‘Media persons care two hoots for Press Council as it can only admonish’

Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju on Wednesday sought a statutory regulator with punitive powers, one that was “more representative,” for the media.

Mr. Katju told journalists here on Wednesday that many media persons “cared two hoots” for the Press Council of India (PCI), which only had powers to admonish newspapers. He said many journalists did not even respond to the notices issued by the PCI as they knew it had no punitive powers such as suspending publication licences for newspapers, while the electronic media was out of its ambit.

Mr. Katju suggested the setting up of a 48-member statutory body with 40 members equally represented from the print and electronic media. The members should be elected much like lawyers elected representatives to the Bar Council of India. An amendment to the Press Council Act, 1978, was necessary to provide for this and for giving more powers to the regulator, he said.

The PCI chairman said his recommendation was “far more democratic” than what English judge Lord Justice Leveson had suggested in a recent report on regulation for the British press.

When it was pointed out that British Prime Minister David Cameron had opposed the recommendations of the Leveson Report, and that the Indian media believed in self-regulation, Mr. Katju said his proposal for media regulation was being opposed irrationally. “Should you oppose even if I say two plus two is four?” he said. He was considering organising a debate on this issue, he said.

Mr. Katju accused the media of indulging in the practice of paid news and sensationalising trivial issues related to Bollywood and cricket, while ignoring real issues related to poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and healthcare. He said 512 accredited journalists had queued up to cover a fashion show in Mumbai a few years ago and hardly one of two reporters wrote about the plight of farmers who were committing suicide just a few km away in the Vidarbha region.

Mr. Katju said people would respect the media if it highlighted real issues. “People need you,” he said urging journalists to take up the cause of people and their rights at a time when the country was undergoing a transition from a feudal agricultural system to a modern society.

Earlier, it was announced that Mr. Katju accepted a membership in the Governing Council of the SDM Law College.

Special Correspondent writes from Mangalore:

Mr. Katju criticised television channels for airing programmes predicting that the world would end sometime this month.

Urging the media to spread rational and scientific ideas, Mr. Katju pointed out that a palmist had predicted his death at the age of 32. “I am going to be 67 and I think I am alive and kicking.”

Mr. Katju said 90 per cent of people “lacked intelligence” as was evidenced by the fact they cast their votes on the basis of the caste to which a candidate belonged rather than his credentials. Politicians would take advantage of people for as long as they continued to be like this, he said.

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