The “tendentious and offensive” remarks of the new chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, on the state of the media and the quality of journalists—and his articulation for greater powers, including over television news channels—has predictably, a) touched a raw nerve, b) stirred a hornet’s nest, c) set the cat among the paper tigers, d) exposed the media’s achilles’ heel, or e) all of the above.
The Editors’ Guild of India*, the Broadcast Editors’ Asociation, the Indian Journalists’ Association have all reacted sharply, while public opinion seems to be on the side of the press council chief, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. To a question on the CNN-IBN programme “Face the Nation” last night, 73% viewers said there was no need for Justice Katju to apologise (but who believes these polls any way?).
While Justice Katju tries to “place” an article in newspapers to further elucidate his views and some in the media say he said nothing that should not have been said, at least two Delhi-based English newspapers have thought the controversy fit enough for editorials.
“Perhaps Justice Katju is not aware of what journalists do. The basic task of any journalist is to gather news and report it. Most of his or her working day is spent doing that. This is true of the cub reporter and of the senior editor.
“It is true that newsrooms, newspaper columns and TV channels are noisy. But that is only a reflection of the society at large: journalists don’t exist in ether. What is true of Indians is true of Indian journalists.
“Now it would be wonderful if all journalists could appreciate Caravaggio, read Catullus’s poetry, know Thucydides by the chapter and creatively use advanced macroeconomics to interpret the daily ebb and flow of events. It would not only make the press a more cultured institution, but possibly make India a better country. It is also true that few, if any, journalists are enabled to do that.
“These are expensive tastes that require extensive (and yes, expensive) education. Few journalists can afford that, even if most of them want to. The reason: there’s a huge divergence between personal and social returns from such education. This is a wider problem and it afflicts many other professions. To blame the press for being “illiterate” is misinformed, if not downright wrong.”
Mail Today, the compact daily from the India Today group, pulls no punches. “He doesn’t deserve to be press council chief” is its rather straightforward headline:
“Justice Katju’s attitude towards the media is one of undisguised disgust. Clearly, he seems to have been misled about his work as the PCI Chairman.
“He seems to think that he has been appointed by Josef Stalin to forcefully “ modernise” the media. Actually he has been appointed under the Press Council of India Act and his main job is to ensure that the press remains free in this country.
“A second task is that of raising the standards of the media discourse, not through chastisement— where, in any case he can merely admonish— but dialogue and persuasion. But this is something you cannot do if you hold the media in utter contempt.
“It would appear that Justice Katju, who had a streak of the self- publicist even as a judge, is pursuing a bizarre agenda which may end up embarrassing those who pushed for his appointment as the Chairman of the Press Council of India.”
* Disclosures apply
Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’