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

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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

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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

 

Reforming the Press Council

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

A.G. NOORANI IN THE FRONTLINE   

The new Chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, wants to make it an instrument of mediation in addition to adjudication

The appointment of Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Supreme Court, as Chairman of the Press Council of India is about the best thing that has happened to that body in a long while. It is no exaggeration to say that the PCI commands little prestige today and less relevance. It is not representative of the press at all. What Justice Katju has done, in a few days after his appointment, is to infuse life into it and involve the press in its work. This is a good step towards making the media feel that it is their institution.

It is a liberal approach, which he expounded in a get-together with mediapersons at his residence on October 10. “There are two ways to remove these defects in the media. One is the democratic way, that is, through discussions, consultations and persuasion – which is the method I prefer. The other way is by using harsh measures against the media, for example, by imposing heavy fines on defaulters, stopping government advertisements to them, suspending their licences, and so on.

“In a democracy we should first try the first method to rectify the defects through the democratic method. For this purpose, I have decided to have regular get-togethers with the media, including the electronic media, so that we can all introspect and ourselves find out ways and means to rectify the defect in the media, rather than this being done by some government authority or external agency. I propose to have such get-togethers once every two or three months, at which we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to think of how we can improve the performance of the media so that it may win the respect and confidence of the people.

“If the media prove incorrigible, harsh measures may be required. But in my opinion, that should be done only as a last resort and in extreme situations. Ordinarily, we should first try to resolve issues through discussion, consultation and self-regulation. That is the approach which should be first tried in a democracy. I, therefore, request the Union government to defer the implementation of its recent decision regarding news channel licences, so that we can ourselves discuss the issue thoroughly, and ourselves take corrective measures. “Till now the function of the Press Council was only adjudication. I intend to make the Press Council an instrument of mediation in addition, which is in my opinion the democratic approach” ( The Hindu, October 22, 2011).But the archaic Press Council Act, 1978, is most unsuited to serve as a platform for such an imaginative enterprise. It was atrophied at its very birth by imposing (Section 5 (3)) a strange composition of the Press Council, which ensures its own irrelevance and cynicism by the press.

Justice Katju rightly holds that the electronic media should also be brought within the remit of the Press Council. Indeed, failure to do so would violate the constitutional guarantee of equality (Article 14). Equals must be treated alike. Cinematograph films are different in that, unlike the print and electronic media, they are subject to pre-censorship. A ramshackle system of supposedly quasi-judicial institutions is set up by the Cinematograph Act, 1952. Meanwhile, the electronic media roams at large like a rogue elephant.

However, if television is to be brought within the purview of the Act of 1978, as it must be, the statute will have to undergo a drastic overhaul beginning with its title. The composition of the PCI must be changed fundamentally. This would provide an excellent opportunity for reform, in which Justice Katju’s PCI can perform the role he promises as an instrument of mediation. But 2011 is not 1978. The media are more assertive. No reform will be acceptable or will work unless it is based on the largest measure of consensus in the print as well as the electronic media.

To begin with, the PCI’s composition must change. Names need not be mentioned, but it is well known that over the years it has had members whose presence on the Council was nothing short of scandalous. Members of the print and electronic media should put their heads together to ensure that the PCI truly represents the media.

Justice Katju might propose a radical change. The PCI should no longer be headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court but by a person elected by the media itself. Appointment of a judge by the government adds an “outside” element to what is a “Court of Honour” comprising the media, mandated to discipline its own erring members. The task will be more effectively performed if the PCI represents both the wings of the media, print and electronic, and is headed by one of their own.

Bar a few honourable exceptions, the former Supreme Court judges who served as Chairmen did poor service to the PCI and brought little credit to themselves. What is it that inspired a former judge of the Supreme Court presiding over the Press Council, Justice N. Rajagopala Iyengar, to write to V.C. Shukla, easily the most despicable Minister for Information and Broadcasting we have ever had, on August 13, 1975, during the Emergency, confidentially in this conspiratorial vein: “You remember I spoke to you about the desire of some members to have a meeting convened for the purpose of discussing the Emergency and the Censorship. I had an informal meeting of the Delhi-based members and I was able to convince them that this is not necessary or desirable. So this will not figure in [sic] the agenda of my meeting that is being called” ( White Paper on Misuse of Mass Media during the Internal Emergency; Government of India; August 1977; page 40). The context brings out the betrayal by the PCI Chairman. Kuldip Nayar had proposed a resolution condemning restrictions on the press. The judge, a custodian of press freedom as the PCI’s head, not only sabotaged the move but wrote to the Minister about his brilliant piece of work to earn brownie points.

