Disagreeing with the government on self-regulation by the media, chairperson of the Press Council of India Justice Markandey Katju said on Wednesday that he only favoured regulating the media, not controlling it. But regulation should be by an independent body and not the government.
“Self-regulation is not always enough and that is why we have laws,” he said during an interaction with members of the Indian Women Press Corps here. “Normally, negotiating with the media [on the content] should be the way, but we do need laws under some extreme situations… I believe 90 per cent of the people who are doing wrong can be persuaded to do the right thing, but some people are incorrigible for whom we need laws.”
On the ongoing debate in the Supreme Court on framing guidelines for the media, Justice Katju said the Press Council had already drafted guidelines and told the apex court that if new guidelines were to be drafted they should be on the lines of the existing ones.
Justifying bringing the electronic media under the purview of the Press Council, Justice Katju said when every professional in the country was accountable, he saw no reason why the electronic media should not be. “But this can be done only by amending the Act, which looks unlikely as the government is unable to pass any Bills in Parliament, or I do it the way I am doing it without any legislation. I have met the Prime Minister personally to discuss the issue, but the government does not seem to be doing much.” He said coalition governments were “weak” and not taking decisions.
He said the business interests of media house owners had diversified. Most owners now had other business interests also which guided the editorial policy of a publication. The issue now was how to take a balanced approach. “I am a votary of the freedom of the Press and would like to see high journalistic standards, but will criticise it where it acts irresponsibly. Media in India has, at times, acted irresponsibly,” he said.
Any newspaper owner who had other business interests would only be interested in making money and he would put pressure on the staff to publish only what increased his TRP ratings and fetched more advertisements. “As long as he is catering to the needs of the people, he is happy.”
Justice Katju said 90 per cent of the educated Indians had a low intellectual level. Even highly educated viewers were glued to film stars, fashion shows, astrology and cricket while India had problems like poverty, hunger, health and education. “Now we have Babas all over television channels spreading superstition.” Justice Katju also criticised the media for focussing on “naked women, Lady Gaga and Rakhi Sawant.” He believed the media had lost “sense of proportion or priority” in its content.
However, Justice Katju backed Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal on regulating the social media. It posted “filthy stuff” that needed to be filtered out as it could lead to social disorder and communal riots. “No freedom is absolute. It comes with a degree of restraint.”
Appreciating P. Sainath's reporting in The Hindu on farmers' deaths in Vidarbha, Justice Katju said most of the media had done their best to suppress the fact for years until it could no more be suppressed.
Refusing to “reconsider” the use of the word “keep” for mistress in one of his judgments, Justice Katju said he had chosen the word only to explain exploitation of women by the rich and he could not think of any other appropriate word. “These are unfortunate social realities of the country. Some people have a habit of making a hue and cry over every issue. They can go ahead.”
“I have a right to my opinion as you do,” he said when members from the audience sought to register their protest.