Katju vs media: Both sides need to pull back from brink

The war of words between Justice Katju and media organisations has gone on for too long. Both need to pull back instead of feeding the mistrust further.

R Jagannathan November 07, 2011 12:35:40 IST
Katju vs media: Both sides need to pull back from brink

Retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, the controversial new chief of the Press Council, looks set to escalate the war of words and increase the level of mistrust between him and powerful segments of the media.

In a recent diatribe, Katju debunked the News Broadcasters Association’s (NBA's) claim to self-regulation when no one – from the judiciary down to politicians and bureaucrats – had the same right. He challenged the NBA to put itself under the Lokpal if it did not want to be regulated by the Press Council.

“By what logic do you claim to be exempt from being placed under the Lokpal? You claim the right of self-regulation. By the same logic, politicians, bureaucrats, etc., will also claim the right of self-regulation. Or do you claim to be so doodh ka dhula that you should not be regulated by anyone else except yourself? What then was paid news, Radia tapes, etc?” he is quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

Katju vs media Both sides need to pull back from brink

Retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, the controversial new chief of the Press Council, looks set to escalate the war of words and increase the level of mistrust between him and powerful segments of the media. Screengrab from ibnlive.com

There is, of course, a vital difference between the organisations Katju mentions (judiciary, bureaucrats, etc) and the media: the former are all organs of the state, but the media is run by private parties — often with a public purpose, but not always. If bribes are paid to the media to publish news it's not the same as bribing a judge — and Katju should know the difference.

However,we should not be rubbishing Katju's larger point about the media being accountable to no one. To bring sanity to the debate, both Katju and his detractors in the media have to get off their high horses. The truth is the media needs to be better regulated. If it won’t self-regulate better, the regulation will be imposed from above – as Katju is threatening.

The problem with the media – and especially the broadcast media —  is that it has been completely ineffective in self-regulation. In fact, when was the last time the NBA took effective action against any news channels for alleged transgression of a code of ethics? If it has done anything, we didn't know anything about it.

However, the charge of ineffective regulation applies to the judiciary and politicians as well.  Katju is being disingenuous when he suggests that judges or lawyers or MPs or bureaucrats are better regulated, whether through self-regulation or through official watchdogs.

In the last 60 years of our republic, almost no judge has been impeached even though anecdotal evidence suggests that judicial corruption has been growing. Firstpost has written stories indicating how the former Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan, is facing the heat for the actions of his near relatives.

In fact, even now the Supreme Court is fighting the Right to Information Act. It is doing something unfair by looking into its own complaint that the Central Information Commission and the Delhi High Court were wrong to bring the office of the Chief Justice under RTI. So when Katju excoriates the media for trying to be its own judge, he should also criticise the Supreme Court's jurisdiction in the RTI case. It has no business being a judge in a case where it is the complainant.

Our MPs have almost never punished themselves – except when it suited the party in power. Thus the MPs involved in the JMM bribery scandal are free from any taint, and, in fact, are now claiming a tax exemption on the bribe amounts received. In the 2005 cash-for-questions scam, parliament expelled 11 MPs from the house, but, surprise, 90 percent of them were from opposition. It suited the UPA to have MPs from the opposition expelled to strengthen its own clout.

Clearly, no segment of society is “doodh ka dhula”, to use Katju’s eloquest phrase.

The only way forward is dialogue and a pullback from the intransigent positions taken by Katju, the Editors’ Guild of India, and the News Broadcasters’ Association.

If Katju has not covered himself with glory by his intemperate remarks against the media, the media watchdogs have painted themselves into a corner by pretending that improprieties are a rarity in print and TV.

We need a ceasefire, and cooler heads must prevail. No one can afford to pretend that the other side is more wrong.

Updated Date:

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