Justice R.S. Sarkaria was another favourite. He was appointed on a Commission of Inquiry in 1976 against the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi; as head of the Commission on Centre-State Relations in 1983, along with two former bureaucrats, to deliver the desired report; and later as Chairman of the PCI, in recognition of his high services to the state. In 1990, participants at a seminar were shocked to hear him argue that it took the United States 200 years to acquire a law on the freedom of information. Fortunately, we did not wait for those 200 years. But his worst abdication of duty lay in entertaining an oral complaint by the Army on press reportage on Kashmir. It included reports of alleged rapes of 31 women by army personnel during the night of February 23-24, 1991. A probe into the veracity of such a report is one for a Commission of Inquiry to undertake; surely not for the Press Council of India. Besides, Regulation 4 of the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulations, 1979, binds the PCI to reject any complaint that is not in writing and does not contain the details required under Regulation 3. The upshot was a report by B.G. Verghese, which lies discredited today.

The State Human Rights Commission of Kashmir announced on October 19, 2011, that it would probe afresh the Kunan Poshpora rapes. The press reported more than once intercession by the village elders to get the victims married. So much for Verghese’s denial of the charges (vide the writer’s “Exceeding the Brief”, Frontline, October 12, 1991). The Secretary of the PCI was instructed to invoke, in the teeth of Regulations 3 and 4, Regulation 15, which enables inquiries “to regulate their own procedure in respect of any matter for which no provisions or inadequate provision is made”, Regulation 4 notwithstanding. Verghese’s report was widely distributed by the Government of India. All this under Sarkaria’s watch.

Abdication of duty

Justice P.B. Sawant had his own demons to slaughter. The nadir was reached in the case of the brave human rights activist Ravi Nair, whose patriotism was impugned by a newspaper. “The committee (of inquiry) considered the records carefully. It noted that the impugned report was based on the information given to the newspaper by the governmental agencies, the names of which the respondent-newspaper had disclosed in his written statement. The committee further noted that the newspaper had offered to publish the retraction if the complainant could get a declaration from the governmental agencies. It further noted the apparent contradiction between the statements made by the complainant in his complaint and the letter written by him to the editor in regard to the correspondent’s effort to verify the facts from the complainant. In the circumstances, the committee felt that the impugned report was based on the information received by the respondent-newspaper from authentic sources and, therefore, there was no substance in the complaint. The committee decided to recommend to the Council, to dismiss the complaint.” The PCI accepted this. Its Chairman was Justice (retd) P.B. Sawant.

This was a gross abdication of duty. The PCI is enjoined to probe for itself and require the paper to justify its smear. The effect is obvious. If the agencies plant a story – as they do every now and then – the complainant will need an exoneration “from the governmental agencies” themselves. A person who has such an outlook is unfit to be Chairman of the PCI.

Justice Katju’s immediate predecessor did not cover himself with glory either. He was privy to the suppression of the 71-page report on paid news prepared by dedicated and able senior journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy. Through a vote on July 30, 2010, the PCI shamefully refused to reveal the findings and, instead, submitted a 13-page report to the government. The full report is now public and should be published in full in the PCI’s Journal. Not Everyone has access to the Internet. Yet Chairman after Chairman has demanded punitive powers – P.B. Sawant, K. Jayachandra Reddy and G.N. Ray. It is such men who reduced the PCI to pathetic irrelevance.

Chairmen there have been, like Justice A.N. Sen, who manfully stood up for press freedom. The Thakkar-Natarajan Commission on Fairfax, comprising sitting judges of the Supreme Court, was out to pillory V.P. Singh. They responded to press criticism of their conduct by asking for powers of contempt for commissions of inquiry. The Government of India asked the PCI’s Chairman, Justice A.N. Sen, to prescribe a code of conduct. Since we hear a lot about a code of conduct for journalists, the text of the PCI’s decision deserves to be set out in full:

“The Council considered the letter of Shri. G.K. Arora, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, New Delhi, dated 31-5-1988 addressed to the Chairman, Press Council of India, and also the observations made in Chapter VI of the Report of Justices Thakkar-Natarajan Commission. Out of deference to the members of the Commission, who happen to be sitting Judges of the Supreme Court, the Council refrains from making any comments on the observations made and views expressed therein.

