Katju & The Hoo Hoo Ha Ha’S
Justice Markandey Katju reminds you of a righteous school principal of old times. You hate that he’s scolding you, but have to grudgingly accept that some of what he says is true. And despite being more (in) famous for his “90% of all Indians are fools” remark, he also does have some strong opinions on today’s media.
At an interaction with journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps where he chastised the media for following and covering trivial topics such as film stars and babas, he also sympathised with the media for being under the control of big corporate houses and businessmen who both influence as well as decide editorial content. He also trained his guns at journalists who seem to have trouble ascertaining the newsworthiness of the topics they should cover. Poor Lady Gaga wasn’t spared either.
The former judge also said that the contract system which journalists are bound by needs to be removed or changed if the media is to be truly free. He described it as a Damocles sword hanging over their heads and said that it is “nothing but a method of exploitation”, against which he himself had given a judgment in the Supreme Court.
Being “all for media freedom”, he also pointed out that as the Chairman of the Press Council he has intervened whenever the media has been in trouble. Whether it be the “undeclared emergency” in Bihar or attacks on the media in Kashmir. “I have fought for freedom of the press like nobody has”, he said before reminding the media of how he had written to Omar Abdullah when journalists were attacked during a lathi-charge in Srinagar.
He also said that he had set up a committee in Bihar to ascertain the treatment of the media by the state. And stated that over 100 journalists have come forward to reveal what is actually going on under the state government’s ‘media management’.
However, being Justice Katju, he couldn’t help but exercise his right to offend like he did while criticising Mamata Banerjee for banning English language newspapers in state libraries. Apart from reminding Didi that “she is no longer a street fighter” and needs to start behaving accordingly, he said that English is important and insisted that the children of those who don’t learn English “will be fit only to drive bullock carts”.
What followed this statement was a rambunctious rant against those who are anti-English. He said that while he loves his mother tongue Hindi, he doesn’t want one language to prosper at the cost of the other. After all, according to him, English is “the window to the West” and if one wants to be a doctor or an engineer learning English is a necessity.
However, after some regional journalists voiced some disapproval, he had to admit that regional media is playing a ‘great’ role in the Indian media scenario too, something that is often ignored. He said that they are taking up local issues “badi bahaduri se” (with great courage) and also added that the regional media struggles for survival and needs to be protected.
Justice Katju did of course segue to his favourite topic du jour and once again expressed his support for the regulation of the media and was critical of the self-regulation pitch made by some in the press. His argument being that when judges can be impeached if they cross the line, and lawyers and doctors can have their licenses revoked for malpractices, why should the media that should be self-regulated. Why have laws then, everyone will self regulate, he said.
However, like all other Indians, his will too is at the mercy of the legislature. And he did admit that although changes in the Press Council have been proposed, the legislation for the same is unlikely to pass due to the “hoo, hoo, haa haa” of the house.
“Koi bill aata hai to hoo hoo, haa haa chillaane lagte hain, rushing to the well of the house, tearing the bill, kya legislation hoga?” he lamented. (Even if a bill is proposed, everyone stars screaming doing ‘hoo hoo ha ha’ and rushes to the well of the house. How will any legislation take place?)
And ultimately, keeping with the oft-repeated school principal ethos, he too said that, “I am doing it for your own good” because otherwise, as he so succinctly put it, “dimaag mein to bhoosa bhara hua hai” (everyone has hay instead of brains). One point of concern, though. If as he said, “90% people are fools” and “90% people love me”… well we leave you to do the math.
All we can say is, Justice Katju knows best.