Saturday 19 May 2012

Insult to women

I Protest
By Justice Markandey Katju

I had decided not to write articles any more for quite some time because having  write  too    many already, I do not want to be accused of seeking cheap publicity.                                

But the 30th April issue of the ‘India Today’ has changed my mind. The cover of this issue shows the cleavage of a female breast, and the words mentioned there are ‘The Booby Trap – Women want them perfect. Men want less flab. Breast surgery is the new rage’. Inside the issue is an article which begins ‘Woo hoo! Its Happy Cleavage Day. How should I celebrate?’ Then follow all the details about breast surgery to increase the female breasts to make them more attractive for men. This is said to have become a rage in India. The editorial mentions the cost – Rs. 1.5 to 2.5 lacs, and says it is not longer unaffordable.
          My reaction to all this is  -- what has most of the media become? Have you lost all sense of shame? In a poor country like India where most women are bravely feeding and supporting their families on the pittance which their husbands, or they themselves, earn, is it not a gross insult to them to talk of breast enlargement by surgery?
          It is estimated that 47% of Indian children are malnourished. The Prime Minister himself admitted the figure to be 42%, and said it is a matter of great shame. This means that about half our children do not get enough to eat. And since most mothers would rather remain hungry than see their children hungry, this means maybe 75% of our women are malnourished. Do our Indian women not deserve sheer admiration for their selfless sacrifice and bravery in supporting their families? And is it not sheer vulgarity and a disgrace to highlight breast enlargement, as if that is a great issue in India today?
          The editorial of the issue says that Rs. 1.5 to 2.5 lacs is an affordable cost. Has the writer any idea of the skyrocketing prices of foodstuffs, medicines, etc? Would a woman devote her budget to supplying food etc to her children, or for breast enlargement? Most women in India are today eking out a hand to mouth existence. To talk of breast enlargement by surgery is like Marie Antoinette saying that if the people do not have bread, let them eat cake.
          The lives of most women in India are full of continual, unending labour, a kind of labour that bears the imprint of bondage. They have to do cooking, washing clothes, cleaning the home and other household chores, apart from bearing and rearing children. Petty household work crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades them, and they often waste their labour on unproductive, petty, nerve racking and stultifying work of crushing drudgery.
          I.Q tests in modern psychology have shown that the I.Q of an average woman is the same as that of an average man. Our Constitution provides for equality between men and women, vide Article 15. But the fact is that the old backward mentality of looking down on women and treating them as objects of mens’ lust persists. And it is this backward mentality which, no doubt only by insinuation, the issue referred to perpetuates and furthers.
          What truly great sacrifices most Indian women are making (and by the way they are too poor to have breast enlargement surgery)! What self effacing heroism! They do not demand to be known, they remain anonymous. In these terrible days where 80% of our 120 crore people are poor, when prices are skyrocketing, when unemployment has assumed massive proportions, when health care has become too costly for the masses – in these desperate circumstances our brave women are uncomplainingly toiling from day to night to support their families.
          Instead of highlighting frivolous issues like breast enlargement our media should help our people in their struggle for a better life. But, as I have been repeatedly emphasizing, a large section of our media deliberately diverts attention of the people from the real issues facing the Indian masses which are socio-economic to non-issues like lives of filmstars, cricket, astrology  - and now, breast enlargement.
          I am sorry to say that a large section of our media has  totally lost its priorities and sense of proportion.          

Sunday 6 May 2012

The Big Picture Has regulation of the media become inevitable?

Anchor: Girish Nikam

Justice Markanday Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India,
 Vinod Sharma, Political Editor, Hindustan Times, 
T.K.Rajalakshmi, Deputy Editor, The Frontline, 
Bhupendra Chaubey, National Affairs Editor, CNN-IBN.

Thursday 3 May 2012

World Press Freedom Day


By Justice Markandey Katju

Chairman, Press Council of India

                                                                                                                              New Delhi

PR/14/2012-13                                                                                                                3.5.2012    

On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, I wish to issue the following statement to the Indian Media as well as to the Media of the whole world:-

The concept of freedom of the media (which was at that time only the print media) arose in England and France in the 17th and 18th Centuries to combat feudal despotism and feudal ideas. Great writers like Voltaire who wrote against religious bigotry (see Candide, Zadig, Letters on England, or Letters philosophiques, etc.), Rousseau, who attacked the feudal political and economic system (see The Social Contract, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality etc), Thomas Paine (see The Rights of Man, etc) played a historical role in helping European society progress from feudalism to the modern era.

