Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India, deserves thanks for highlighting the superfluity of the Council. It serves no purpose. Enacted in 1978 it is a toothless body that can offer gratuitous advice to newspapers without the power to punish them. For monitoring journalistic performance and suggesting professional standards a self regulatory body, perhaps even the Editors Guild, would serve much better. Justice Katju earns our thanks because he is diligently performing, as he thinks best, the tasks of the Council as laid down in the Act. Because the Act is flawed in concept the results of his diligence are not surprisingly disastrous.
|Notwithstanding Justice Katju’s eminence as a Judge the pursuit of his perceived responsibilities has resulted in assertions that are outright bizarre. He betrays pathetic ignorance of journalism. Indeed, at times he even betrays disturbing ignorance of law.
Justice Katju apparently relies most on Clause (1) Section 13 of the Act which states: “The objects of the Council shall be to preserve the freedom of the Press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India .”
He also seems to take with commendable seriousness sections (c) and (d) of Clause (2) which direct that “to ensure on the part of newspapers, news agencies and journalists, the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship;” and “to encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism.”
What the framers of the Act failed to appreciate was that “the standards of newspapers” and “the maintenance of high standards of public taste” and “a sense of responsibility and public service” are all subjective judgments. Quite often observing these bench marks impinges on the right of free expression granted to all citizens and enshrined in our Constitution. Notwithstanding Justice Katju’s eminence as a Judge the pursuit of his perceived responsibilities has resulted in assertions that are outright bizarre. He betrays pathetic ignorance of journalism. Indeed, at times he even betrays disturbing ignorance of law.
Justice Katju’s strident criticism of newspapers publishing the report of legendary actor Dev Anand’s death on page one exposed not only his ridiculous ignorance about the demands of professional journalism. His remarks were also highly insensitive and offensive. His threat to have the Maharashtra government dismissed for destroying the “freedom of the press” because some journalists had been killed in the state revealed his peculiar knowledge of law. By these occurrences the Maharashtra government may be accused of failing to maintain law and order for which Justice Katju may by all means demand its resignation. Journalists being killed by criminals do not in any way reflect the government curbing press freedom. Indeed, now one is not only concerned about a Judge offering useless advice to journalists. One is even getting concerned about the quality of Supreme Court Judges.
In his latest pearl of wisdom Justice Katju has accused the Bihar government of curbing press freedom because the media he thought was too subservient, unlike during the tenure of the previous Laloo Prasad Yadav government. To make such an assertion without offering concrete evidence about the government exerting undue pressure is hardly a judicious approach. I would like to advise Justice Katju that in my long stint as a journalist I have been perhaps more than any other compatriot the victim of editorial curbs and forced exit from employment. Excepting for one unverified incident, I can confidently state that never did the government exert pressure on me. Each time it was the proprietor or the editor of the newspaper sucking up to the government that did the damage. How does Justice Katju know that it is the government and not the proprietors and editors of media that are responsible for a subservient press in Bihar ?
Justice Katju’s overdrive has raised the serious question of whether we should at all have a Press Council of India. Indeed, Former Chief Justice JS Verma has suggested scrapping of this useless body. He said: "Everyone knows the Press Council has failed in its mandate and how ineffective it has been. So, why not wind it up or scrap it… It is run on public money, so why not save the money (by winding it up)?”