Justice Markandey Katju’s appointment as Chairman of the Press Council of India has been followed by controversy created by some of his remarks about media shortcomings and how these ought to be dealt with. I do not wish to defend the media. Many journalists apart from me have serious reservations about it. We deplore the manner in which some sections of the media conduct themselves. Though criticizing the media we may not agree with Justice Katju. However I do not wish to enter into any controversy related to media. I am concerned more with the state of the judiciary as revealed by Justice Katju’s mindset.
|If a Judge can be appointed to monitor the media, should not a journalist be appointed to monitor the judiciary?
Recently Justice Katju wrote an article in a contemporary giving expression to his views. He wrote that liberty cannot be equated with license. The profundity of this remark is unexceptionable. Indeed it is precisely to ensure that the freedom of expression granted to every citizen as a fundamental right is not misused as licence have so many laws been framed. We have laws against defamation, against obscenity, against insult to national honour and against incitement. Spoken or written word that violates any of these laws is open to legal redress. For the rest, the freedom of expression guarantees that all citizens may express themselves without inhibition within the parameters of law. Surely Justice Katju would know that.
However, in his recent newspaper article Justice Katju wrote: “ 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 overemphasis on film stars, pop music, fashion parades and cricket in a poor country like ours? …It is for this reason that I believe that while ordinarily issues relating to media should be resolved by democratic discussion and dialogue, in rare and exceptional cases harsh measures may be required, but that too not by the government but by any independent statutory authority, eg the Lokpal.”
In this extraordinary passage Justice Katju need not have drawn attention to creating caste or communal hatred for which there are stringent and adequate laws in existence. But Justice Katju would also like to act against overemphasis on cricket, film stars, pop music and fashion! With his judicial wisdom he would determine the appropriate emphasis on any of these in the light of the poverty prevalent in the nation. He has kindly stated that harsh measures circumventing democratic discussion and dialogue may be resorted to only in rare cases. He would not like the government but some institution like the Lokpal to administer punishment. He did not reveal in his article whether he endorsed Mr. Anna Hazare’s prescription to flog those who drink alcohol, or the self-professed Gandhian’s regret that Mr. Sharad Pawar was slapped only once by a hooligan.
I really don’t care if the media is flogged out of existence. What worries me is the mindset revealed by a former Supreme Court judge. Whatever happened to the freedom of expression enshrined in our Constitution? Does it become irrelevant if there is too much enthusiasm displayed for cricket or pop music or film stars? Is this the attitude with which the Supreme Court considers issues and delivers judgments? Is this the reason why so many of the Supreme Court judgments have appeared to be so irrational and senseless? Was this why the Supreme Court ruled that the President was akin to a titular head like the British Sovereign even though no passage in our long, long Constitution asserted this? In one sense one is grateful to Justice Katju. He has cleared the mystery why so many court rulings make so little sense.
One cannot help but ask. If a Judge can be appointed to monitor the media, should not a journalist be appointed to monitor the judiciary?