(This is the text of the speech delivered by Hon’ble Mr. Justice M. Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, to the mediapersons on their responsibility at a get together at his home in New Delhi on October 10, 2011. We thank to The Hindu for posting this speech on their website and edit page.)
I wish to thank you all for accepting my invitation for this get together and for coming here.
As you know, I have only recently become the Chairman of the Press Council of India. It is a new job for me as I was earlier in the legal world for 40 years, 20 years as a lawyer and 20 years as a Judge.
Now, that I have come into your world I need your guidance, advice and suggestions so that I may be able to perform my duties properly.
I have arranged this get together of media people because I think that the time has now come in this country when some introspection is required by the media. Many people, not only those in authority but even ordinary people, have started saying that the media has become irresponsible, wayward and needs to be reined in.
Only a couple of days back I read in the newspapers that the Union Government has issued some regulations regarding licences for news channels, about which there was a lot of reaction.
Under the Constitution of India freedom of the media is part of the freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. However, no freedom can be absolute, and reasonable restrictions can be placed on them. One of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information to the people which will enable them to form rational opinions, which is a sine qua non in a democracy. But is the Indian media performing this role properly?
I may only mention certain defects in the functioning of the Indian media today:
(i)The media often twist facts. In this connection, I would like to give an example.
I sat for several months with Hon’ble Mrs. Justice Gyan Sudha Misra in a Bench of the Supreme Court. One day, a leading English newspaper of the country published on its front page a photograph of Hon’ble Justice Misra with the caption “Supreme Court Judge says that her daughters are liabilities”.
This was a totally distorted and fallacious news and that too published in the front page of a leading English newspaper.
The correct facts were that Supreme Court Judges have to disclose their assets and liabilities. Against the liabilities column Justice Misra wrote ‘two daughters to be married’. Strictly speaking it was not necessary to mention this because liabilities means legal liabilities e.g. housing loan, car loan, etc. However, the intention of Justice Misra was obviously to say that she had to spend a lot of money in her daughters’ future marriage. She has three daughters (no son) only one of whom has been married and two are yet to be married. Justice Misra never said nor intended to say that her daughters were liabilities, and the news published was totally false and defamatory with the obvious intention of creating a sensation.
This publication was of tremendous embarrassment and grief not only to Justice Misra but also to members of her family. Did the publisher of this news items ever think how much pain and embarrassment it would cause to Justice Misra and her family? Obviously not. All that the publisher of that news sought was to create a sensation by twisting the correct facts.
Even if Justice Misra had made a mistake in writing “ two daughters to be married” against the column of liabilities, should the media have cashed in on this mistake and totally distorted it without realizing how much pain it was causing to some people? I ask the media people assembled here today to themselves introspect and seek the answer.
(ii)The issue of paid news has become prominent of late. In the 2009 elections, it was a scandal. How to stop this vicious practice needs to be discussed among us. Incidentally, in compliance with the order of the Chief Information Commissioner dated 19.9.2011, we have placed the 71-page report of the Committee consisting of Shri Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Mr. Sreenivas Reddy on our website www.presscouncil.nic.in with the disclaimer that the Press Council had rejected this report in its meeting held on 26.4.2010. .
(iii)The media often portrays non issues as real issues while the real issues are sidelined. The real issues in the country are economic, that is the terrible economic conditions in which 80% of our people are living, the poverty, unemployment, lack of housing and medical care etc. Instead of addressing these real issues, the media often tries to divert the attention of the people to non-issues, such as that the wife of a film actor has become pregnant, whether that lady will give birth to a single child or to twins etc. Are these the real issues facing the nation?
In the Lakme India Fashion Week event, there were 512 accredited journalists covering the event in which models were displaying cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves at a distance of an hour’s flight from Nagpur in the Vidharbha region. Nodescription told that story except one or two journalists, locally.
Is this a responsible way for the Indian media to function? Should the media turn a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities facing over 75 per cent of our people, and concentrate on some ‘Potemkin villages’ where all is glamour and show biz? Are not the Indian media behaving much like Queen Marie Antoinette, who said that if the people had no bread, they should eat cake.
No doubt, sometimes the media mentions farmers’ suicides, the rise in the price of essential commodities, and so on, but such coverage is at most 5 to 10 per cent of the total. The bulk of the coverage goes to showing the life of film stars, pop music, fashion parades, cricket and astrology.
