Hats off to Justice Katju

By M. Wudood Sajid

(Published in Inquilab on 14 April 2013

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The Chairman of the Press Council of India Markandeya Katju with the Editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan at the symposium on Reporting terror: How sensitive is the media.
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Audience at the symposium.

National media with regards to Muslims has knowingly once again missed the golden opportunity to prove that it is an impartial and unbiased informative organ. And this lost opportunity relates to a statement of the Chairman of Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju in which he had alleged that national media was extremely prejudiced and biased against Muslims but that statement was covered only by English and Hindi newspapers and that too on insignificant and unimportant pages.To substantiate his statement Justice Katju had quoted the example of hysteric pattern adopted in reporting the arrests of Muslim youths on trumped up charges.

Justice Katju is not an ordinary Indian citizen. When he was a judge of the Supreme Court his judgments and remarks made during hearings used to become the masthead news and used to be covered with prominence by both the electronic and print media. Even then his love for Urdu language was not a secret. His colourful quotes of couplets of Ghalib and Mir in his judgements are a clear proof of his love for Urdu and still these quotes used to get prominence in media reports. After becoming Press Council’s chairman he has given some bitter statements as well. Even the statement in which he questioned the very ability of journalists in general and suggested a ‘minimum educational qualification’ and special training for budding journalists was given prominence and was widely covered by the press. However, in his speech in a programme in Hyderabad, organised by English daily The Hindu, when he took the media to task with reference to Muslims and narrated hard facts then not only his speech was denied any importance but it was simply carried on most insignificant and unimportant pages. Thus they have proved, by their actions, that a large section of the media is anti-Muslim and has strong anti-Muslim bias. National media has not only violated the principle of journalistic honesty but it has also proved Justice Katju’s serious allegations to be true. Had the national media used some sense of seriousness, understanding and broadmindedness, it would have given prominence to Justice Katju’s statement and contradicted him by such an action. A newspaper like The Hindustan Times carried it on its page 7 in one column x 10cm. Similarly The Times of India carried the news on page 11 in single col x 5 cm. The Hindu, as far as its policy is concerned, is a clean newspaper, and also being the organiser of the programme, it gave due importance to the news and published it full eminence. Naturally Urdu press carried it on their front pages.

The Hindu had organised the programme on the topic of “Reporting Terrorism : How Sensitive is the Media?” With the the historical and secular role of this newspaper in view one can easily guess the real objective of such a programme. All secular elements, in particular Muslims, should be thankful to The Hindu for this. The fact is that I have spent large part of my journalistic life requesting Muslims to encourage a secular publication like this and fair-minded journalists of English language and in order to express the gratitude we owe to them we should  invite them in our gatherings; or at least write them letters of appreciation. No doubt such journalists are very rare and specially, if you try very hard, in electronic media you may come across one or two who you may certify as unbiased and impartial.

Let us now see what did Justice Katju actually say? He said ‘Whenever and wherever a bomb blast or a similar event takes place then within an hour most T.V. channels start showing that an e-mail or SMS has been received from Indian Mujahideen or Jaish-e-Muhammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam claiming responsibility.’ He further said, ‘Now an e-mail or SMS can be sent by any mischievous person. But when you (the media) the very next day start showing on T.V. screens and in printing in newspapers that very message then it gives the impression that all Muslims are terrorist and they have nothing to do except throwing bombs. Is this stance of the media responsible? I believe this is totally irresponsible and it is helping promote communalism in the country.  Are you (the media) free to promote communalism? This demonic behaviour of yours has to be stopped by whatever means possible. I shall not let this demonic act take place at all.’

Justice Katju further said that it is unfortunate that Muslims today face prejudices when they apply for jobs or try to obtain loans from banks. Today Muslims are getting this feeling ingrained in their minds that they are facing strong injustice.’ It is evident that newspapers did not have the courage to report Justice Katju’s truthful outbursts and statement of facts that deserved to be reported. However the other side of the picture is that today’s young Muslim generation prefers to read these kinds of Hindi and English newspapers and considers reading Urdu newspapers below their rank. After Fajar prayers visit the newspaper distribution centres in Muslim localities of Delhi and there you will find that English and Hindi publications sell in far more larger numbers than Urdu newspapers. This is, however, a separate and perennial issue. What is to be emphasised here is that English and Hindi language channels are not the only in forefront in creating anti-Muslim sensitivities but the regional and local media is equally guilty of it. For example in its Urdu broadcasts a TV channel of Andhra Pradesh took a different stand on Hyderabad bomb blasts while the stance adopted by its Telegu programmes was purely anti-Muslim. The position taken by Karnatka’s Kannar, Tamil Nadu’s Tamil, Kerala’s Malyalam and Maharashtra’s Marathi media was mostly similar. Today high caste Hindus dominate the media and they have a, ‘particular’ attitude towards Muslims. In 2009 fellow countrymen working for human rights had prepared a detailed report. This is, however not a right forum to talk about its details but in general it did enumerate a detailed account of how the reporters working for English and local media and part time correspondents use baseless information provided to them by the police and how, under the pressure of their editors they prepare and fabricate the so called exclusive stories. The report said that most of the reporters themselves admitted that they made mountains out of a mole hills. The fact is that the exoneration with honour of most of Muslim youths by various courts in the country has proved the veracity of this frightening practice.  What hurts is the phenomenon that despite knowing all these facts the government has allowed full freedom to the biased police officers, agencies, fabricators of ‘exclusive’ stories and the so-called journalists. And this unholy alliance is destroying the lives of Muslims unabated without any fear or restraint. Justice Katju is demanding powers to be able to restrain such journalists but the government is not even taking any notice of his demands. Will the politicians while trying to push Muslims into the folds of political parties like herds of sheep and goats, still not come to their senses?

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