Thus, freedom of the media was meant to benefit society and help it move forward in history.

Unfortunately, subsequently freedom of the media was used often to (1) block progress, and (2) to help businessmen make money.

In India the recent tendencies show the media playing such a reactionary role. Instead of promoting scientific thinking, which alone can solve the massive problems facing the country such as poverty, unemployment, lack of healthcare etc. the Indian media often promotes superstitions and other backward ideas, and often diverts attention of the Indian people from the real issues which are socio-economic, to non-issues like lives of film stars, cricket, astrology, etc. The media is often looked upon by its owners as a means of making money (hence the importance of T.R. P rating).

Freedom of the media is thus a double edged weapon; it can both help society, and also damage society. It is like a knife, which can be used for cutting things, and also stabbing people. Hence freedom of the media cannot be regarded as always good; it depends for what purpose it is being used.

            While Article 19(1) (a)  of the Indian Constitution grants freedom of the media, this provision has to be read along with Article 51A (h)  which lays down that it is the duty of all citizens to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.

            The mediapersons are also citizens of India, and hence it is their fundamental duty under the Constitution to promote the scientific temper and work for humanism and encourage the spirit of inquiry and reform so as to benefit society. I regret to say that while mediapersons lay great emphasis on their fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a), they usually forget their fundamental duty under Article 51A (h) mentioned above.

            The Indian media is no doubt largely controlled by businessmen who wish to make money. There is nothing wrong in making money but this must be coupled with social responsibility. The businessmen cannot be allowed to say that should be permitted to make money even if the rest of society suffers. Such an attitude will in the long run result in the undoing of the businessmen themselves. Moreover, the media is not an ordinary business which deals with commodities, it deals with ideas, which should be used to benefit people, not harm them.   

            Today 80% of the Indian people are suffering from massive poverty, unemployment, skyrocketing prices, huge problems of health, education, housing etc and evils like honour killing, dowry deaths, farmer’s suicides, child malnutrition, female foeticide, etc. These problems can only be resolved by science and scientific thinking which must be spread to every nook and corner of the country. It is hence the patriotic duty of all Indian citizens, including media people, to promote scientific temper and combat backward ideas like casteism, communalism and superstitions. It is regrettably noted that often the media does not do its duty in this connection, and instead often does the reverse, and highlights lives of film stars, cricketers, fashion parades, astrology etc. to divert attention of the people from the real issues facing the nation which are socio-economic.
            Hence, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, I call upon all mediapersons to fulfil their social responsibility to the nation by promoting scientific and rational thinking and combating backward ideas. The media has a great role to play in this transitional period through which India is passing,  and I recommend that the Indian media should emulate the path shown by the great writers in Europe like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, etc who attacked feudal and backward ideas in Europe and made a great contribution by helping European society to move forward from feudalism into the modern age. This way they will earn the respect of the Indian people.        

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Media cannot reject regulation

If red lines can be drawn for the legal and medical professions, why should it be any different for profit-making newspapers and TV channels?
I have not read the Private Member's Bill on media regulation that Meenakshi Natarajan was scheduled to move in Parliament last week so I am not in a position to comment upon it, but I am certainly of the opinion that the media (both print and electronic) needs to be regulated. Since my ideas on this issue have generated some controversy they need to be clarified.

I want regulation of the media, not control. The difference between the two is that in control there is no freedom, in regulation there is freedom but subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. The media has become very powerful in India and can strongly impact people's lives. Hence it must be regulated in the public interest.

The media people keep harping on Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression. But they deliberately overlook or underplay Article 19 (2) which says that the above right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, State security, public order, decency, morality or in relation to defamation or incitement to an offence.


Thus, while there should be freedom for the media and not control over it, this freedom must be exercised in a manner not to adversely affect the security of the state, public order, morality, etc. No right can be absolute, every right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. The reason for this is that human beings are social creatures. No one can live in isolation, everyone has to live in society. And so an individual should not exercise her freedom in a manner so as to harm others or society, otherwise she will find it difficult to survive.

