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