of India, which can suspend or cancel their licence for professional misconduct. Doctors come under the Medical Council of India, which can suspend or cancel their licence. Auditors are in the same position. Why then are the electronic media shy of coming under any regulatory authority? Why these double standards? If they do not wish to come under the Press Council of India (because the present Chairman is a wicked and/or undesirable person) then the NBA (News Broadcasters Association), and BEA (Broadcast Editors Association) should indicate which regulatory authority they wish to come under. Are they willing to come under the proposed Lokpal? I have repeatedly raised this question in several newspapers, but my question has always been met either by stony silence on the part of the NBA and the BEA or by dismissing the very question as ‘irresponsible.’

TV news and shows have a large influence on a wide section of our public. Hence in my opinion, TV channels must also be made accountable to the public. If the broadcast media insist on self-regulation, then by the same logic, politicians, bureaucrats, and so on must also be granted the right of self-regulation, instead of being placed under the Lokpal. Or do the broadcast media regard themselves so holy that nobody should regulate them except themselves? In that case, what is paid news, the Radia tapes, etc? Is that the work of saints?

In fact there is no such thing as self-regulation, which is an oxymoron. Everybody is accountable to the people in a democracy — and so are the media

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2630600.ece