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Updated: January 10, 2012 11:31 IST

Media and key issues raised by Markandey Katju

S. Viswanathan
Comment (17)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
S. Viswanathan
The Hindu
S. Viswanathan

Markandey Katju's forthright comments on the state of the Indian news media and the intellectual competence of many journalists have certainly raised many hackles. One does not have to agree with everything the chairman of the Press Council of India diagnoses or prescribes to see that his observations have hit home. Nor are his concerns confined to how and in what respects journalism and many journalists go astray and let the people of India down.

It's not yet a month since the retired Supreme Court judge was appointed PCI chairman. He has already made it plain that he will speak up, and act to the maximum extent the PCI's statutory powers allow him to act, every time the freedom of the press comes under pressure and each time journalists are targeted by the state.

This is in keeping with the twin objects of the PCI: “to preserve the freedom of the Press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.” For example, Mr. Katju has criticised as “grossly disproportionate” the award of Rs. 100 crore in damages in a civil defamation suit against Times Now and as “incorrect” the subsequent orders of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court on the matter. He has pulled up government departments and statutory bodies for delaying payment of advertising bills for years on end and asked all government departments to clear the bills within one month of the publication of advertisements, failing which they should pay 12 per cent interest on top of the amounts billed. In the latest instance, he has taken up with the Government of Jammu & Kashmir the issue of journalists being roughed up by the Central Reserve Police Force while covering protests in Srinagar.

It is clear that Mr. Katju's critical observations on the performance of the news media, and especially television channels, have found resonance with the reading and viewing public. He has also found support within the establishment.

Inaugurating the National Press Day celebrations on November 16, Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari observed that in an environment marked by “the extremely buoyant growth rates” of the media and “minimal or no regulation” the focus had shifted to self-regulation, individual or collective. But “collective self-regulation…has yet to succeed in substantive measure because it is neither universal nor enforceable” and “individual self-regulation has also failed due to personal predilection and the prevailing personal interest over public interest.” Mr. Ansari wanted the ongoing national debate on the subject to lead to the publication of a White Paper, leading to “further consultations and evolution of a broad national consensus so that appropriate frameworks can be put in place combining voluntary initiative, executive regulation and legislative action, as appropriate.” He noted with concern the absence of media watch groups.

Several senior journalists who participated in a panel discussion on the occasion agreed that self-regulation was either non-existent or had failed. They felt the time had come to give the statutory watchdog, the PCI, more teeth, such as the power to levy fines, provided the threshold of prima facie evidence was raised high so that frivolous complaints would not be entertained. The other issue raised by Mr. Katju is the strange situation of the broadcast media in India having no regulatory framework. He has revealed that he has written to the Prime Minister asking for the broadcast media to be brought under the aegis of the “Press Council,” which could be renamed the “Media Council.”

Responding to the fierce objections expressed by the private TV channels and the News Broadcasters Association, he has asked them whether they wanted to come under an authority like the Lokpal — if they rejected the idea of coming under a statutory Media Council headed by him. The number of satellite television channels is in the region of 600; of this number, more than 100 are categorised as news channels. Justice Katju's concern that influential sections of the media, especially the television channels, often trivialise the news and divert the people's attention from vital socio-economic issues is genuine. As a judge of the highest court of the land, Mr. Katju was known for his libertarian views and delivered many pro-poor judgments. His credentials are strong when it comes to criticising the media for working against the interests of the deprived and the poor, for dividing them on caste and communal lines, and for promoting superstition and obscurantism instead of scientific and rational ideas.

Interestingly, a parallel discussion on the ways of the press and the issue of self-regulation versus statutory regulation is taking place in the United Kingdom. In his deeply insightful George Orwell Lecture, “Hacking away at the truth,” given recently at University College, London (, Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger discusses several aspects of media-related issues, including media freedom, performance, the public interest, rogue practices, regulatory issues, media monopoly and domination by the Murdoch empire, and the need to guarantee plurality and a level playing field. Much of this discussion is relevant to India. Among other things, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the functioning of an independent and full-time internal news ombudsman, known as the Readers' Editor in The Guardian (The Hindu has adopted the Guardian model) as “the most local form of regulation” that has proved effective.

