Points to Ponder
Justice Markandey Katju has worked himself up into a spot. He has invited the exaggerated wrath of the press crowd when he said that journalists...
Justice Markandey Katju has worked himself up into a spot. He has invited the exaggerated wrath of the press crowd when he said that journalists needed academic qualification to enter the media street Earlier Justice Markandey Katju had used some objectionable words to describe journalists. He has landed himself in a spot he hardly could cope with. The snarl he got into reminds me of a RK Laxman cartoon in which a yoga buff weaves himself into a tangled asana and at the end doesn't know to get out of it. Working journalists said Katju had no business to appoint committees to pursue his whims. The Editors' Guild said the Press Council suggestion was an attack on freedom of the press. 'Absolute rubbish', said Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of the 'Outlook' Group. Barkha Dutt, 'NDTV' Group Editor, said, 'The best training is on the field.' Sashi Kumar, chairperson of Chennai's Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), felt journalists did not need to be educated to become journalists. These are all predictable and automated responses in the manner of Rashtrapati Bhavan messages condoling somebody's death. The illusion that journalists are born and not made is old hat. Sniggers greeted Achyut Bhogle (Harsha Bhogle's father) and me when we, first Osmania-trained journalism graduates, entered the editorial precincts of 'The Times of India', Bombay (it was not Mumbai yet) in the summer of 1955 as interns. I had the same experience with SV Swami, general manager of 'The Indian Express' (southern editions) interviewing me for a job. 'It's no great shakes,' he said when I told him of my journalism degree. That was in September 1959. I do not know if J-graduates today learn basic principles of law, economics, grammar and rhetoric. When the Osmania programme started in 1954 an avuncular American professor, Dr DeForest O'Dell, headed it. We had two English professors, one from Oxford and the other from Cambridge. They taught us to avoid the simple mistakes we make in using punctuation, modifiers, parallelisms etc. Dr AM Khusro, who later became the chairman of the Finance Commission, taught us economics. That journalists daily speak and write English does not mean much. Good English is different from correct English. How many of them follow the four simple rules of Fowler? Prefer the active to the passive; prefer the simple to the complex; prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar; prefer the concrete to the abstract. Passive voice is the bane of our news writing, not to mention subject-verb disagreements, modifier mistakes and style-sheet violations. See the two headlines (Indian Express, March 23 and 26, 2013) below to know the need for English language journalists to respect grammar: Shooting scenes of violence Hits Rajya Sabha Let Sanjay Dutt Suffers no more, Says Mamata Banerjee The one below is from 'The Hindu' (31 Mar. 13) A fine balance of taste and nutrition steal the show Mistakes like cope up with, centre around, met up with etc. are common. For more examples see my article: http://dasukrishnamoorty.com/media-an-elegy-on-editing.html Journalists need to know basic principles of law because there are several legal provisions that apply to media content. Any violation of these provisions will mean a fine or imprisonment. Contempt of court, libel, defamation, breach of peace, for example. I remember The Indian Express, Vijayawada, carrying a news item with this heading: "Three prostitutes arrested." The report said that the police had arrested three women under the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act. The three women served a legal notice on the newspaper saying that they were not prostitutes because they had not yet been convicted of the offence. They were merely arrested. What is wrong in asking people to equip themselves with education that helps their progress in the profession? The aim of journalism courses is not to turn out the likes of Frank Moraes or C.R.Mandy. Their job is to train future copy editors and reporters who will learn the craft itself in newspaper offices. J-graduates leave the campuses with an awareness of social responsibility ethic that was faintly visible in reporting Gujarat and the recent epidemic of rapes. Is this Katju-media run-in a rerun of the old hostility between media and the judiciary, two of the four pillars of democracy? The judiciary has often voiced its unease about media trying to steer the course of justice. The media also never relished the judiciary trying to determine the frontiers of press freedom. A decade ago, The Times of India bosses asked its editor H.K.Dua to help them out in court cases against them for violation of foreign exchange regulations. When Dua refused, they dismissed him. At that time the Press Council said: "To require an editor to cater to the personal interest of the proprietor is not only to demean the office of the editor but also to encroach upon his status as a trustee of the society in respect of the contents of the paper." Dileep Padgaonkar (The Times of India, 8 April 02), later the executive managing editor of newspaper, said, 'The Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj would do a good turn to the Indian media if she throws out the PCI lock, stock and barrel. She should trust the self-regulatory mechanisms of media organisations to uphold journalistic standards. More than the righteous sermons of the PCI and its chairman, readers, viewers and advertisers can be relied upon to distinguish between lousy and good journalism.' Earlier (1998) Justice P.B. Sawant, Chairman of the PCI, made a comment describing private ownership as one of the factors hurting press freedom. The INS lost its cool and accused him of holding "hostile" and "biased" views. Once again, Dileep Padgaonkar said, ''The Press Council of India has lived its day and its mandate is over. Let each media house decide for itself if the profession does need a council or advisory body." Self-regulation amounts to a denial of accountability. The press doesn't tell us what is so unique about itself that it deserves exemption from external scrutiny. True, the PCI chairman made comments that are not the business of the council. As an Indian citizen Katju enjoys the benefit of Art. 19 (1). The press must realise that its freedom can't be separated from the responsibility it owes the society for its content. (The writer is a senior Indian journalist who now lives in the US [email protected])