19 February 2013, 01:10 PM IS
Having termed 90% of Indians as 'idiots', Mr Markandey Katju, the headline-grabber chairman of the Press Council of India has been supported by the Congress for his recent utterances. Nothing surprising. Mr Katju is a very busy man. Except the Press Council, everything gets his attention.
His job was to serve the cause of a free and fearless media and turn the Press Council into an effective instrument to safeguard the rights and privileges of journalists and address the grievances of the people in this regard. He has failed in that assigned duty. It will be interesting to know how many days he actually attended the office and addressed issues that affect the credibility of his institution and the media at large. Instead, he loved to become a political spokesperson enjoying perks and privileges at public expense.
Some of his gems are like this:
"I say ninety percent of Indians are idiots. You people don't have brains in your heads. It is so easy to take you for a ride." "First of all, let me tell you one thing -- Pakistan is no country. It is a fake country." And the media reported from Kolkata: "Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju has described west Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee as 'intolerant and whimsical' and warned her that she would lose power if she did not change." And the reply that came soon was this: "Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hit back at her critics with the remark 'raja chale bazaar, kutta bhouke hazaar' (the king walks unperturbed as dogs bark)." The comment is believed to have been aimed at a letter by Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju.'
In a country which has the world's largest newspaper industry having more than 82,237 registered newspapers out of which 4,853 new newspapers were registered during 2010-11 and according to the annual report of World Association of Newspapers (WAN) 2011 an estimated 330 million newspapers are circulated daily in the country, the premier official body concerning media affairs received only 90 complaints in the last four years, and even 'out of the 90 complaints, more than 40 were filed four years ago'.
On an independent media watch site, The Hoot, Indira Akoijam writes, "delay in adjudications on the part of the Press Council made the complainants to either stop pursuing the case or such complaints to be disposed of depending on the Inquiry Committee. Three pending cases from the year 2007 were taken up for adjudication in 2011 and 2012. The Press Council does not cite anywhere in its published index of adjudications as to why the cases remained pending from 2007 until taken up in 2011- 2012."
An example of a serious complaint which was taken up for hearing after 12 months, illustrates the 'active' nature of the PCI: "In one case, a suo motu inquiry was directed on the reported attack on the offices of Kannada Prabha and Jaya Kirna, which appeared in The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Times of India. The complaint was filed on 22nd March 2010 …The complaint was finally heard on 27th February 2012 where the complainants informed that they had no grievances and hence, the Inquiry Committee dropped the suo motu inquiry." Another example of how the issues of press and morality was dealt with is an eye opener. "Two complaints were filed under this category ( Press and Morality), one dealing with an inappropriate portrayal of women in an advertisement by a local newspaper in Assam, and use of an indecent picture of a woman in one of the articles in India Today, New Delhi. One complaint was dismissed as no one appeared for the hearing and in the other case (Assam news daily, Asomiya Pratidin) PCI advised the newspaper not to accept advertisements that may corrupt young minds." (http://thehoot.org/web/HoweffectiveisthePressCouncil/6292-1-1-9-true.html) .
The Press Council under Mr Katju has become so ineffective that newspapers and magazines against which the complaints are filed often ignore its call to appear for hearing or remain dismissive of its 'cautionary advises'. Mr Katju remains soft on anti-national writings. In one case, filed by the Army against the highly objectionable and seditious article published in a Srinagar daily, the Press Council simply cautioned the editor to be more careful in the future and in another case , the editor or the owner ignored its show cause notice. What did Mr Katju do? Press Council 'expressed displeasure when the respondent did not appear for the hearing on the show cause notice. The case was subsequently dropped".
Indira Akoijam in her brilliant analysis opines about the Press Council's conduct, "even in cases dealing with morality, plagiarism, paid news and harassment, the strictest decisions only amount to being censured ... More than the fate of the cases filed before the Council, which often come to a tame end, the point to note is that several recent controversies involving members of the print media do not even come up before it. These include cases of election-time paid news, the controversies regarding the Radia tapes where print journalists were involved, the publishing of mms pictures by a leading Hindi daily, cases of regional newspapers reporting hate speech, and so on."
But ostensibly a busy Mr Katju has no time to devote on such issues for which he was appointed. Instead, he has given an impression of being an applicant in a hurry to the media cell of a political party. It's quite natural that like a mother comes to defend her errand son, a national leader of the Congress has dutifully come to rescue him.