Press Council chairman Markandey Katju has criticised news channels for often being irresponsible and “anti-people”, seeking powers to penalise violators in “extreme” cases, a move that could see stiff resistance from media companies.
“I have a poor opinion of the media. They should be working for the interest of the people. They are not working for the interest of the people and sometimes they are positively working in an anti-people manner,” said Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, speaking on Karan Thapar’s Devil's Advocate programme aired on CNN-IBN.
Katju said he has moved a proposal to bring news channels under the council’s purview and demanded powers to stop government-generated revenue and terminate broadcast licences in “extreme cases”.
“Whenever bomb blasts take place… almost every channel starts showing an e-mail has come or an sms has come that Indian Mujahideen has claimed responsibility or Jaish-e Mohammed or Harkat-ul-Ansar or some Muslim name.
“You are in a subtle way conveying the message that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb-throwers and you are demonising Muslims,” Katju said.
Katju revealed that he has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue and Singh’s office, in a reply, said it would examine the proposal.
“I want powers to stop government advertisement. I want to suspend license of that media house for a certain period if it behaves in a very obnoxious manner, or impose fines,” Katju said, while assuring that all these measures would be used only in extreme situations.
"I have written to the PM that the electronic media should be brought under Press Council and it should be called Media Council and we should be given more teeth. Those teeth would be used in extreme situations,” he added.
Katju, who took over the media-oversight panel recently, said he had also met leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj, who assured him of a “consensus” on the issue.
Curbing democracy’s media freedom?
On whether if these would amount to curbing media’s freedom, Katju said: “Everybody is accountable in a democracy. No freedom is absolute. Every freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions.”
Katju said that he thought TV debates were "frivolous", and there is no discipline among panelists. "It is not a shouting contest," he said, referring to debates and panel discussions on news channels that often have many participants.