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Friday, May 4, 2012

The media is already governed by law

By Swapan Dasgupta
If Justice Markandey Katju's conviction that “90 per cent Indians are fools” is accepted as the yardstick to assess the quality of public life, no immediate connection will be made between his robust intervention in The Hindu (“Media cannot reject regulation,” May 2, 2012) and the still-born Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill which Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan proffered to the Lok Sabha. Although the Chairman of the Press Council claimed he “has not read the Private Member's Bill,” only the minusculity of non-fools will deny that both he and Ms Natarajan proceed from the same set of assumptions.
In her rationalisation of legislation to impose a government-appointed regulatory authority on the media, Ms Natarajan noted: “The rights conferred by the Constitution are sacrosanct and should be respected. However, news value has been dwindling every passing day...While the freedom of speech and expression has to be respected, there appears no other option but to regulate the print and electronic media and impose on it certain crucial reasonable restrictions, which are needed for the purpose of protecting national interest…”
On his part, stressing that Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression is circumscribed by Article 19(2) which stipulates ‘reasonable restrictions” for the sake of the larger good, Justice Katju wrote: “The media has become very powerful in India and can strongly impact people's lives. Hence it must be regulated in the public interest.” This is particularly so because the “way much of the media is behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous.” In effect he echoed Ms Natarajan's desire to “ensure good quality reporting, which does not only feed news according to TV rating points but also, in accordance with issues of prime national importance.” Of course, great minds don't always think alike. Justice Katju and Ms Natarajan differ on the composition of the regulatory body. The Congress MP preferred a statutory body nominated by the Central government. Justice Katju felt that an “independent statutory body” such as the Press Council can fulfil the functions after its scope is enlarged to cover the rapidly-growing electronic media. Self-regulation, as practised by the electronic media, he thought, was hogwash.
Whether it was Justice Katju's spirited campaign for regulating the entire media, including the social media, which was a factor behind Ms Natarajan's parliamentary initiative, is a matter of conjecture. What is certain is that there is hardly another instance of a Press Council head pressing so forcefully to enlarge the space for Article 19(2). “How many licences of TV channels,” he asked the self-regulation bodies, “have you suspended or cancelled till now?”— as if bans and closures were the ultimate litmus test.
Justice Katju has certainly conveyed the unmistakable impression of having been conferred the onerous responsibility of taming a greedy, irresponsible and reckless entity. There is a visible convergence between his desire to tame the media beast and the political class' exasperation with an intrusive rogue out to unsettle the “national interest.”
At the heart of Justice Katju's crusade is a plea for enlightened regulation (which he carefully distinguishes from control) of the media space. Since most professions are regulated and accountable, why should the media be the exception?
The assumption is erroneous. The media may not be blessed with a regulatory authority such as the ones governing, say, the telecom industry, the power sector and the stock exchanges. However, it is not above the law. Justice Katju must know that the media is not exempt from the statutes governing defamation, obscenity, incitement and official secrecy. Where necessary, the state also has the authority to ban publications and black out TV broadcasts. The police possess powers to prosecute journalists and media houses it holds to be engaged in blackmail and extortion. There is a full-fledged statutory regime that governs the media, including a Working Journalists Act. The Fourth Estate is not above regulation.
If the media is already governed by law, what is the scope of the proposed regulatory authority?
For Ms Natarajan, the answers are unambiguous: to determine the hierarchy of news, to mould the style and tone of reporting and to specify no-go areas. In short, exercise political control over editorial content.
On his part, Justice Katju seems to be driven by two different sets of desires. First, he abhors the fact that the media is also commercially driven. According to him, this explains their desire to pander to the lowest common denominator. In regulating the profit motive, will the regulator therefore determine the rates or the quantum of advertising, as the TRAI has needlessly suggested? Will it regulate the cover price and distribution costs of publications? Will it assault the economic freedom of the media?
Second, what are the ramifications of Justice Katju's passionate desire to be at the forefront of a crusade to instil a scientific temper? The Press Council chairman has already publicised his abhorrence of all editorial content that promotes frivolity, superstition, glamour and sport. He wants the media to be in the forefront of the battle against poverty and for social reform.
It is a noble idea and may even be worthy of emulation by an ideologically-driven niche publication or even a public broadcasting channel. But when one man's passion is translated into a desire to impose a replica of the Soviet Union-inspired New World Information Order, it is necessary to sound the alarm bells. The Press Council cannot control tastes.
Justice Katju is a man of astonishing certitudes. Yet, for all his purposeful interventions he has overlooked one crucial facet of the media environment: the availability of choice. No one is obliged to patronise a publication or be riveted to a screaming match on a news channel. One click of the remote control is enough to opt out.
Many do but many love and are entertained by India's rumbustious democracy. Is it because they are fools? In that case, as Brecht once suggested, wouldn't it be simpler to abolish the people and elect a new one?


