Open letter to Justice Katju

Last Updated: Sat, Mar 23, 2013 17:57 hrs

Dear Justice Markandey Katju,

I like your honest views which are sometimes refreshingly different and sometimes extremely predictable.

They always make for a nice debate, which is the essence of democracy.

But still there are still certain questions that I have in my mind…

1. The Sanjay Dutt question…

While you have every right to ask for a pardon for film star Sanjay Dutt in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, one TV panellist raised a very interesting question. He said that since you were a retired Supreme Court judge and an official appointee of the Press Council of India, which is a statutory body, then how could you canvas for a convict?

That makes sense to me. The Governor or President can pardon anyone they want to, that is constitutionally valid. But the petition for mercy should come from the convict, the family or maybe even from a human rights group. How can it come from within the government?

Now you know the law much better than me or anyone else, therefore you could have given an answer to this convincingly. However instead, you took off the mike and stormed off the show and questioned the anchor and the news channel.

Now a layman like me will end up agreeing with the panellist.

In rape cases, very few victims approach the police, out of which very few manage to fight it out in court and even fewer secure convictions. We were surprised that former President Pratibha Patil pardoned so many rapists.

Instead of getting answers about why such a thing happened, we are getting more public requests for pardons like this.

2. What about neutrality?

It is the duty of the judiciary to be neutral. It is the duty of the press to be neutral. And a retired SC judge who heads the Press Council has to be extra careful. When one goes through all of your writings, why does such a clear anti-BJP bias show?

In one article, “All the perfumes of Arabia”, the very headline is a reference to Macbeth and the smell of blood and a clear case of guilt. It is understandable that the Left, liberals, seculars and Congress all have declared Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi guilty.

But no riot in the history of India has faced as much judicial scrutiny as has Godhra. If in more than a decade of investigations, the Supreme Court has not convicted Modi, then how can you pass judgement?

After going on and on for some 965 words you suddenly add: I am not going into this matter any further since it is still sub judice.

It is unprecedented for a Rajya Sabha Leader of the Opposition to attack a retired Supreme Court judge the way Arun Jaitley did.

If the head of the Press Council is not perceived to be neutral, then what hope is there to set an example to the press?

3. Why a Draconian license raj for journalists?

Yes, the standard of journalism has to be improved in India. Yes, the standard of journalism colleges has to be improved too. Yes, journalists need more training than they currently have. I am looking forward to the suggestions that your committee will come out with and if they are good, they should definitely be implemented.

However, your contention that there is no qualification to get into journalism is totally wrong. To get in, one has to be a graduate and a journalism degree or diploma is almost mandatory. There is further a training/probationary period and one mostly does not get important assignments immediately till one has proved one’s self.

But a license to practise journalism? That’s one of the most bizarre suggestions I have heard. No democracy in the world even hints at such a thing and a “license raj” will lead to the journalist being at the mercy of the government and force him or her to be pro-establishment.

Then say a journalist speaks against the establishment and has his license cancelled. He can then easily turn to blogging and social networking, become a martyr to get even more publicity and page views. How will you regulate that? Will columnists and part-time writers also require licenses?

How will you regulate the new media? Most authority figures, including yourself, don’t seem to have much idea about the new form of journalism that is emerging in the world.

The current UPA government reeks too much of “control”.

It is unnerving for a neutral person such as you to echo the same.

Also, the journalist has the degree and the journalism house has the license.

The industry is not as arbitrary as you have made it out to be.

4. What about Government ads?

Everyone knows that Government ads are like a carrot due to which the establishment can wield a large stick. Many media houses depend on these ads and that lies at the crux of the problem. Can one look at government ads akin to bribes?

Why can’t we have a rule which states that say a government is bound to give says 25% of its ad revenue to the largest four circulated papers in India. Or something like it has to mandatorily distribute its ad revenue equally among the largest circulated newspapers and magazines?

That would take the power of the government to give ads to favourites and cancel ads to those who are not favourites out of the equation.

If that’s a stupid idea, then what’s a better idea to check this menace?

5. What about paid news?

Enough has been said about paid news and everyone in India agrees that it is a menace. There even was a Press Council report on the same, but that came out in an extremely low-key manner. Shouldn’t that be the most pressing issue for the Press Council right now?

If the Election Commission has taken a lead to take on paid news during elections, can’t you as a neutral head of the Press Council do the same during other times?

Why do editors get so many government benefits? When India got Independence, journalism was seen as a service and journalists were lowly paid. But now the top journalists of India are paid really well and don’t really need government benefits at all.

Recently the Supreme Court rapped 150 journalists for occupying government houses illegally!

Shouldn’t all that be done away with?

Shouldn’t things like this be your top priority right now and not Sanjay Dutt or Narendra Modi?

Yours Sincerely,

Sunil Rajguru.

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.

He blogs at