With deep insight and rare candour, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the lessons to be learned from the phone hacking scandal and what the press could expect from the comprehensive Leveson Inquiry instituted by the government: “Well, talking of rules and codes, we discovered that the thing that we call ‘ self-regulation' in the press is no such thing. Whatever the original laudable ambitions for, and achievements of, the Press Complaints Commission, the fact remained that it had no investigatory powers and no sanctions…it was simply not up to the task of finding out what was going on in the newsrooms it was supposed to be regulating. The PCC was lied to by News International.” It then committed “the folly of writing a worse-than-meaningless report which, as we wrote at the time, would fatally undermine the cause of self-regulation as represented by the PCC. In the absence of anything that looked to the outside world like regulation, the rogue actions of, I hope, a few journalists, have landed the press as a whole with a series of inquiries which will last not months, but years, and which will, I suspect, be quite uncomfortable for all involved.”

The uncomfortable exercise cannot be dodged and The Guardian's Editor proposes a positive way of looking at it: “it provides an opportunity for the industry to have a conversation with itself while also benefitting from the perspective and advice of others.” Perhaps the time has come for a comparable exercise addressing the specific Indian media situation, the challenges as well as opportunities.

It is an established fact that media in our country does not react to social and political incidents objectively.Most of the time it is biased and in most cases it does not have its priorities right.It also is an established fact that works of philosphers and media role had time and again influenced social and political thinking so much so that these had changed political,social and economic courses of many countries.During industrial revolution in 18th and 19th century Europe 4th Estate and philosophical observations by many renowned writers of the time played vital roles in changing the course of social and conomic order of Europe.Since we have not yet been able to create conditions that prevailed in 18th and 19th century Europe mainly due to media role, a hotch-potch economic and political system exists in India.It is time for the media to rise to the occasion and play the role expected of it, more so, when our country's political and economic system is crumbling.

from:  Anil Kumar choudhury
Posted on: Jan 10, 2012 at 08:55 IST

Media has been reduced to trivia, entertainment and political propaganda. Many news media (print, communications, online) have both business and political interests, and hence suffer from conflict of interest and bias. They are not "media" in the right sense of the word. Next, one BIG problem with India's media is that they hardly report or analyze things that matter most to a majority of the people: Food, Health, Education, Employment. For most media, these topics are merely small boxes somewhere in 'lifestyle' sections whose focus is cosmetics and 'celebrities'. Television and Online media are the worst. Last, but not the least, there is no cultural sensitivity. For example, majority of Indians, of whatever caste/creed/sex, are offended by the underwear advertisements, we just cannot open the paper when together with the family to find a man and woman in their underwear in a big advertisement - whether in front of children, parents, or for that matter even spouse!

from:  Sujatha K
Posted on: Dec 4, 2011 at 11:39 IST

Justice Katju has taken over as Chairman, Press Council at a right time when the
quality of news presentation by the media has touched an all-time low. He has,
therefore, taken the first opportunity to interact with them personally, with a view
to solve the problems faced by them in a spirit of give and take. He has also
stated how important news items such as the farmers' problems, lack of schools,
hospitals, electricity, water supply etc have been relegated to a remote place in the
newspaper. Unimportant news such as film stars, beauty shows, cheap ads like
cosmetics, and cricket have been given prominence in the first page of the
newspaper. Cricket, like opium, has become an addiction with the masses, a
clever device to divert their attention from the burning problems of the day. He is
also opposed to the idea of self-regulation in the broadcasting sector and
suggested its supervision by an outside agency. He deserves all support in his
efforts to reform the media.

from:  T.S.Sreenivasan
Posted on: Dec 4, 2011 at 05:58 IST

Mr Katju has done the right thing by striking at the root cause of the
Indian electronic media and newsprint media so that we as a society
and nation get to know the real story behind all the flash news or
breaking news hype created to gain more TRPs by various so called
national channels.It is very unethical ,immoral and illogical on the
part of electronic media and to certain extent print media to
highlight one side of the story by furnishing incorrect information
and creating confusion,chaos and instability in the minds of people.To
quote an example the newsreader on NDTV Channel while scrutinizing Mr
Rahul Gandhi's speech in the Parliament omitted the first para of the
speech and declared that Mr Rahul Gandhi does not want Lokpal but
timely intervention by Mr J Scindia who brought to his notice the
earlier para which was read by the newsreader later,it was amply clear
that to make an Headline newsreader overlooked first para which shows
that channels provide half-truth stories.

