Strange! The Head of Press Council of India Wants Curb on Freedom of Media!

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju seems to be in confusion over the role given by law to him.

He has written to Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting to take steps for initiating suitable legislation to curb the social media.

What is Social Media?

Social media is opposite to monopoly media and has emerged as the latest scientific tool for peoples’ empowerment. It is platform of participatory journalism that is changing people from audience to participants in matters of their affairs. World wide in Internet, it has emerged as the unfailing weapon in the hands of the common man to challenge and change politico-economic powers to advantages of people in the grassroots.

A compilation of highly researched studies on emergence and impact of Internet media is published by the London and New York based ‘Taylor and Francis Group’ under the caption ‘Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics’. While observing that, “the Internet is now a mainstay of contemporary political life”, it attracts us to a conclusion that says, “In little more than a decade, the Internet has evolved from a collaborative tool for scientists to become a fundamental part of our system of political communication”. In other words, social media has become “a fundamental part” of political communications.

Author of ‘We the Media”, Dan Gillmor describes social media as medium of “grassroots journalism” which to him, is “by the people, for the people”.

“In the past 150 years, we’ve essentially had two distinct means of communication: one-to-many (books, newspapers, radio, and TV) and one-to-one (letters, telegraph, and telephone). The Internet, for the first time, gives us many-to-many and few-to-few communications. This has vast implications for the former audience and for the producers of news; because, the differences between the two are becoming harder to distinguish.”

Such is the social media, in words of Gillmor, media of “grasroots journalism”.

“The tools of grassroots journalism”, he says, “run the gamut from the simplest email list, in which everyone on the list receives copies of all messages; to weblogs, journals written in reverse chronological order; to sophisticated content-management systems used for publishing content to the Web; and to syndication tools that allow anyone to subscribe to anyone else’s content. The tools also include handheld devices such as camera-equipped mobile phones and personal digital assistants. What they have in common is a reliance on the contributions of individuals to a larger whole, rising from the bottom up”.

In Cluetrain Manifesto, Authors Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger have shown how information through Internet has given birth to “ a powerful global conversation” through which “people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter and getting smarter than most companies.”

In perhaps the most precise presentation of how social media is emancipatory, Gillmor utters the concluding words in ‘We the Media’ in a way that makes the common man free of fear in expressing himself. He says, “Your voice matters. Now, if you have something worth saying, you can be heard. You can make your own news. We all can.”

This is alarming the anti-people elements. But why it is alarming the Press Council of India head?

It is paining to see that, to the Chairman of the Press Council of India this emancipatory media looks like a “menace” and he wants the union government “to set up a team of legal and technical experts to find out ways and means of checking this menace”!

Resembling “His Master’s Voice”

“Unless some curbs are placed on the social media, nobody’s reputation will be safe in India”, Katju has said in the letter to the Minister.

Strangely, he has sent this latter to the Minister after the social media rendered inconsequential the Congress leader Abhishek Manu Sighvi’s armor of judicial injunction on circulation of a sex video that has put India into a tumult.

And, surprisingly, he has just echoed what Singhvi has said.

Alleging that social media is “concertedly” used by “motivated interests” through “an organized gang” to defame him, Singhvi has warned that unless action is taken against the social media, “this can happen to anyone and if this lawlessness is allowed to continue as it is, we will all be consumed shortly.”

Katju has not only copied Singhvi in lashing out at social media, but also has made it clear that his letter to the minister is inspired by Singhvi.

“Not only is there a court injunction, not only has the author of the alleged CD sworn in an affidavit in court and accepted that the contents were fabricated and morphed, but even as respectable a media group as India Today has accepted the position of the court” . Yet, the social media circulated the CD to damage his reputation, Singhvi has stated.

Katju has copied Singhvi’s this version to the minister.

In justifying his suggestion for action against social media, he has said, “The recent example (of social media’s mischief) is of dissemination of a CD which even the author admitted had been distorted for defaming a reputed senior lawyer of the Supreme Court and Member of Parliament”.

Is the Chairman of the Press Council of India expected to echo a political person of the ruling party in his letter while instigating the information minister against social sites?

Katju has no carte blanche

The law, Press Council of India Act,1978 that has created him, has not given the PCI Chairman a carte blanche to ask for such a law or to give such advice to the Union Minister against social media.

Section 13 (1) of PCI Act wants the Council to “maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India”; but not to instigate the information minister to curb social media.

In the letter to Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, he has sought to set up an expert team to keep under control the social media, when social media never comes within his purview.

“The reputation of a person”, he has said, “cannot be permitted to be trampled upon by mischievous people,” This he has said to justify his request “to set up a team of legal and technical experts to find out ways and means of checking this menace, including, if the government thinks fit, initiating suitable legislation for this purpose, for filtering out such offensive material”.

To him, the satyriasis in action captured in the video is not offensive, but its exposure by social media is offensive!

“I have repeatedly said that while there is freedom of the media in our country, no freedom can be absolute, and has to be coupled with responsibilities,” Katju has said in the letter, uncalled for.

First, the responsibility component

The man in the CD looks like Singhvi.

That, he is morphed into the video by his driver is what he says.

The lawyer further says that he has arrived at a settlement with the driver out of court and the driver has informed the court that he had morphed Singhvi in the video.

Is the driver’s admission of morphing not linked with the out-of-court settlement that a very powerful person like Singhvi has arrived at with him?

Is the driver’s version believable under the circumstances?

Thousands of people including presumably everybody in Singhvi’s acquaintance have seen the video. Have they declared that the male in the video is not Singhvi?

What about the female in the video?

When a section of Delhi lawyers has identified her to be a lady lawyer it knows, had the driver also morphed her into the video?

