After slamming Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan over attacks on journalists in the State, Press Council Chairman Justice Markandey Katju on Friday targeted the Bihar government alleging the media in this state was harassed if it wrote against the government.
Mr. Katju said the information he had gathered about the media in Bihar is “not good” and reminded the Nitish Kumar government that its alleged action against the press was a violation of the Constitution. A three-member PCI team would be sent to Bihar soon for an investigation, he added.
Mr. Katju’s statement during an interaction session at the Senate Hall in Patna University sparked instant protest by the Principal of Patna College Lalkeshwar Prasad, who left in a huff. It caused disruption in the programme for some time.
After the departure of Mr. Prasad, Mr. Katju said he was a democratic person thoroughly “and if anybody doesn’t agree to whatever I speak ... they should not try to disturb ... don’t pick up a fight with a man from Allahabad. I know how to set things right.”
At the start of his interaction, he said, “I have heard that the present government established better law and order in Bihar compared to the erstwhile rule of Lalu Prasad.
“The second thing I have heard is that there was freedom of the press during Lalu’s rule .... but press doesn’t enjoy freedom at present.”
“The information I have gathered about the media in Bihar is not good ... whatever is happening here is not good,” he added.
Mr. Katju said “whatever I have heard or come across I am narrating here ... I have not yet established my opinion at this stage fully ... but whatever information I have gathered on the basis of it I can at least say that I will get it inquired into.
He said if any reporter wrote anything against the government, ministers or officials in the state, pressure was built on the owner and the management of the media house for removing him from service or to transfer him to small towns.
On Wednesday, Justice Katju had issued a showcause notice to the Maharashtra Chief Minister and threatened to recommend dismissal of the State government to the President over attacks on journalists in the State.
“I have been told that people don’t muster courage to write against the Bihar government or its officials,” Mr. Katju said, adding any attack by the state government on the freedom of press was a violation of Section 19 of the Constitution.
“The Constitution is being violated by such people and they don’t want the Constitution to function.
“You are a government, but you are not above the Constitution ... you are below it,” he added.
Reciting a couplet of Kabir, Mr. Katju said “nindak apka mitra hai woh aapki kamiyon ko batata hai woh aapka dushman nahin hai (A critic is your friend as he points out your flaws. He is not your enemy).” I will give a similar suggestion to the Bihar government and it should adhere to it,” he said.
The former Supreme Court judge said if any newspaper or magazine wrote against anybody it should not be treated as bad and should not be made into a prestige issue.
The freedom of the press was necessary for upholding democracy, he said, adding any government should take it otherwise if the press criticised it.
Mr. Katju said whenever the PCI received complaints, it was probed as had recently happened in Madhya Pradesh. The PCI sent a team to inquire into the killing of the entire family of Chandrika Rai.
“Previously we sent a team to Maharashtra to probe decade-old cases related to attack on over 800 reporters following complaints received,” he said.
Mr. Katju also referred to the case related to alleged assault on four reporters by police in Kashmir and said he had written to the chief minister there that it would not be tolerated.
“I have also sent similar letters to CMs of Chhatisgarh and Uttar Pradesh following complaints,” he said.
Stating that the media and intellectuals should follow what their colleagues did in Europe, he said the media and intellectuals should attack communalism and superstition to promote scientific thought.
When students and teachers raised questions about paid news, Mr. Katju replied that an MLA of UP has been held guilty of such complaint and the EC had cancelled his membership following a letter written to it by the PCI.