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece !

" In short, exercise political control over editorial content".

You said it.India is doggedly following that megalomaniac Indira Gandhi's footsteps.

Even Abdul Kalam said something like " reporting only positive news ". So much for his love of whistleblowers.

It was Tamil movies like Angadi Theru & Naan Kadavul that for the first time gave me glimpses of real India split wide open.

Agneya Shyamvarni said...

Dear Sir,

As usual you have talked about a very important and relevant issue. This proposed "press makeover" exercise is primarily an outcome of the socialist construct on which our entire political establishment is built. Socialism does indeed rest on the premise that people are fools and that they need a "Big Daddy" to decide what is good or bad for them. How two diametrically opposite ideologies like "democracy" and "socialism" are meant to co-exist, has always been a mystery to me; that is possible only in a Fools World, a world in which we are also told, that the so-called Monists, the Red as well as Idol Worshipers are brothers, notwithstanding 1947 and 1962.

Moreover, regulations are invariably motivated not out of goodness of heart but out of self-serving political intent. There is really not an iota of difference between regulation and control, notwithstanding how one qualifies "regulation" - they reflect the same idea of bondage and servitude on which the pizza-land "Centre" and chow-mein Red parties are based and which dominates the land-scape of many Asian and South American nations.

And we all know how a command-control-economy invariably ends - either Nazism, or Fascism, or Maoism, or Stalin-ism or any-ism; in short with an utter disrespect and disregard for human life and values.

Anonymous said...

After pillorying Bangaru Laxman , the anti Hindu Indian media is busy churning out reports about Nithyananda.

Vedas CERtainly don't proclaim ETHICS & moral code of conduct exclusively for those calling themselves monks and /or donning saffron robes.It is the same set of rules for ministers , teachers,Presidents, filmstars, cricketers & media including tehelka & barkha dutts.

There are lots of politicians calling themselves ministers wielding enormous clout as policy makers impacting governance who are much worse than this Nithyananda ruling congress party's N.D.Tiwari, Abhishek Singhvi defended by muslim Salman Khurshid ( whatever happened to fatwas from ultra pious muslims of the world who are so deafeningly quiet condoning their fellow muslim Salman Khurshid uber suave with an equally suave wife)who are never pilloried by the media.

They ALSO merit the worst kind of punishment nothing short of lynching & stoning to death.

Congress that is virulently anti Hindu has tehelka to videotape only BJP's Bangaru Laxman & punish. That way tehelka portal's self righteous Tejpal runs a lucrative porn business. Who is to question the credentials of tehelka ? That it peremptorily sits upon judgement.

Incidentally that Salman Khurshid was the minister who visited Kuwait during DPS ( an upscale school) opening. Promoting it as a (sic)great school.No wonder DPS male student in Delhi blackmailed another girl student into giving him a blow job, recording it in his mobile & circulated worldwide. That boy could easily purchase his acquittal. That girl a daughter of an Indian Army Officer was wantonly disgraced & shunted out of this country her studies discontinued. Condoleeza Rice came to India whisking away one Indian honcho of e-bay ( with American citizenship)who was arrested thus procuring his release & instant exoneration.

Anonymous said...

Sri.Bangaru Laxman was wantonly trapped in a contrived sting operation by tehelka. He has been penalised for making no ACTUAL shady purchase like Bofors gun or Westland helicopters or pitols scam exposed by Arun Nehru or the iceberg blasting contraption bought by Indira Gandhi for Tamil Nadu that has no icebergs.

Before this still born monster tehelka was hurriedly spawned forth by Congress & anti hindu forces Kamal Nath a congress minister on his return from America & Europe ( along with his entire family) etc walked through Delhi airport green channel carrying lots of expensive crystalwear , foreign liquor. Without even declaring thus EVADING customs duty exceeding more than one lakh rupees then.