from:  uttam p patil
Posted on: Dec 2, 2011 at 15:19 IST

Most Indian Print and Electronic media is corrupt and more corrupt than it appears to outsiders. Powerful lobbying and paid reports decide what is printed or telecast. There is no Honesty or High principle with most corporate which control these media. You can never expect them to come under self regulation. Vast majority of the public agree with what Mr. Markandey Katju has said.

from:  Sankaran
Posted on: Dec 1, 2011 at 16:25 IST

Truth is always bitter & this is what happened when Markandey Katju expressed his views on the press media and TV channels. Instead of an introspection as to what went wrong the media started opposing Mr. katju. A self analysis would have made the media wiser that it has taken a wrong route to report & present facts. It would have realised that to please a section of people it had over played its role without confining to its ethos as a 4th estate. It is time to impose some regulation and the attempts to revamp the press council initiated by Katju deserves support from all right thinking citizens.

from:  p.m.gopalan
Posted on: Nov 30, 2011 at 20:09 IST

certainly there is need to have regulation over electronic media in the absence of which it is becoming irresponsible and unaccountable.rather than making aware people about certain issues most of the electronic media people give provokative and sometimes unacceptable version of original issue.but such regulation framework should be designed with utmost precaution otherwise it will curb freedom of expression of median which is the soul of the profession.

from:  dr rahul patil
Posted on: Nov 30, 2011 at 16:06 IST

What justice Katju has raised is very relevant and needs to be
enforced. I think it is high time news is also made "news worthy". I
would suggest that there should be ombudsman at the newspaper level
(like in case of The Hindu), and if that is not satisfying the reader
shall have an option to approach a national ombudsman (In case the
problem has scalability issue, we may have a mid tier ombudsman one
each for press, broadcast media -TV, another for FM radio etc.). This
needs to be legislated and the ombudsman should have power to fine and
in worst case even to de-register the press. To protect the sanity of
the media ombudsman's office the recruitment should be transparent and
it should be a panel from representation from well known person from
Media and judiciary. If possible make it a constitutional office like
EC, CAG. Hope Anna will take it up after the lokpal is done if media
itself does not take the lead.

from:  Jishnu A
Posted on: Nov 30, 2011 at 14:36 IST

Truth is always bitter & this is what happened when Markendey Katju started critizing the press media & TV channels. It is unfortunate instead of taking a positive way the press media had started airing their protests. It was the time for introspection what really went wrong with their quality of reporting and presenting cases. The media has a major role in guiding the common man and alerting the dispensation as a 4th estate. They should not try to distort facts to please a set of people but should try to present factuals in a dispassinate manner as a refree. If they try to woo the lobby of politicians the temporary gain will be short lived. The TV channels should discipline themselves to project the facts without any bias or taking side as a partisan. Such independent reporting will definitely pay dividents. Some people believe in'spicy'news but sooner or later the cat will be out! Katju's initiative to revamp the press council is welcome & should strengthen his hands !

from:  p.m.gopalan
Posted on: Nov 30, 2011 at 12:37 IST

The press media is infact the eyes & ears of the people. More than that it should not take sides on a bias & in letter and spirit it should not be a partisan either. Markendey Katju has given his independent opinion which is based on truth. And truth is always bitter! The press should take it in the right spirit & needs an introspection what has gone wrong in their 'ethos' to be the best guardian and whether they have been playing the role of an ideal 4th estate. Albeit, the better course in the process is imposing self-dicipline or a self regulation but a stage has come for a mandatory interference to bring back the dicipline. Just for aiming popularity it is unfortunate some TV channels are vying each other and in the process start flashing distorted news which becomes emotional.What a right thinking citizen needs is factuals and not excitements. It is appropriate that the press council's attempts as envisaged by Katju to bring a systematic & diciplined norm must be encouraged

from:  p.m.gopalan
Posted on: Nov 30, 2011 at 09:47 IST

self regulation backed by appropriate government regulation is the need of the hour. By self regulation, media should avoid sensationalisation, over-hype, give ethical dimension to its news and not just run after TRPs.
While by government regulation, it is necessary to check paid news, corporatisation and monopoly. At the same time care should be taken to avoid over regulations which could lead to media being used by the party in power as its tool.

