Every journalist isn’t killed for his writing, as the media projects: PCI chairman

  • Furquan Ameen Siddiqui, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 03, 2016 11:58 IST
Press Council of India chairman Justice C K Prasad. (Ravi Choudhary/HT Photo)

It is perhaps not that easy to fill the chair once occupied by former Press Council of India (PCI) chairman, Markandey Katju. Katju was known for his outspoken views and had once famously said that “90 per cent of Indians are idiots”.

He may not be as blunt as his predecessor but Justice CK Prasad, who took over the chairmanship of PCI in November 2014, has strong opinions about journalism in India.

Prasad, retired after serving as a Supreme Court judge for four years. He had served as the chief justice of the Patna and Allahabad High Courts earlier.

“A large number of people are really fond of coming in the press and electronic media,” Prasad tells Furquan Ameen Siddiqui in a web-exclusive interview, “I’m not one of them. I’m not very fond of finding my name in the newspapers or the news channels.” Excerpts:

Is there a rise in the number of attacks or cases of intimidation on journalists?

No. A media person maybe a businessman or involved in pure and simple newsgathering. Therefore, if someone is killed, because he had a dispute with his brother-in-law or related to any property, then it is not an attack on journalists. The Indian press is not making this basic distinction.

When a journalist is killed, then there is an attempt to convey that the journalist has been killed for his writing. In many cases, it is not true.

In many cases, when journalists are targeted, it is alleged that they were blackmailers and not journalists. Isn’t it easy to malign a journalist with these accusations?

It is easy and, that is why, we don’t approve of it. The first defence is to deny that he/she wasn’t a journalist, but a blackmailer. We say that this isn’t the issue. We look for whether the journalist was killed for his/her writing or not.

Read: Chasing stories to death

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that India ranks high in the impunity index and a majority of the cases do not reach their logical conclusion.

They are absolutely right. In India, trials are conducted like they are usually done. Ultimately, in a democratic system there has to be some authority to be the final arbitrator. Take for example Jagendra’s case [the journalist who was burnt alive in Shahjahanpur last year]. After the investigation, now they are saying that it was a case of suicide. Their earlier theory was that it was a case of murder.

You say that many journalists have not been killed for their work, but for other reasons. But in many cases, that wasn’t even determined.

We have this habit; wherever we go we hear that it [attacks on journalists] is increasing. We counter it by asking for statistics. A perception is created and the press plays an important role in that. There are facts. If there is an increase, look at the trend over the years, say figures from 2010 to 2016. Then you analyse that.

Members of Delhi Pradesh Youth Congress took out a candle march in New Delhi on July 6 last year to protest the suspicious death of Akshay Singh, the journalist who died while covering Vyapam scam. (Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

In the Vyapam scam case, where one of you [Akshay Singh, a journalist with Aaj Tak]… It is difficult to say that everyone got together and said that it was a suicide or said it was an unnatural death. AIIMS report said it was due to an enlarged heart, as was reported. But at that time there was a huge outcry that a journalist has been killed. We tend to lose some objectivity. In my opinion, it is bad even if one journalist is killed, we deprecate that.

In another recent case from Uttar Pradesh, it turned out that there was a property dispute between the journalist and his cousin. It was mentioned in the FIR too. He wasn’t killed for his journalistic duty.

So, we are not making that distinction?

Perhaps not. I want to share a general observation on the Indian media. Yahan par hahakar aur jaijaikar ka journalism chal raha hai. (We either have a journalism of outcry or of cheerleading in the country.) If someone is good, then he is even better than God for you and if he is bad, then he is the worst. This outcry or cheerleading only works in creating a perception.

This is not sound journalism. But this is the truth.

Yahan par hahakar aur jaijaikar ka journalism chal raha hai. (We either have a journalism of outcry or of cheerleading in the country.) If someone is good, then he is even better than God for you and if he is bad, then he is the worst."

Journalists were attacked by lawyers inside Patiala house court in Delhi, they were targeted in Dadri for covering the beef lynching case, and in Hisar, media was targeted by police during their standoff with god man Rampal. Targeting doesn’t only mean killing. It means intimidation, harassment and other threats. You won’t call that a rising trend?

It reflects the growing intolerance. There are two things – an intolerant society and an intolerant individual. You judge a society when the majority indulges in something. Then you say that the society is like this. But if the individual is intolerant then it doesn’t mean that the society is intolerant.

There are examples from across the country and these are not just individuals. In Chhattisgarh, it is the state, in Kerala, it was the politically motivated public, and in Delhi, it was a group of lawyers.

If it was because of growing intolerance in the society, people would have approved it. It is not. The day civil society approves this [targeting] and the courts too, then that would be a dangerous day for the country. We can’t discuss this in isolation. It is a serious issue but not a reason to worry. One should be anxious. I’ll be a very worried person if it is accepted by the civil society and the courts. We haven’t reached doomsday yet.

