It was on TV. What was billed ‘The Ramnath Goenka Debate’ turned out to be a media gang-up against Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju. It was a provocative Katju against a panel of ‘press freedom’ caretakers, comprising a media columnist, couple of TV anchors, an editor, and an academic, who argued newspaper reporters and lesser media persons need not be intellectuals – ‘you needn’t have read Zola to report on 2G scam’. His provocation was Justice Katju’s Karan Thapar interview where he expressed an opinion that a majority of media people were of low intellectual level.
It is difficult to quarrel with the professor’s contention, in the manner he put it. But then the professor may have no reason to know that a newspaper reporter in New Delhi of the 60’s and 70’s handled assignments as varied as an interview with Neil Armstrong on goodwill visit after his moon-landing, a Rotary Club address by John Freeman on Indo-British relations, an interaction with Yahudi Menuhin , Army Day reception at Gen. Manekhshaw’s place, a farewell tea party hosted by Mexican envoy and poet Octavio Paz, and a scholarly lecture on the Nehru’s relevance by P N Haksar, who didn’t hand out a prepared text. I agree with the professor when he says there is nothing intellectual about reporting routine crime, a court case proceedings or municipal council meeting.
Columnist Tavleen Singh wasn’t dignified when she chose to be sarcastic at Justice Katju. And she took on Sharad Yadav becaue he had said something nice and praiseworthy about journalists of the old school. “it is bakhwas (rubbish),” said Tavleen, adding that media reporting those days was nothing but “a gracious form of clericalism”.
As a has-been reporter, and her senior by some years I can claim a nodding acquaintence with Tavleen during her stint with The Statesman in New Delhi. Maybe her reporting in that paper wasn’t ‘clericalism’ , gracious or otherwise. It was unbecoming of someone who claims to have been a media person for over 30 years to have been so scornfully dismissive, as Tavleen Singh was, of other people’s opinion. What she said smacked of intellectual arragance, an accusation that some panelists, including Tavleen, had levelled against Justice Katju.
The press council chief had words put in his mouth – ‘Mr katju thinks we’re intellectual hacks’; he was taken to task for suggesting that media, like any other profession, needs a regularity mechanism, and must be made accountable. And we had Tavleen, once again, hitting out at Justice Katju – ‘ why don’t you take a look at others, say the judiciary, before you attack hacks like me’. Strong words, these. And they may get Tavleen a ‘Wow’ and ‘wah,wahs’ from her peers, but it doesn’t take the debate forward. It was at this stage that Mr Pratap Bhanu Mehta intervene to say the conversation was getting embarrassing, and the level of debate, pathetic.
At the end of the day, I don’t suppose Taveleen’s TV performance and her public display of rightuous indignation help careers, notably, of media columnists who live by background briefings and ‘deep throat’ links with high level govt. and corporate sources. After all, isn’t their talk-show appearances also about building self-image ?
Tavleen and some other panelists, in order to score debating points, couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot at Justice Katju’s much publicised ‘Dev Anand’ remarks. More than one panelist was heard saying that the press council chief couldn’t dictate to media what to publish, and where. Justice Katju, they held, sought to control editorial freedom. It was for editors to decide if Dev Anand’s death merited Page One news. Mr Mehta justified the front-page display, saying Dev Anand represented, what he called, sociologically important dream and fantasy to millions in India. That Justice Katju made the Dev Anand remark to highlight the need for media to excercise of social priority wasn’t lost on many of us, although Mr Mehta and Tavleen Singh chose to interpret it as press council diktat to editors, on a matter that was editor’s prerogative. Most newspaper editors apparantly got his message right, said Justice Katju – ‘had I not raised my voice, the recent birth of a filmstar’s child would have been on Page one, instead of P.7’.
The NDTV talk-show host was generous to allow Justice Katju the last word. And he signed off reiterating that he was all for press freedom; and that some of his remarks were widely misunderstood. The press council chief made appropriate noises about the importance of the media. The country looked up to the media to reflect social reality. They should stop giving too much space to news relating to fashion parade, film stars, sports celebrities – ‘Es gharib mulk mein aap ko film-stars aur fashion parade hi dikhayi detha hai‘. Media needs to get its priorities right, observed Justice Katju.
The debate (38 plus mins) : Are majority of media people of poor intellectual level ?
Target: The Hindu article