“The Second Press Commission had recommended that it would not be proper to lay down any code of conduct for the press. The Council has consistently taken the stand that it is not desirable to formulate a code of conduct for the press as the Council is of the opinion that any such formulation can only be in broad and general terms and such formulation will serve no useful purpose and may have the effect of impinging on the freedom of the press. Guidelines are indeed indicated in Article 19(2) of the Constitution itself. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation and an eminent journalist himself, suggested that imposition of any restrictions should come from within the press and not from without. Section 13(2)(b) of the Press Council Act, 1978, lays down that the Council should build up a code of conduct, and this the Council is doing through the various decisions rendered by it. The British Press Council also observes the same practice. The Council decided to reiterate its stand and expressed the opinion that there was no reason to depart from the same.” But, of course, a code of conduct can help; provided it is drawn up by both wings of the media and their code is annexed, as a schedule, to the new PCI Act, for the reformed PCI to enforce.

The British Press Complaints Commission has come under a cloud after the News of the World scandal. But the precedent is a useful one; not for imitiation but for adaptation. The PCC is charged with enforcing a “Code of Practice” drawn up by the press itself (see box). It is not a statutory body but an exercise in self-regulation which grew out of public outrage over repeated violations of privacy. There were the reports of the Committee on Privacy headed by Kenneth Younger (1972); of the Committee on Privacy and Related Matters headed by David Calcutt, Q.C. (1990); and by Calcutt himself (1993) entitled “Review of Press Self-Regulation” (Vide the writer’s article “Privacy and public wrongs”, Frontline, October 17, 1997). The PCI and the Indian Law Institute published two useful compilations of rulings. One was on Violation of Freedom of Press (1986) and the other on Violation of Journalistic Ethics and Public taste (1984).

Justice Katju will doubtless hasten slowly. Leading figures in the media, print and electronic, owe a clear duty to help him in this task, besides exploring other areas superficially dealt with in the past. One neglected area is media coverage of terrorist outrage. In the wake of 26/11, some TV reportage imperilled lives and security by reckless behaviour. The BBC has extensive internal guidelines for reporting on hijacking, kidnapping, hostage taking and sieges. They are available on http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/edguide.

Justice Katju lost little time in dissipating the credit he had initially acquired. The penchant for sweeping remarks for which he was known in the “outbursts” on the Supreme Court Bench asserted itself soon after he became Chairman of the PCI.

He deservedly received reprimands from the Editor’s Guild and the Broadcast Editors Association on November 1 and 2. All of which only fortifies the case for revamping the PCI by eliminating Supreme Court judges from the chairmanship and including the electronic media within the ambit of a reconstituted Media Council as suggested in this article. Katju ought to know that judges of the Supreme Court exhibit appalling ignorance of literature when they demand that avowed works of historical fiction should be historically accurate. You cannot denounce and persuade at the same time. It is not for him to speak as he did anymore than it is open to a Chief Justice to denounce the Bar or the Army chief to denounce the jawans. His plea for teeth should be rejected. His comments lack restraint even when what he says is true.

But not all his comments on the media should be brushed aside. Some are fair. For instance, TV anchors assiduously whip up chauvinism in their contest for Television Rating Points – their current target is China. Four leading anchors behave like licensed louts every evening. They promote sensationalism and revel in aggressive demeanour. Print media journalists have to undergo a long grind before they reach editorial positions. Only a TV anchor will loftily proclaim while in Ladakh, “the McMahon Line is behind me”. He did not know that the line is our boundary in the north-east. It does not extend westward. In Ladakh the Sino-Indian boundary was never defined. Only a Line of Actual Control exists. Another TV channel has broken all norms of professional integrity by reducing itself to a platform for Omar Abdullah whenever he has been in trouble ever since he was pitchforked into the office of the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir nearly three years ago. To everyone’s surprise, he on his part grants it and its correspondent preferential treatment.

Still and all, Justice Katju should be given a fair chance for he has some good ideas and intends to infuse life into the PCI.