Shakuntala an intrepid customs officer caught him asking him to pay. Not only did the criminal Kamal Nath refuse to pay but got her transferred pronto.

Just because tehelka's ashish khaitan has not found Kamal Nath guilty he remains a powerful congress minister.

We all know Indian police , judiciary or for that matter ARMY enjoy no autonomy at all. Judiciary will make some noises fondly expecting the MPs to scream "down down with judicial activism".

Anonymous said...

Remember that sycophant who chanted 'India is Indira & Indira is India'?

The mindset of congress party is just that. Just as UK has delusions of grandeur that it is still one big empire loved by all congress also has the same delusion.

When Alexander met The Seer he was told:-

" All the kingdoms you imagine to have conquered have already been reconquered by the so called vanquished".

Subsequently Cholera Germs conquered Alexander the great.

Anonymous said...

Sometime back , the same Katju bemoaned non existent 'casteism' in his ill informed observations on Dronacharya asking for Ekalavya's thumb. (As Singhvi called Sri.Narada Muni the trouble shooter a "trouble maker")

I would not be surprised if yechurys & bardhans find fault with Lord ThriVikrama on the following lines violently approved by prannoy roys & prakash karats:-
" how dare He cover the entire Universe when as Vamana asked only for land measuring three feet".

Anonymous said...

Chidambaram is as much guilty as spectrum Raja , Kanimozhi & DMK. People know that. To deflect attention from their misdemeanours & crimes they have unleashed fury on Nithyananda now. Asking to account for some jewellery in his possession. I am no follower of Nithy. But what right does this government have to initiate proceedings against anyone being themselves heavily culpable ?

Chidambaram tampered with EVM to crown himself. Evangelising lobby propped up this congress gorement & they only tampered with EVM.

Anonymous said...

An Englishman said:-

" A commission of enquiry is like going to the toilet. You sit on it, make a lot of noise , drop, flush & forget it".

The builder mafia in India with the connivance of many in high places violate all rules & build residential apartments. The aam janata just cannot get justice as it is too expensive , time consuming & often life threatening.

This Katju must be aware of this basic simple truth. He was the one who announced all of a sudden for the demolition of all such unauthorised structures.

A 'non fool' like Katju instead should call for strict punishment for the violators & corrupt in high places. The hapless tenants are in no way responsible.

Ditto for various chit fund schemes offering exorbitant interests who suddenly do the houdini. RBI screams " this is against our guidelines " & media blames cheated people as "greedy for more interest".

Had RBI been truly vigilant no crook would dare to float such schemes. Kollywood's kamalhassan made a tearjerker called 'Mahanadi' dealing with such a theme.

A senior person working in SBI told me:-

" It is this very same kamalhassan who swindled many middle class of their legitimate income by floating fictitious (benami) chitfund schemes thus raising money to make so called his own hatke (original) movies ".

Later makes a show of donating tricycles to handicapped , organizing blood donation blahblah.

Sachin Tendulkar & many celebs like Jeetendra & Amitabh Bachchan misused a loophole in law made for the benefit of poor farmers. In fictitious names they own such lands. This was reported long time back in Daily Pioneer.

When population is excessive this is how many find employment.By defrauding & then holding commissions of enquiry.

Anonymous said...

You can criticize the government and Justice Katju as much as you like. You do make quite a few extremely valid points.

However, you have (conveniently?) missed some very important aspects of the story. Consider the following specific instances.

1. I guess you are aware of this recent article by P. Sainath

Prima facie, it is obvious that Times of India struck a deal with Monsanto and carried out a full page advertisement on their behalf (without disclosing it). Don't you think stringent actions need to be taken against media groups that indulge in such practices?

2. Regarding the paid news scandal, has any action been taken against the big culprits?

3. How many stories do you see in the mainstream media on media-corruption?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @7:57 PM ,

I am sure you would know Baba Amte & Vandana Shiva were very vocal against introducing Bt. cotton.

The overhyped MS. Swaminathan however was encouraging it. Later when it backfired , MS Swaminathan as is his wont deflected by using meaningless jargon like " we should go into the whole ramifications...every crisis presents an opportunity" blah

The farmers proved to be the creative trouble shooters. They sprayed the fields with made in India pepsi cola. Which had many potent pesticides & helped in controlling many new fangled ones infesting the crop.