Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Katju's Media aphorisms- Reforms and Suggestions

Former Justice Markandey Katju has been hogging the media headlines for his bold comments on Media and related things. He started with the need to include mass media under the Press Council, to the famous equation of media with 'low level of intellectual capacity'. This was further fomented by 'media offering opium to masses' and taking a dig on media's highlights after Dev Anand's death, with the statement that "The country is facing several socio economic problems, there is poverty, price rise and incidents like farmers suicide. Isn't all that more important". He has also condemned the practice of media in abstaining from regulations mentioning that ''Self-regulation is no regulation''. Katju has however justified all his comments which was aimed at cleansing the muddy state of affairs in the media houses. Many critics feel that, this was more of a problem of chosing the wrong candidate for the right post and condemning judges appointment in various commissions and councils. This argument has some truth, as judges are prone to review and judge on each acts, when it is required them to be suggestive or reformative through consensus building, a behavioural tendency judges lose over the time. The Central Government needs to understand the requirements of such an authority and appoint persons who are subject experts or who have enough know-how to facilitate the smooth functioning of the establishment, both print and media. 

While de-supporting ( if i am allowed to use this new word) the norm of selecting judges to such posts, I stand by what Former Justice Katju has stated over the time. He has been bold, frank and to the point in condemning the role of media in the present context. He was suggesting norms for 'What is' and 'What ought to be' Press and Media. While the media has been constantly playing safe stating that they write what the audience ( or market in business terms) want. There is more to the argument of the role of The Fourth Estate in the affairs of a state. While the biblical statement of a transparent, open and responsible media is required in a democracy stands true, in reality, their requires wider reforms and approach to build a responsible fourth estate. Recently, they have been successful in bringing out scams and scandals, but failed in a reformative role. The stand taken for and against 'India against Corruption' , the subsequent silence on Nira Radia tapes, Wikileaks cables  stands vindicated. This is in addition to the silent paid news syndrome which goes unabated inspite of the strong condemnation from the part of government, courts and Press Council. There is more truth to the argument of Katju on the quality of the news reports which the media or press carries. Often, they are high at sensationalising, low at data, and nil on truth. This can be seen as a market trend, but does not reflect on the social ethos which require an informed citizen to be fed with reliable facts and truths. Only the press or media can 'change the game', as it subject to no one's control. but everyone's trust. While Katju affirms the need for a strong guidelines requiring every press or media to act withing the framework with a strong sense of justice, morality and good faith, something which the judges like to declare more often in their judgments. 

What is required is a self assessment by the power players, which is currently neatly intertwined with politics. Sensationalisation can be characterised and categoriesed through 'tabloids' prevalent in US and other western countries. Let the choice be given to the readers rather than being enforced. This categorisation shall be done on the basis of a set of principles which shall be evaluated by people within the industry monitored by the government (at max). Unlike the ratings scheme of the Censor Board, this shall not be decide by person totally unrelated to the field (includes judges). 

A strong Reader's Editor ( a better version than what The Hindu has), will give scope for a larger play for readers. Currently, the readers are mute spectators, with 'take it or leave it' option. But the fact is the average Indian though is argumentative is not judgmental or rationale at some times. This has lot to do with education (primary as well as higher), the cultural setup and parental syndrome ( 80 percent believe what parents tell them, therefore were parents are illiterate, the children will be irrational and illogical). This can be corrected to a good extent by good and truthful reporting, whether backed by photos or bites. Feedback columns, inviting content reviews from readers and opinionated columns can give more role to the readers. 
Good research, though not necessarily exhaustive research  is important. Training of journalists require a more standard approach because of its uniqueness. Often imparting of knowledge is bad and the intellectual levels low. This requires a professional system of selection, training and imparting of knowledge. 

Further, the income levels of media professionals and journalists are very low which has direct relation to the standards (I would confess politicians are also included, but they stand the bigger test of elections). Low wages make it difficult for competent people to stick on the profession, inspite of the fame and other benefits attached to a journalist or a media personnel. The current Wage Board requires to reassess their strategy as it is left to the owners to decide on the wages. Majority of them are contract employees, a convenient legal mechanism which further disowns smart people. Katju can very well push for a better mechanism in consultation with the Ministry in working out a 'workable formula' where the employees are sufficiently compensated.

At the end of the day, as Katju rightly points, what is required is to upgrade the intellectual capacity of an average journalist or media man. This requires a strong backing by the industry in terms of employment and working conditions, the reading community in recognising the efforts of the reporters and all those connected with the final product and finally the individuals who want to join the profession to follow ethics and principles by themselves rather than being enforced. We stand the trial by media, but the media needs to stand itself not be put in the accused box. Hope Katju will be acknowledging these!! Long live media freedom !!!

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