What would you call it when the Chairman of the media’s watchdog panel, the Press Council of India, violates the ‘Norms of journalistic conduct’ enunciated by the very same body? Is it a travesty or abuse of office or something worse? Or, is it that the Council’s chairman is not bound by the standards which the statutory body he heads prescribes for other journalists?
The Council has prescribed a set of Norms for Journalistic Conduct and the latest 2010 edition of the Council’s norms is posted on its website here.
Justice Markandey Katju’s negative scurrilous writing (published prominently in a leading English news daily) are bereft of facts, severely distorted, graceless and misleading. The very first commandment of the Press Council’s norms speaks of accuracy and fairness.It says, “1.1 The press shall eschew publication of inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material.” Further, the Council’s norms stipulate that newspapers should not pass on or elevate conjecture, speculation or comment as a statement of fact.
Katju seems to be guilty of breaching these norms. In his article, Katju writes, “The truth today is that Muslims in Gujarat are terrorised and afraid that if they speak out against the horrors of 2002 they may be attacked and victimised. In the whole of India, Muslims (who number over 200 million) are solidly against Mr. Modi (though there are a handful of Muslims who for some reason disagree).”
What is the ‘truth’ that Katju is talking about and what is the basis for this assertion? Muslims have voted in large numbers in Gujarat elections. Would they have done it if they were in such fear? Would Muslims have elected the BJP in the recent assembly and local body polls in minority-dominant areas?
Earlier this week, Maulana Mahmood Madani, general secretary of Jamait Ulama-i-Hind, told the English TV channel Headlines Today, “In Gujarat, Jamait workers on the ground have told me that in several assembly segments, Muslims voted for Modi. There is a perceptible change and circumstances are different now... Muslims in Gujarat are economically better off than in several states which have so-called secular governments in power." (Read the details here).
By trying to pass off his myopic views as truth, is Katju not misleading the people and abusing his authority as head of the statutory body that is supposed to be the guardian of media standards? Holding a respectable quasi-judicial position as Chairman of the Press Council, is Katju not guilty of raising sensitive communal issues, possibly with the aim of serving the interests of those who gave him this post-retirement job? From the manner in which Congress party has jumped to his defence, is it a secret anymore what his political affiliations are?
The Press Council’s norms (clause 10.ii) stipulate that the newspapers shall eschew suggestive guilt. In clear violation of this, Katju in his article presumes without any basis that Narendra Modi is guilty. He says, “It is said by his supporters that Mr Modi had no hand in the killings, and it is also said that he had not been found guilty by any court of law. I do not want to comment on our judiciary, but I certainly do not buy the story that Mr Modi had no hand in the events of 2002…Can it be believed that he had no hand in them?”
Having been a former Supreme Judge himself, isn’t Katju making a mockery of the judiciary when he pronounces guilt on the basis of his own coloured opinions and not by facts or by SIT findings or court rulings?
In his article, speaking of public support for Narendra Modi as PM, Katju says: “I appeal to the people of India to consider all this if they are really concerned about the nation’s future. Otherwise they may make the same mistake which the Germans made in 1933.” This amounts to maligning the image of a popularly elected CM and grossly violates the Council’s own stipulation that the “Freedom of Press does not give licence to a newspaper to malign a political leader or mar his future political prospects by publishing fake and defamatory writings.”Katju precisely does what his Council seems to warn journalists against.
Thus, in one fell swoop, Katju has damned the entire Muslim community of Gujarat, demeaned the country’s hallowed judiciary and our entire democratic system.
Justice Katju’s peccadilloes can no longer be ignored. They are a blot on the high office that he holds. He is misusing his official position by holding forth in the national media, spreading falsehood, indulging in baseless allegations and character assassination of public figures.
Needless to say, there are countless people who have made vitriolic comments against Narendra Modi and have withered away to oblivion. As the popular clamour for Modi’s leadership soars owing to Gujarat’s stellar success story, Katju’s will be one more drowned voice.
GVL Narasimha Rao is BJP’s Member, National Electoral Reforms Committee