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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Controversial remarks on Karan Thapar's show by new Press Council chief

I caught the fag end of Karan Thapar's interview with the new chairman of the Press Council of India on CNN-IBN on Sunday and I was dumbfounded at what I was hearing. It seemed to me that Justice Markandey Katju did not have a very high opinion of the media; he appeared to be particularly incensed with television news channels.

So I was glad to read in today's Times of India that the Editors' Guild of India has been very critical of his remarks on Devil's Advocate.


Here is the Editors' Guild press statement in full (reproduced from ToI):


EDITORS' GUILD SLAMS KATJU’S COMMENTS

Editors' Guild press statement in response to remarks by Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju:

The Editors' Guild of India deplores the ill-considered, sweeping and uninformed comments on the media and on media professionals by the new chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju. Mr Katju has been making negative statements on the media ever since he assumed office, but his comments in an interview to Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN, broadcast over the weekend, touched a new low.

The Guild notes that Mr Katju thinks the media divides people on religious lines and is anti-people. He objects to TV channels that focus on cricket and other subjects that he disapproves of. He believes that journalists have not studied economics, politics, literature or philosophy, and he has a poor opinion of the media and media people (some of whom, as it happens, are members of the Press Council that Mr Katju chairs).

The Guild notes that Mr Katju, after expressing such sweeping negative sentiments, has asked the government for draconian powers to impose fines on the media, to withdraw advertisements and to suspend the licence to publish or broadcast. The Guild strongly opposes such powers being given to the Council, especially a Council led by someone who it would seem wants to invoke “fear” in the media.

The Guild wishes to draw attention to the fact that its attempt to engage in dialogue with Mr Katju has been rendered futile by Mr Katju, who however continues to express his tendentious and offensive views. The Guild wishes to remind Mr Katju that the Indian media is as diverse as it is vigorous, and that while it has drawbacks and shortcomings, on the whole it contributes to the strength of the Indian system.

Press freedom is a bulwark for the Indian people against the onslaught of people in authority, and the Guild will firmly oppose the assumption of any draconian powers by a Press Council that was created with an altogether different purpose. Further, as the very name of the Council suggests, only the print media comes within the Council’s ambit. The issues and drivers of the electronic media are such that they call for separate regulation. Therefore the Guild firmly believes that the Press Council should have its brief limited to the print media, as it is at the present.

UPDATE (November 3): Today's ToI carries this report on broadcast editors also criticising the new Press Council chairman: 

BROADCAST EDITORS CRITICIZE KATJU

New Delhi: After the Editors’ Guild of India, the Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA) on Thursday criticized Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju for making “irresponsible and negative comments” about the media. It said such statements from the PCI chief were “extremely disappointing”.

Taking strong exception to Katju’s remark that “media professionals are of low intellectual calibre with poor knowledge of economics, history, politics, literature and philosophy,” the BEA said it “shows scant knowledge” of the great journalists the country has produced.

It said that in a democracy, criticism was welcome against institutions by individuals and representatives of institutions as that gives a fillip to self-corrective process. TNN

FURTHER READING:
UPDATE (September 5, 2012): "The Hindu’s readers reveal Katju’s infinite bluff" (from Outlook editor Krishna Prasad's blog)