Ranjona Banerji: Katju, Chaudhuri and the freedom of speech

19 Feb,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju is a man who neither minces his words nor is he frightened of airing his many opinions. He started off his tenure as PCI chairman by stating most journalists neither knew what they were talking about nor how to go about their jobs. He threatened to file several cases against all kinds of transgressors in the Indian system. He claimed that 90 per cent of Indians were idiots. And now he has called the bluff on the claims of development made by the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat.

 

For some reason, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley had been very upset by Katju’s article published in The Hindu. He immediately wrote a counter article for the website rediff.com demanding Katju’s resignation as PCI, calling him pro-Congress (in BJP speak that is apparently akin to questioning someone’s parenthood). Katju responded by saying that Jaitley should resign from politics. Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the BJP likened Katju to a “vagabond” while Digvijay Singh of the Congress questioned whether Jaitley was defending Modi because he owed him is Rajya Sabha seat.

 

This low calibre back and forth looks like ideal journalistic cannon fodder but we seem to have become even more faux earnest and full of ourselves than normal and perhaps take politicians too seriously…

 

Of course, the issue of whether Katju has the right to freedom of speech has been forgotten in this whole fracas. A highly opinionated man is surely entitled to his own opinions? He might need to take this up somewhere…

 

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Talking about freedom of expression, the curious case of the Gwalior court directing the Department of Telecom to block 73 URLs mentioning IIPM and Arindam Chaudhuri has demonstrated once again how India’s cyber laws infringe on this basic right. The University Grants Commission has once again posted on its website that IIPM is not authorised to award degrees says a story in Tuesday’s Economic Times. The UGC was one of the URLs blocked by DoT.

 

The connection between IIPM and various media houses is hardly news and it is one of the ways in which this institution, which has had many questions raised against it, has managed to survive and thrive. All those journalists who have done investigations into the promises made by IIPM have been targeted by the group, which has used its media clout to get favourable publicity in spite of its lack of recognition by the UGC. The UGC in its July 2012 notice had warned students that the “institution was not recognised by the higher education regulator and not authorised to award degrees” to quote The Economic Times.

 

Even if Chaudhuri is fighting defamation charges, the UGC information is surely vital to prospective students? It is interesting that while our TV channels are chewing their intestines every night over the Agusta-Westland helicopter deal, we have not seen Chaudhuri being hung, drawn and quartered on some TV channel… The power of advertising?

 

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As far as the Agusta-Westland deal is concerned, instead doing hard core investigative journalism, our TV studios have turned into trial courts and giant advisory bodies where celebrity news anchors tell everyone else what to do and what questions to ask. So far, however, no one really seems to be following their thundering instructions.

 

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Kudos to Mumbai Mirror’s Sunday edition for its cover story on the drought in Maharashtra, which has not got much newspaper play in the city. We need to be reminded from time to time that there’s an India beyond malls and anti-aging creams…

 

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