“Intolerant behaviour by politicians has no place in a democracy. If something untrue is published about a politician, he has certainly a right to get his rejoinder published, but losing one’s balance or giving an ugly display of temper is just not acceptable in a democracy.”
So said the chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), Justice Markandey Katju, in a statement yesterday.
All right-thinking citizens of this democracy couldn’t agree more. Therefore, when the chairman of the Press Council himself demonstrates ‘intolerant behaviour’, it has no place in a democracy. Therefore, ‘losing one’s balance or giving an ugly display of temper is just not acceptable in a democracy’, Justice Katju.
Last night, on CNN IBN’s India@9 hosted by Rajdeeep Sardesai, on a panel discussing the Zee-Jindal spat, Justice Katju blew a gasket. To begin with, he made it absolutely clear that he needed ‘time’ to air his views – a request Sardesai acceded to. Once granted the time, Katju went on to inform all and sundry that what was needed was a Media Council, one headed by him, which will do more than oversee the press, the medium that the PCI is mandated to do. Katju wanted all of media to come under his purview.
Katju then went on to rap the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) for their impotence (my word, not his) insofar as they could do nothing (with reference to the instant Zee-Jindal case) other than take action against Sudhir Chaudhary, editor and Business head of Zee News, from the post of treasurer and from the primary membership from the BEA; the BEA could not suspend the license of the channel, Katju lamented. Katju summarily rejected the possibility of BEA being able to self-regulate, citing this example.
From that point on, the discussion hurtled downhill, beginning with Justice Katju asking BEA’s NK Singh to ‘shut up’. He protested at being called a dictator (which nobody on the panel did); at being targeted (which nobody on the panel had done); he kept underlining that the composition of the PCI was such that it was democratically run (a fact that no one had questioned). The moment he was interrupted or challenged, viewers had to reach for their remote controls as Katju raised his voice.
Take a look at Katju’s rant here:
Katju is fast reaching a point where he is incoherent and unfocused; he seems to have no sense of what his full-time day job is and what he was expected to achieve when he was named Chairman of the Press Council of India.
Consider the following:
• He is the chairman of the Press Council of India. His job is to see that the print media (no less and no more) fulfils the role that print should play in a democracy. Since taking charge, he has done nothing to improve matters in print in India. For example, he has done nothing on the issue of the paid news phenomenon. Indeed, as is demonstrated in the context of the forthcoming Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections, it is the Election Commission which is at the forefront of combating these ills.
• He has no official role or voice in the context of any medium (or any other issue – such as his conviction that 90 percent of Indians are fools) other than print. His views on news TV can have as much weightage as mine could. They are views of someone concerned with, or interested in, or with seeming knowledge – but they are ‘lay’ views.
• He is unable to explain (a point brought out by BEA’s Singh last night) how a Media Council, if ever formed, would do better than the BEA, considering Katju’s proposed ‘democratic’ structure, where the majority on the Council will be owners and professionals in the broadcast industry.
His views, when aired in print (through statements and through his columns), on the web (through his tweets and his blog posts) and on TV (through his appearances) cannot be the representative views of the Press Council. They are his personal views, and carry as much weight and importance as any other individual’s views. The views are often intolerant, condescending and elitist.
Last night, he blew it. Rather than enrich the panel discussion with his thoughts on the Zee-Jindal issue, Katju wasted the extra air-time he bullied out of the host to attempt to make a case to gain greater power for himself. Nothing that he said helped the viewer gain a better sense of whether Zee or Jindal was in the right; nothing that he said helped the viewer understand the issues of corruption and blackmail in the media; nothing that he said suggested a roadmap for improving the situation.
Katju is the monster that the media Frankenstein has created by inviting his views on every issue under the sun. Thankfully, the damage can be undone just as easily – by ignoring him completely.