Sunday, January 15, 2012

Is the media playing safe with Justice Katju

The front page anchor of the Hindu was today plastered with one “news” – PCI Chief Justice Katju’s views on Sunny Leone being shown on Indian TV. A Google search showed me that almost every large media house had covered the “story” prominently.

This is surprising on two accounts. Firstly, the PCI has no jurisdiction over non-news broadcasts and hence his views (or those of PCI) on whether it was appropriate for Sunny Leone to appear on the reality show Bigg Boss 5, are irrelevant. Secondly, these are likely to be Mr. Katju’s personal views and perhaps do not merit front page coverage.  At best, these could have been placed in the entertainment section.

Why is the media playing it safe with Justice Katju?

Since his appointment in October last year, his views on topics outside the ambit of the PCI’s jurisdiction have been covered. These include views on democracy, the abuse of Bharat Ratna awards, filtering content on social media sites, self regulation, discrimination against muslims and the lack of scientific methods of investigation by the police and of course the numerous references he has made for TV and online news channels to be brought under the ambit of the PCI.

I do not recollect any other PCI Chief (or the PCI) being given such coverage even while discussing relevant issues that were within the PCI’s jurisdiction. Not even when the Council censured three newspapers in July 2006 (The Times of India – Delhi and Pune editions, Punjab Kesari – Delhi and Mid Day – Mumbai). In fact there is little media coverage found on any of the past Chairmen of the PCI, even though they presided on several landmark cases such as the BG Verghese Vs The Hindustan Times case. Given the emails Mr. Katju has been sending the media, several a week, he seems to have a greater penchant for publicity than past chairmen of the press council.

Many blogs have pointed out that Mr. Katju’s aspirations for “power” to the PCI are against the fundamental principles of the PCI and that he should perhaps directly ask for re-constituting the PCI. Mainstream media, however, has never asked him such a question. (Maybe this is the very same low quality of intellect among journalists in mainstream media that Mr. Katju complained of, which is not motivated to think on these lines of questioning. Perhaps Mr. Katju is relying on the same low intellect to keep him in the news?)

The PCI is an autonomous body that seeks government aid on a need-basis and Mr. Katju as its representative should be treated with the same amount of scrutiny as any government representative/ industry body representative. Instead, his views have been reproduced in the media verbatim with little or no alternative perspective featured in those stories.  Most stories featuring him are lead stories, the bulk of them carrying his interview or a report that conveniently omits any other perspective.

To draw a comparison, when Anna Hazare surfaced with the Lokpal Bill, the media chose to investigate his background and the backgrounds of his associates who made up Team Anna.  This led to discovering the infamous Income tax woes of Arvind Kejriwal and travel funds misappropriation issue in the case of Kiran Bedi.  However, we know little about Mr. Katju except the fact that he was a distinguished lawyer who served as Supreme Court Judge and his courtroom was known for dispensing off 100+ cases a week, a feat considering the delays at most courts. Thanks to his regular emails to the press, we now know that he is an authority on everything under the sun. What’s more, he will definitely say something that almost always deserves front page coverage.

Perhaps it is his legal background that is making journalists reluctant to probe deeper and understand why he wants the changes he voices in the PCI. I am also surprised that no political links have been discovered given the tacit support his views are receiving from the government and the opposition parties.

It is also strange that Mr. Katju’s seems reluctant to seek a formal meeting with the various journalist bodies including the Editor’s Guild, News Broadcaster’s Association  and the Broadcast Editor’s Association to put forth his views on improving the state of the media and discussing the larger objectives that he wants to drive under the PCI’s ambit. (The meeting he held with editors upon his Chairmanship in October 2011, was an informal one where he was presenting a lecture on the state of the media). If such a meeting has happened, it would have been covered either in a press release by Mr. Katju himself or through statements issued by the journalist bodies. Considering either of this has not happened, it would be safe to presume that Mr. Katju is still hunting for adequate verbal ammunition to hurl at journalists.

In a democracy, every Bill is tabled in the parliament before it receives the majority votes to be enacted. Mr Katju appears to have found a new loophole in the constitution that aims to enforce legislation without even seeking basic dialogue from those who will be governed by it.

It appears that the media is perhaps fearful of the fact that if the PCI’s demands for greater power, punitive action and jurisdiction were to be granted, they could be targeted. Either that or the media has not yet found a strong and sustainable voice to counter Mr. Katju’s views and offer a balanced perspective. If that were the case, it is time the media seek alternate voices from the blogsphere and publish them.  At least they will conform to Mr. Katju’s views on providing balanced news. 

(Reproduced from my article to the Hoot -