(iv)Bomb blasts have taken place near the Delhi High Court, in Bombay, Bangalore etc. Within a few hours of such bomb blasts many T V channels started showing news item that Indian Mujahidin or Jaish-e-Mohammed or Harkatul-jihad-e-islam have sent e-mails or SMS claiming responsibility. The names of such alleged organizations will always be Muslim names. Now an e-mail can be sent by any mischievous person, but by showing this on TV channels and next day in the newspapers the tendency is to brand all Muslims in the country as terrorists and bomb throwers.
The truth is that 99% people of all communities, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh and of whatever caste or region are good. But the manner in which such news is shown on TV screens and published in the newspapers tend to create the impression that all Muslims are terrorists, and evil, which is totally false. The person who sends such e-mails or SMS obviously wants to create hatred between Hindu and Muslims, which is the old British divide and rule policy continuing even today. Should the media, wittingly or unwittingly, become part of this policy of divide and rule?
I have only referred to some of the defects in the Indian media. No doubt there are defects not only in the media but in other institutions also e.g. the judiciary, bureaucracy etc. but all of us must try to remove these defects.
There are two ways of removing these defects in the media. One is the democratic way, that is by discussions, consultations and persuasion, which is the method I prefer. The other way is by using harsh measures against the media e.g. by imposing heavy fines on the defaulters, stopping Government advertisements for them, suspending their licence etc.
In my opinion, in a democracy, we should first try the first method for rectifying the defects, namely the democratic method. It is for this purpose that I have decided to have regular get togethers with the media, including the electronic media, so that we can all introspect and ourselves find out ways and means of rectifying the defects in the media, rather than this being done by some government authority or external agency.
For this purpose, I propose to have such get togethers, like the one as we are having today, every two or three months, in which we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to think how we can improve the performance of the media so that it may win the respect and confidence of the people of the country.
Such meetings will not be formal meetings of the Press Council of India but only informal get togethers. No doubt, the electronic media is not under the Press Council of India Act, but surely there is nothing wrong in discussing matters relating to media with them also. After all, the ultimate purpose of the print media and the electronic media is the same, and journalistic ethics apply to both.
No doubt, if the media proves incorrigible, harsh measures may be required, but in my opinion that should be resorted to only as a last resort and in extreme situations. Ordinarily, we should first try to resolve the issues by discussion, consultation and self-regulation. That is the approach which should be ordinarily first tried in a democracy. I, therefore, respectfully request the Union Government to kindly defer implementation of its recent decision regarding the news channel license, so that we can ourselves discuss the issue thoroughly and ourselves take corrective measures in this connection.
Till now the function of the Press Council was only adjudication. I intend to make the Press Council an instrument of mediation in addition, which is in my opinion the democratic approach. For this purpose, I need the help and co-operation and advice of all of you.
Presently, India is passing through a transitional period in its history, the transition being from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonizing period in history. If you have read the history of Europe from the 16th to the 19thCenturies, which was the transitional period there, you will find that this period was accompanied by tremendous turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, social churning, chaos, intellectual ferment etc. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. Presently, India is going through this fire. We are going through a very painful period in our history, which I think will last for another 20 years or so before modern industrial society emerges in India.
The media too must help society in going through this transitional period as quickly as possible, and by reducing the pain. This, it can do by attacking feudal ideas e.g. casteism and communalism and promoting modern scientific ideas.
Before I conclude, I once again repeat my appeal to the Indian Government through the Prime Minister to release Dr. Khalil Chisty who is in Ajmer Jail. He is 80 years old and has not very long to live. He was an eminent virologist in Karachi Medical College and was a Ph.D from Edinburgh University. He is a heart patient and has many other ailments also. He is unable to walk. In the name of humanity I appeal to the Indian Government to release him and allow him to get back to home in Karachi to his wife and daughter who live there. The Pakistan Government honoured my appeal and released Gopal Das from a Pakistani Jail. I am sad that the Indian Government has not yet honoured my appeal made several months ago to the Hon’ble Prime Minister, the Hon’ble Home Minister, and His Excellency the Governor of Rajasthan. In my opinion, the prestige of our country will be increased if Dr. Chisty is released, whereas if he dies in jail, we will be disgraced.
I now wish all of you to give your views.