A march was taken out by journalists from the Press Club to Supreme Court of India to protest against the violence at Patiala High Court on February 15. (Arun Sharma /HT Photo)

After Rajdev Ranjan’s murder in Siwan, you had demanded for a law to protect journalists. What is this law?

If we are sure that a journalist has been killed for his work, then there should be an investigation [special], because that’s a very dangerous thing. Newspapers, magazines etc are necessary for the survival of democracy.

Nehru had once said. “I’ll prefer an irresponsible press than a controlled press.” [I would rather have a completely free Press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated Press. -- Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech at the Newspaper Editor’s Conference on December 3, 1950]

When I say law, I mean there should be an investigation by an officer not below the rank of, say, a deputy SP.

Read: Pen or gun: Journos in Chhattisgarh stuck between cops and Maoists

There have been similar demands in different states. Chhattisgarh has a law, Maharashtra had demanded one after journalist J Dey’s murder [shot dead in 2011]. What is your response to these demands?

The manner in which they are making a demand will perhaps be difficult for any government to accept. If journalists ask, [they’ll say] why not doctors, why not lawyers, why not everybody? Every organized group will demand that.

It could be done in a simple way. You can add a proviso that, provided a journalist is assaulted for his work, then this would be the minimum sentence. Proviso can be added in various sections, as sentences are different for different crimes.

The day civil society approves this [targeting of journalists] and the courts too, then that would be a dangerous day for the country. We can’t discuss this in isolation. It is a serious issue but not a reason to worry."

If there isn’t, then these cases might just go unnoticed?

Hahakar isliye ho jata hai ki ‘journalist maara gaya’. (There is an outcry because a journalist is killed.) It is assumed that he has been murdered. Your objective is to create ‘hahakar’. This isn’t telling of a mature democracy. Reasons are given that readers want such reports. There was this report, ‘RSS to celebrate or honour Godse’ [martyrdom]. This was the headline. A statement made by just X person. Yeh hahakaar nahi hai toh kya hai.

You people are not newsmakers but many try to do so. It is not your duty. You collect the truth and give it to the people for judgment.

When you say ‘newsmaker’, what do you mean?

You give a certain meaning to statements of certain people, which they never intended. I think it was [Fareed] Zakaria who interviewed the Prime Minister, where it was said he compared Muslims to a puppy [Two Reuters journalists interviewed Narendra Modi before he became India’s PM]...Nobody disputed that he didn’t say that. It is the meaning that the Indian media gave it. ‘Ek kutta bhi ek gaadi ke andar se chala aata hai toh aadmi ko afsos lagta hai.’ Anyone will feel bad, let alone a Prime Minister or anyone else. This is what a newsmaker is.

By and large Indian media are good and it is needed. Without this no democracy can survive. I’m amazed by two qualities of Indian media, its ability to question anybody {that might be true of international media too) and doubt everybody.

Journalists from different districts assembled near Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s official residence in Raipur last year to protest against the arrests of journalists and harassment by state police. (HT Photo)

If you look at international reports, they place India very low on the press freedom index. Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) says India is the most dangerous country for journalists in Asia…

They don’t say it is the most dangerous. We’re unnecessarily giving them importance.

I want to know from RSF as to what goes in assessing the country’s position in the freedom index. Half a dozen correspondence and they haven’t responded. As the chairman of the PCI, I feel bad if the Indian media is supposedly oppressed. It is the failure of the Press Council.

But several other reports say too, including Indian...

As far as RSF is concerned, I’ll give an example. Our parliament has said that Kashmir is an integral part of India. One of the news channels don’t show that. We’ll not object to that? It is the sovereignty of the country. If you consider all those things and rate me down below, I’m not bothered. I don’t take notice of that.

You people are not the newsmakers but many try to do so. It is not your duty. You collect the truth and give it to the people for judgment."

You’re judging me without telling me what’s your criteria. If there are 100 journalists and one is killed, it’s one per cent. If there are 10 lakh journalists and one is killed, that’s 0.000001 per cent. How do you compare that? When you rank a country you won’t consider all these things?

Many cases of defamation and sedition are slapped on journalists. Human Rights Watch has come out with a report as well where it questions these laws.

I cannot question the wisdom of the Supreme Court. It had upheld the sections 499 and 500 [IPC sections that deal with criminal defamation].

Misuse of law is one thing. Ultimately it is the judicial process that remedies the wrong. In my opinion, it is not the time to delete [section] 499.

The only thing is in the criminal case the harassment is more. In civil litigation, you don’t have to appear and can be represented by a counsel. In criminal defamation, the owners or editors will not go but the person who has written that will go, if convicted. Therefore, they want it gone.

[The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]

also read

Sidhu is AAP and Congress’s common dilemma
Show comments