Media people often talk of self-regulation. But media houses are owned by businessmen who want profit. There is nothing wrong in making profits, but this must be coupled with social responsibilities. Media owners cannot say that they should be allowed to make profits even if the rest of society suffers. Such an attitude is self-destructive, and it is the media owners who will suffer in the long run if they do not correct themselves now. The way much of the media has been behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous. Yellow journalism, cheap sensationalism, highlighting frivolous issues (like lives of film stars and cricketers) and superstitions and damaging people and reputations, while neglecting or underplaying serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers' suicides, health care, education, dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc., are hallmarks of much of the media today. Astrology, cricket (the opium of the Indian masses), babas befooling the public, etc., are a common sight on Television channels.

Paid ‘news' is the order of the day in some newspapers and channels where you have to pay to be in the news. One senior political leader told me things are so bad that politicians in some places pay money to journalists who attend their press conferences, and sometimes even to those who do not, to ensure favourable coverage. One TV channel owner told me that the latest Baba (who is dominating the scene nowadays) pays a huge amount for showing his meetings on TV. Madhu Kishwar, a very senior journalist herself, said on Rajya Sabha TV that many journalists are bribable and manipulable.

The media claims self-regulation. But by what logic? How can the News Broadcasters Association or the Broadcast Editors Association regulate TV channels driven by profit motive and high TRP ratings? Almost every section of society is regulated. Lawyers are a free profession, but their profession is regulated inasmuch as their licence can be suspended or cancelled by the Bar Council for professional misconduct. Similarly the licences of doctors, chartered accountants, etc., can be suspended/cancelled by their regulatory bodies. Judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. But the media claims that no action should be taken against it for violating journalistic ethics. Why? In a democracy everyone has to be accountable, but the media claims it should be accountable only to itself ...The NBA and BEA claim self-regulation. Let me ask them: how many licences of TV channels have you suspended or cancelled till now? So far as we know, only one channel was awarded a fine, at which it withdrew from the body, and then was asked to come back. How many other punishments have you imposed? Let us have some details, instead of keeping everything secret. Let the meetings of the NBA and BEA be televised so as to ensure transparency and accountability (which Justice Verma has been advocating vociferously for the judiciary).

Let me quote from an article by Abhishek Upadhyaya, Editor, Special Projects,Dainik Bhaskar:
“It appears that the BEA was founded to collectively use intimidatory tactics in favour of a select few players after NBA failed to do so. The NBA is so weak, so feeble in its exercise of power that it can't confroSelf Rs 1 lakh on the channel which then walked out of the Association.
“The group of broadcasters found themselves completely helpless, couldn't take any action and finally surrendered meekly before the channel. The offending channel issued a statement saying that its return has come after “fundamental issues raised by the channel against the disregard to NBA's rules and guidelines were appreciated by the association's directors…” The head of India TV, Rajat Sharma, then proceeded to join the board of NBA, and the channel's managing editor, Vinod Kapri, returned to the Authority in the eminent editors' panel!

“This was the turning point in the so-called self-regulation mechanism of electronic media. It became clear that all concerned had made an unwritten, oral understanding not to raise a finger on their own brethren in future. BEA was the next step in this direction, formed on 22 August, 2009 with a few electronic media editors in the driving seat. Since its inception this body has been irrationally screaming in the interest of a select few. The editors of this body announced some tender sops from time to time to publicise its good image and thwart any regulatory attempt in advance”.


If the broadcast media claims self-regulation, then on the same logic everyone should be allowed self-regulation. Why then have laws at all, why have a law against theft, rape or murder? Why not abolish the Indian Penal Code and ask everyone to practise self-regulation? The very fact that there are laws proves that self-regulation is not sufficient, there must also be some external regulation and fear of punishment.
I may clarify here that I am not in favour of regulation of the media by the government but by an independent statutory authority like the Press Council of India. The Chairman of this body is not selected by the government but by a three-member selection committee consisting of (1) The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (who is the Vice-President of India) (2) The Speaker of the Lok Sabha and (3) One representative of the Press Council.

The Press Council has 28 members, of which 20 are from the Press, five members of Parliament, and 3 from other bodies (The Bar Council of India, UGC and Sahitya Academy). The decisions of the Press Council are taken by a majority vote. Therefore, I am not a dictator who can ride roughshod on the views of others. Several of my proposals were rejected by the majority, and I respected their verdict. If the electronic media also comes under the Press Council (which can be renamed the Media Council), representatives of the electronic media will also be on this body, which will be totally democratic. Why then are the electronic media people so furiously and fiercely opposing my proposal? Obviously because they want a free ride in India without any kind of regulation and freedom to do what they will.

I would welcome a healthy debate on this issue.

Published in The Hindu On 2/05/2012