He is demanding “draconian powers” for Press Council

The Editors Guild of India has come out with a scathing condemnation of Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju's “ill-considered, sweeping and uninformed comments on the media,” alleging that they “touched a new low.”

Justice Katju made the remarks in an interview to Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN over the weekend.

In a statement, the Guild “strongly” opposed Justice Katju's demand for what it called “draconian powers” for the Press Council. These included the power to impose fines, withdraw advertisements and suspend publication licences.

It also objected to his suggestion that the Council be allowed to regulate television channels as well as newspapers. “The issues and drivers of the electronic media are such that they call for separate regulation. Therefore, the Guild firmly believes that the Press Council should have its brief limited to the print media, as it is at present.”

In less than a month at the helm of the Press Council, Justice Katju has irked senior journalists with his negative comments. At his first informal get-together with editors, his blunt lecture on the defects of the media and the stern warning that “if the media proves incorrigible, harsh measures may be required” had led to sharp disagreements with several veteran journalists.

In his CNN-IBN interview, Justice Katju said he had a poor opinion of most media people, who had a very “poor intellectual level” without much knowledge of economic theory, political science, literature or philosophy. He felt that the media divided people on religious lines and played an anti-people role. He said he had written to the Prime Minister, asking for a media council with more powers to penalise media organisations if they behaved in a “very obnoxious manner.”

‘A bulwark’

The Guild accused Justice Katju of wanting to “invoke fear in the media.” “Press freedom is a bulwark for the Indian people against the onslaught of people in authority, and the Guild will firmly oppose the assumption of any draconian powers by a Press Council that was created with an altogether different purpose.

“Its attempt to engage in dialogue with Mr. Katju has been rendered futile by Mr. Katju, who, however, continues to express his tendentious and offensive views.”

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