In the tower of Babel which is the public discourse the world’s most populous democracy dominated by politicians whose prime motivation — it’s easy to discern — is not the public good but primitive capital accumulation, Justice (Retd) Markandey Katju, chairman of the influential but toothless Press Council of India (estb. 1966), stands out as a pillar of rectitude and straight talk.
As Press Council chairman, the learned judge has fired broadsides at the media casting aspersions on the learning, training and competence of the fourth estate; called for the arrest of policemen who wrongfully detained two Mumbai women students for a Facebook post about the Mumbai shut-down following the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, and recently opined that 90 percent of the nation’s population are “idiots”, easy prey to religious bigots in the business of provoking communal riots. Addressing a seminar in Delhi on December 8, Katju said that all it takes for mischief-mongers intent upon sparking a communal riot is a pay-off of Rs.2,000 to an unemployed youth to throw the severed head of a pig into a mosque or of a cow into a temple, to ignite a bloody communal riot. This observation has provoked two Lucknow-based law students to issue a legal notice to the judge to withdraw his remarks or face legal action for hurting sentiments of the citizenry.
The classical Greek definition of an idiot is a person who doesn’t vote in elections. With just over 50 percent voter turnout in every general election, it’s proven that 50 percent of the population are idiots. And given that citizens who do vote, repeatedly elect ill-qualified dynasty darlings, communalists, casteists, charlatans and crooks, it’s not a far stretch to describe 90 percent of the population as idiots. Therefore the learned judge’s opinion of the quality of the citizenry requires serious introspection rather than law suits for stating the obvious.
The publication in Britain of the Justice Leveson Report in November, has sent alarm bells ringing within the Indian media. The 2,000 page report of the judge who was appointed to investigate the culture, practice and ethics of the runaway British press, and replacement of the toothless Press Complaints Commission by an independent regulatory body with powers to levy fines and force prominently displayed apologies from the media, has scared the proprietors and top brass of several indigenous newspapers, magazines and television channels. Appointment of a similar commission in India could spell finis to the extortion, blackmail and sundry rackets routinely practiced under the guise of exercising freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
Set up on the lines of the British Press Complaints Commission, the Press Council of India is also a toothless watchdog which can censure — but not punish — media top brass and journalists. And whatever strictures it passes can be safely buried away in the inner pages of newspapers on the assurance that competitive publications or television channels — following the dog doesn’t eat dog principle — won’t publicise the PCI’s feeble bleat.
Although it’s painful to admit, publicised big-ticket extortion and blackmail is only the tip of the iceberg of India’s over-hyped free media. Submerged below line of sight are a thousand unnatural scams and swindles including the practice of featuring paid news, image building for a price, acceptance of paid holidays and junkets, all the way down to trading suppression of truth and planting misleading information/ suggestions for cash envelopes and gifts. As editor of the country’s first two business magazines and since, I have adhered to the valuable advice of Aveek Sarkar, chief editor of the Ananda Bazar Group which owns Businessworld: “Never accept a gift you can’t afford to reciprocate,” he counseled.
Against this backdrop, the fear among media houses and journalists about a media council with powers to impose fines and penalties upon corrupt journalists — as recommended by the Justice Leveson Committee for the UK — is unwarranted. A commission headed by a reputable retired Supreme Court judge and comprising former editors and journalists known for their integrity, with powers to punish wayward scribes should be welcomed. Why should upright media barons, editors and journalists fear to state their case before a commission comprising peers who know the ropes, pulls and pressures of the media business? Defies logic.
Life of Pi lessons
The Life of Pi, a hi-tech 3d masterpiece film produced and directed by highly (and rightly) acclaimed Chinese-origin film director Ang Lee, is a movie that all people — especially children — should experience. Although the admission price tag of Rs.585 — half the monthly income of a well-off Indian according to the crazy calculus of high-flying Planning Commission chief Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia — is a major hurdle. The 127-minute feature film vividly narrates the amazing story of a teenage Indian boy who, following a shipwreck, survives on a life-boat adrift in the Pacific with a Royal Bengal tiger for company, for several weeks.
The most striking feature of the film is the brilliant manner in which Ang Lee has marshaled breakthrough innovations in computer animation, and combined it with a credible script/ screenplay to produce a dazzling cinematic experience for people of all ages. Certain to delight children in particular if Doordarshan cares to broadcast it even minus the 3D special effects.
The second valuable insight Lee’s cinema masterpiece provides is an object lesson to the braindead badshahs of Bollywood and its regional clones invariably apologetic about the dark complexion and ethnicity of Indian actors, who are daubed with dollops of pancake to be presented as fair and lovely. In Life of Pi (LoP), the Indian actors are presented naturally without hint of apology and they are leagues more dark and handsome than colourless white actors in the film. Although they are unlikely to discern it, there’s a clear message in LoP to Indian cinema to grow out of tedious song-n-dance melodrama and ignore the insidious fair and lovely propaganda of foreign multinationals, who are destroying the self-esteem of hundreds of millions of Indians, and profiting from it.