Playing safe with Justice Katju?

BY Archana Venkat| IN Media Practice | 15/01/2012
The large media houses have been giving full play to every opinion of the Chairman of the Press Council of India even on issues that are beyond the purview of the council.
ARCHANA VENKAT wonders why the Katju-speak is almost always Page 1.
The front-page anchor of The Hindu featured the views of Press Council of India (PCI) Chairman Justice Katju on Sunny Leone being shown on Indian TV. A Google search showed me that almost every large media house had covered the “story” prominently.
This is surprising on two accounts. Firstly, the PCI has no jurisdiction over non-news broadcasts and hence his views (or those of PCI) on whether it was appropriate for Sunny Leone to appear on the reality show Big Boss 5, are irrelevant. Secondly, these are likely to be Mr. Katju’s personal views and perhaps   do not merit front-page coverage. His press release says he was copied the complaint on the inaction of the Broadcast Consumer Complaint Council by the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni. Therefore, he was expressing his views. But at best, these could have been placed in the entertainment section.
Why is the media playing safe with Justice Katju?
Since his appointment in October last, his views on topics outside the PCI’s jurisdiction have been covered. These include views on democracy, the abuse of Bharat Ratna award, filtering content on social media sites, self-regulation, discrimination against Muslims, and the lack of scientific methods of investigation by the police. And of course, the numerous references he has made for TV and online news channels to be brought under the ambit of the PCI.
I do not recollect any other PCI chief (or the PCI) being given such coverage even while discussing relevant issues that were within the PCI’s jurisdiction. Not even when the Council censured three newspapers in July 2006 (The Times of India – Delhi and Pune editions, Punjab Kesari – Delhi, and Mid Day – Mumbai). In fact there is little media coverage found on any of the past chairmen of the PCI, even though they presided over several landmark cases such as the BG Verghese Vs   Hindustan Times case. Given the emails Mr. Katju has been sending the media, several a week, he seems to have a greater penchant for publicity than past chairmen of the Press Council.
Many blogs have pointed out that Mr. Katju’s aspirations for “power” to the PCI are against the fundamental principles of the Council and that he should perhaps directly ask for the re-constitution of the PCI. Mainstream media, however, have never asked him such a question. (Maybe this is the very same “low quality of intellect among journalists” in the mainstream media that Mr. Katju complained of, which is not motivated to think on these lines of questioning. Perhaps Mr. Katju is relying on the same “low intellect” to keep him in the news.)
The PCI is an autonomous body that seeks government aid on a need-basis, and Mr. Katju as its representative should be treated with the same amount of scrutiny as any government representative/ industry body representative. Instead, his views have been reproduced in the media verbatim with little or no alternative perspective featured in those stories. Most stories featuring him are lead stories, the bulk of them carrying his interview or a report that conveniently omits any other perspective.
To draw a comparison, when Anna Hazare surfaced with the Lokpal Bill, the media chose to investigate his background and the backgrounds of his associates who made up Team Anna. This led to discovering the income tax woes of  Arvind Kejriwal and travel funds misappropriation issue in the case of Kiran Bedi. However, we know little about Mr. Katju except the fact that he was a distinguished lawyer who served as Supreme Court judge and his courtroom was known for disposing of 100+ cases a week, a feat considering the delays at most courts. Thanks to his regular emails to the press, we now know that he is an authority on everything under the sun. What’s more, he will definitely say something that almost always deserves front page coverage.
Perhaps it is his legal background that is making journalists reluctant to probe deeper and understand why he wants the changes he voices in the PCI. I am also surprised that no political links have been discovered given the tacit support his views are receiving from the government and the Opposition parties.
It is also strange that Mr. Katju seems reluctant to seek a formal meeting with the various journalist bodies including the Editor’s Guild, News Broadcaster’s Association and the Broadcast Editor’s Association to put forth his views on improving the state of the media and discussing the larger objectives that he wants to drive under the PCI’s ambit. (The meeting he held with editors upon his assuming PCI chairmanship in October 2011, was informal where he was presenting a lecture on the state of the media). If such a meeting has happened, it would have been covered either in a press release by Mr. Katju himself or through statements issued by the journalist bodies. Considering neither of this has happened, it would be safe to presume that Mr. Katju is still hunting for adequate verbal ammunition to hurl at journalists.
In a democracy, every Bill is tabled in Parliament before it receives the majority votes to be enacted. Mr. Katju appears to have found a new loophole in the Constitution that aims to enforce legislation without even seeking basic dialogue from those who will be governed by it.
It appears that the media are perhaps fearful of the fact that if the PCI’s demands for greater power, punitive action, and jurisdiction were to be granted, they could be targeted. Either that or the media have not yet found a strong and sustainable voice to counter Mr. Katju’s views and offer a balanced perspective. If that were the case, it is time the media sought alternative voices from the blogsphere and publish them. At least they will conform to Mr. Katju’s views on providing balanced news. 
(Archana Venkat is a former journalist. She blogs at www.straighttalkwitharch.blogspot.com)
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