Is that lady lawyer a nymphomaniac, indulging in such acts with anybody at anytime so that Singhvi’s driver could catch her in action on a different occasion and morphed her into the video with Singhvi?

Has any authentic and authorized lab established that the video is morphed?

Has any medico-legal investigation established that what the driver has said after out-of-court settlement with Singhvi is not untrue but true?

Is Singhvi’s driver a trained expert in videography for which he could so perfectly morphed Singhvi into the video?

If he is not an expert in videography and not done it personally, where did he got it done? Has it been investigated into and found out?

Has Katju the answer to these questions that are so essential to determine whether or not Singhvi is the male in the video?

What the video shows?

It shows a man, looking like the Congress leader having vital parliamentary role in matter of justice and law, indulged in sex with a lady, allegedly a lawyer, who is suspected to have bartered her libidinal liberty against a possibility of elevation from bar to bench under his influence.

The suspicion may be baseless and the projection of the persons may be an act of morphing.

But who can come to a conclusion without actual investigation?

Onus lies on whom to prove that the video is fake, when possibility of the post-out-of-court-settlement-statement of Singhvi’s driver cannot for certain be said as a statement not coined under any duress?

Is it responsible to keep the people in dark about it sine die?

Now to freedom of media

Katju has said, “while there is freedom of the media in our country, no freedom can be absolute”.

Let me make it absolutely clear that India is a democracy and democracy lives only on absolute freedom of media.

I take the debt to say this from the founding Prime Minister of my country, Pandit Jawaharla Nehru, who had said, “I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or a regulated press” (‘The Law of the Press, by Dr. (Justice) D.D.Basu, Prentice Hall of India, New Delhi, 1986, p. 49), though this declaration remained a wishful thinking as, under his mixed economy policy, seeds of plutocracy were sown in this soil.

A plutocracy that appears like democracy is disadvantaged by absolute freedom of media and for its smooth run, suppression of information is necessary.

Suppression of information is necessary when criminals, anti-people elements, vested interest gangs rule the country in the guise of democracy.

Media being the last pillar of democracy and democracy being the last obstructor of plutocracy, is Katju interested to clear whatever obstacle is there in the path of plutocracy by obstructing the evolution of a freer media like the social media?

It is shocking that the Chairman of the Press Council of India is for curb on people’s right to be informed.

The basic object of Press Council spelt out under Section 13. ( 1 ) of the Act is to preserve the freedom of the Press. But the Council chairman’s suggestion goes against this provision.

Freedom of press does not mean freedom of the protectors of freedom of press to deny people the freedom to be informed.

The Universal declaration of Human Rights under Art.19 thereof gives everybody the right to be informed unrestrained.

It stipulates, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

“Any media” “regardless of frontiers” includes social media that India’s Press Council Chairman wants to “curb”.

Katju’s suggestion sharply militates against the concept of freedom of press depicted in the pioneering judgment of Supreme Court of India reported in (1959) S.C.R. 12 wherein the highest unbiased judicial wisdom of the country, full of essence of freshly fetched freedom from foreign control, had delivered the dictum that, freedom of press is the foundation of free government of a free people and that, it rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public; and the guarantee given under Art.19(1)(a) of the Constitution is to prevent public authorities from assuming the guardianship of the public mind.

Sadly, the chief of the Press Council of India, required under the Act to preserve freedom of press, wants the authorities assume guardianship of the public mind in blatant disregard to the dictum above.

People in their own wisdom

As far as restriction on news, lest that affects reputation of an individual, is concerned, people have refused to be hoodwinked in this particular case, though the corporate media has honored the court injunction, obtained by Singhvi against a section thereof.

The people have deliberately shared the video through social media to avenge the attempts to use court injunction to keep them debarred from information on the alleged misconduct of a ruling party heavyweight and to use their intelligence to accept or reject the information.

The people of India are mature enough to decide which material deserves attention and which doesn’t.

As for example, Katju had described the Indians as foolish. People have refused to pay attention to this raving. The corporate media houses have given massive publicity to Congress’ as well as CBI’s statements that Rajiv Gandhi had not taken bribe in choice of Bofors guns. The people of India have not given credence to such reports. So, it is clear that it does not make everything acceptable to Indians if published in media. If the contents of the sex video had not been blocked from being carried by the media, people might have refused to accept it as true. But, attempts to disallow people to know of it through media houses that had the video in their possession, as is seen, activated social media to step in, the people’s right to information being basic in that sector.

With evolution of social media, freedom of media cannot be curbed any more, as, no law can deny people the access to Internet and no law can debar Internet from carrying any data the users can share if they like to share.

If big media on any pretext suppresses any information, social media will provide people with collective strength to know what is what and no law can put any hindrance thereto, because the Internet is a world wide phenomenon and has made every person a part of world community.

To the people, reputation of a person suspected to have committed a heinous crime does not count. What counts is possible disrepute of their motherland over silent endurance to suppression of data of a heinous crime suspected to have been committed by a parliamentary standing committee chief.

This is why, it is better be appreciated, despite aversion to obscenity, the people have shared the video through social media. This mass action is indicative only of mass protests against use of court to curtail people’s right to be informed.

It is to be kept in mind that social media is the media of the people built up by the people to its present stature in course of their anxiety to get rid of doctored information fed to them by motivated corporate media with highly paid editors engaged to tamper with or twist information as their masters like, a phenomenon that was forcing the people to see in the eyes of the rulers and the rich and their agents and the oppressors and the shareholders / controllers of media houses.

Every attempt to curb social media will, therefore, be futile and rejected by the people.

It would be better for government of India to ignore the letter of Katju as an instance of illogical zeal and meritless fanfaronade.

(This article is dedicated to Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das, the great patriot and votary of freedom on his birthday)

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