SOURCE   http://www.frontline.in/stories/20111202282408800.htm

 


 

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

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 : Press freedom must be examined

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

Age is just a number

Supreme Court of India

SOLI SORABJEE IN THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

The mandatory age of retirement of a Supreme Court judge under our Constitution is 65 years. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, headed by retired chief justice MN Venkatachaliah and comprising eminent persons, in its report recommended that age of retirement be raised to 68 years. So far the proposal has not been accepted. A majority of Supreme Court judges at the age of 65 are in fine fettle and we lose good experienced judges because of the mandatory age. Of course, there could be exceptions as in the case of a judge whose advancing age becomes manifest in his judgements or a maverick judge whose retirement because of his bulldozer disposal of cases and undignified behaviour on the Bench is a welcome relief to the consumers of justice and the legal fraternity. But such cases are few and far between. All things considered, there is merit in the proposal to increase the retirement age to 68.

What can or should a Supreme Court judge do after retirement? He cannot plead or act in any court or before any authority owing to the mandate of Article 124(7) of the Constitution. At present, on retirement, a Supreme Court judge receives not full pension but a monthly pension which is less than the amount of his last drawn salary.

Should Supreme Court judges after retirement be prohibited from acting as an arbitrator? Awards given by Supreme Court judges are challenged in district courts or high courts depending on the order of reference to arbitration. The underlying rationale is that successfully challenge to awards will not redound to the credit of the retired Supreme Court judge and will lower the image of the apex court. But remember that in many cases retired Supreme Court judges received pathetically low remuneration when they were judges in the high court. Retired Supreme Court judges do not live on love and fresh air. Besides, parties by their choice of arbitrators can have an excellent arbitral tribunal whose award would be final subject to limited grounds of challenge, which is far preferable to adjudication of disputes by the district court, then the high court and ultimately by the Supreme Court.

The fact that some retired judges prolong arbitration proceedings is not a valid reason to restrict the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) of other judges who conscientiously conclude arbitration proceedings in reasonable time. It is admirable that some retired Supreme Court judges, eg former chief justices MN Venkatachaliah and JS Verma and justice Ruma Pal, by a self-denying ordinance, decline to act as arbitrators. However, there should be no constitutional embargo on retired judges acting as arbitrators.

What about retired Supreme Court judges giving legal opinions, which invariably are flaunted by parties before courts and judicial authorities? Judges of the Supreme Court and high court strongly disapprove of opinions of retired judges which are annexed to the pleadings or cited in argument and refuse to look at them. However, this cannot be said of tribunals and judicial authorities who are likely to be influenced by the opinion. The purpose of an opinion is to render legal assistance to the client and not to influence judicial authorities. Therefore, it must be expressly stated in the opinion that the opinion should not be cited before any court or tribunal or authority or any government department or any adjudicating body. In that case parties will not seek a written opinion and may have to content themselves with oral advice which would enable them to decide their course of legal action.

A vexed issue is whether a retired Supreme Court judge should be appointed as the president or chairman of a tribunal or head a Commission of Inquiry. It is desirable that a retired Supreme Court  judge does not head a Commission of Inquiry, which, by virtue of its terms of reference, has strong political overtones. Experience has shown that in such cases whatever may be the ultimate report, the commission and its presiding judge will be subject to carping, abusive criticism. As regards tribunals, much would depend upon the nature of the tribunal and the functions it is required to perform. A competent judge and especially one experienced in the field in which the tribunal exercises its functions would enhance the standing of the tribunal and impart credibility to its functioning and its orders.

However, one caveat needs to be entered. No retried judge of the Supreme Court should be appointed to head any tribunal soon after his retirement except where his appointment is provided by statute as in the case of chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights. Appointment process takes time and must have been initiated during the period the appointee was a sitting judge.

The public perception in the present environment of distrust and cynicism can well be that the judge in view of his prospective appointment was inclined as a sitting judge to pass orders favourable to the government. Justice Sharma’s appointment as chairman of Vansadhara Water Dispute Tribunal and justice Katju’s appointment as chairman of the Press Council were made promptly after their retirement. There is no doubt that their prospective appointment did not in any manner affect the discharge of their judicial functions.

Justice is rooted in confidence and confidence is the bedrock of judicial independence. Public perceptions cannot be brushed aside. Therefore there should be a cooling period of six months or a year before the appointment of a retired Supreme Court judge to a tribunal or any other judicial body. This should dispel apprehensions in the matter and sustain public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system and the independence of our Supreme Court judges.

(Soli Sorabjee is former attorney general of India. The views expressed by the author are personal.)

http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/ColumnsOthers/Age-is-just-a-number/Article1-762253.aspx