[MJR] Katju rides to the rescue of the press!

13 Apr,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


Thursday/Friday was one of those rare news cycles where TV and print appeared to agree with each other – at least when it came to the Supreme Court’s upholding the Right to Education Act and the reservation of 25 per cent of seats for the economically backward in non-government schools.


Arnab Goswami of Times Now right off the bat said any opposition was elitist and demonstrated the deep rich-poor chasm in this country. This line is in keeping with his “simple living high thinking” mantra unveiled a few days ago in a debate about teenage violence. Other channels also presented the same line of thinking. This made life a little uncomfortable for those outraged that rich kiddies now had to sit next to the children of their domestics – although no one said that quite so openly, of course.


Even as opponents of the idea went on about increase in fees and so on, no one quite bought it.


Friday morning’s newspapers followed the same lines – with particularly vociferous arguments in favour of the RTE plan and with some tough words for those against it. For a middle class readership, it is class prejudices which are first priority and the media has certainly picked up on that without pandering to it.


As the judgment sinks in, it can only be hoped that newspapers (TV cannot do it) delve deeper into the implementation of the act and keep track of what is actually going on. Sticky points include minority institutions and boarding schools which are currently exempt from this provision, what happens to a child after Class VIII and improvement of facilities in government schools.


* * *


Press Council chairman Markandey Katju has jumped on to his white horse and charged to the rescue of the freedom of the press. The Press Council is going to the Supreme Court to challenge the Allahabad High Court’s decision to stop the media from reporting on troop movement. The media, so upset has it been with the temerity of the Indian Express to carry the controversial story about fears of an army coup in some government circles, has remained largely silent on the court decision.


This is an interesting maturity test for the media. Its compulsions to tailor material to reader demands and provide infotainment aside, there is also a larger role regarding the safeguarding of democracy and being a general watchdog. Patriotism in the media context does not mean bowing before every institution – it means quite the opposite.


I cannot say this better than Katju himself: “…the Indian Army is not a colonial army, but the army of the Indian people who pay taxes for the entire Indian defence budget. Hence the people of India have a right to know about army affairs, except where that may compromise national security.”


As Katju points out, the media has this freedom under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.


Hear hear!


* * *


The media’s role in the Aarushi Talwar murder investigation remains questionable. It has swung from one extreme to another, drawing its own conclusions, dramatising the life and death of the young girl and encouraging the investigators’ own bizarre behaviour as a result.


Right now, some in the media seem to have decided that the parents of the girl are innocent and being unduly targeted. Open magazine has carried a long article by historian Patrick French claiming this (he is a patient of the dentist couple).


Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the courts will base their judgment on evidence collected and presented.


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