from:  Chirag Bhandari Jodhpur
Posted on: Nov 29, 2011 at 14:11 IST

No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will. - Thomas Jefferson
I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it. - Thomas jefferson

from:  yeshna muzzafir
Posted on: Nov 28, 2011 at 23:05 IST

Yes! Sri Nambiar's comments(Nov.28,The Readers'Editor column) are for the soul-
searching of all the concerned souls. At least,the Print Media , please reflect the spirit of
the Nation, through your words, imprinting the throb of this Ancient Land,highlighting the
true spirit &the groping light-Man the Unknown. Be fearless. Ram of Thretaayuga: to
hold&lead your shaky hands & alsoN.Ram(Editor of The Hindu) ever vigilant to pat your
penning /printing hand ,are there to lead. Let my country Awake into that Heaven of
Freedom. Sarsum Corda! Thank you.

from:  Balamraju Krishnamraju
Posted on: Nov 28, 2011 at 22:35 IST

Mr Katju has established his credibility as a judge, and he with all good intentions stressed
in his first meeting with the representatives of the media, that the fourth estate should alott
More time and space for the burning issues of the land in the larger interests of the land.
He further added that the Press coincil will be compelled to take action, only if the situation
Does not change. He did not committ any mistake in making good suggestions, to improve
The image of the media in India. Later, on the issue regarding the delay in disbursement of
Advertisement charges, he has issued orders regarding the payment of interest at 12 per
Cent to the press owners. Thus, he has adopted a highly balanced approach for the
overall improvement of the media. India certainly cannot encourage MURDOCHS in our
land. All rightbthinking people will support the stand of the new chairman, and the
wrongdoers will have to correct in THEIR OWN INTERESTS.

from:  C.p.Chandra das
Posted on: Nov 28, 2011 at 22:18 IST

A well calculated and balanced assessment. I keep hearing one side of
story from media. This makes sense. Thanks to Mr. Viswanathan. His
articles are always enlightening.

from:  Honey Bhushan
Posted on: Nov 28, 2011 at 10:40 IST

Citizens are not only fed up with corruption in the governnance but also corruption that has crept into the Indian media .
Citizens need a media that puts the people , the nation and the planet first , not corporates and politicians self interests.
Citizens need a media that emphasises holistic approach to development - not just economic growth for GDP or statistics , but also well being of Indian society as a whole .
Citizens need a media that emphasises our economic growth be re-ordered to recreate a sense of community, trust, well-being and environmental sustainability- not just GDP growth for the ruling Govt to trumpet about .
Instead of eulogising most unworthy politicians , propogating a hidden corporate agenda or filling airtime and pages with persistent, vacuous and unsophisticated gossip , we need Indian media to devote space or time daily to impartial , independent programmes that are ‘ questioning & thought provoking’ .

Posted on: Nov 28, 2011 at 09:49 IST

Media barons, Editors Guild, PCI members , journalists groups & INS members , must take note.
The fig leaf is off. Citizens have lost all faith in Indian media. There are many offenders in the media fraternity who have violated media ethics in the past and still hypocritically pretending to occupy a high moral ground . Those culpable must be punished and there must be a course correction to give any credibility to the Indian media again .

Citizens know the mass media in India have become outlets for corporate & political “messaging,”- much of it overtly biased , un-scientific, and ultimately not good for the society or nation in the long run .How the Indian media can regain its independence to report with objectivity and neutrality are answers you must find.

The outpourings from the citizens to the ongoing debate betwen Justice Katju and those in the media , if you have followed, points unanimously to the following :


Posted on: Nov 28, 2011 at 09:43 IST
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