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Millennium Post

Scourge of Indian journalism?

Press Council chief, Markandey Katju, a Kashmiri Pundit by birth, shares his name with the sage of the Puranic times, who sought the truth amidst a dialogue. His confabulator, Jaimini was of a pupil of Vyasa rishi, who was supposed to have played a role in some of the recording of the Vedas. Clearly, Katju carries the burden of history.

But he could have been completely out of sync with his name and heritage, had he not got the platform of the Supreme Court to air his rather unique views on the current Indian society. It is that pontifical ‘temple,’ which had given true credence to his name. Some of Katju’s utterances show an ability to understand the various strands of thought, which are dominating the country’s public mind. (Not necessarily a popular pre-occupation of all the Supreme Court judges.)

On 8 March 2011, Justice Katju delivered a ‘landmark’ judgment legalising passive euthanasia — or withdrawal of life-support systems — for patients who are brain dead or in a permanent vegetative state, and whom doctors have lost hope of reviving even with the most advanced medical aid.

The detailed process of passive euthanasia that he promulgated included strict guidelines that must be met, including a case-by-case review of medical condition by a team of court-appointed doctors and prior approval of the High Court. The Judge further had observed that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, according to which attempt to suicide was a criminal offence, was archaic and needed review.

While this may not change the mind of one of our Union ministers, Deepa Dasmunsi, wife of former Congress leader, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who has been in a vegetative state for the last three years, it actually provides much needed economic and social relief to the surviving members of the victim’s family as they get closure at the end – an end that has already arrived.

This same Katju has now waded into the rather dark area of Indian journalistic firmament where ignorance counts for more. He has raised the issue of creating some entry barriers to the profession. In other words, he has advocated a rather ‘non-elite’ argument that journalism jobs should be kept reserved for those, who plan for it in the times of their early education, thus obtain a journalism degree at a graduate or post-graduate level.

This predictably has raised a storm of protest amongst those in the profession who hold an opinion about everything from soaps to newspapers, normally challenging the ethical nature of the professed goals. In fact, it should be said that ethics remain a quintessential and inescapable part of journalism education irrespective of the fact whether you had one masters degree or two, and whether you have studied it in famous schools abroad or some other Indian ones, like Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Journalism, thus, is to mirror the society at large, some times even suggesting correctives to that mirror image. This creates a certain normative scale that a journalist has to adhere.

Journalism in India has become a favourite and a ‘legitimate,’ or even fashionable, profession after the death of the collective bargaining process, buried two decades ago. By that, what I mean to say is this: when the selective wages of a few journalists outstripped their desire for their material well being, and the journalists’ trade unions fell to disuse, the proprietors of news media sought to exploit that situation by expanding their net for catering to avarice.

As the corollary of this exercise, the journalists needed to become the tool for satisfying the employers’ requirements. To wit, the recent Zee News case, when two senior editors were exposed by the Congress Party’s member of Parliament and industrialist, Naveen Jindal – not necessarily the paragon of virtue, himself – asking for Rs 100 crores from him to stop their negative publicity about his group of companies, is the lowest end of the scale.

However, the tipping point for the current Indian journalistic standards was reached, of course, with the revelations of Niira Radia tapes that reflected on the nether world of journalism.

In direct correlation of journalism expanding its horizon by embracing a generation that did not even had a nodding acquaintance with journalistic writing published in news publications – though of course much devoted to seeing byte-warriors on television and thus getting inspired to proffer the microphone in seemingly mindless pantomime to any who seemed important – journalism educational entrepreneurs have also proliferated by often undertaking dubious ventures.The so-called educational fees one has to spend in those journalism schools, create an economic need of its own because the gullible need to recover those funds, fruitlessly spent, at the earliest possibility. This creates a peculiar vulnerability built into the system that manifests itself fairly early in life.

Of course, the deleterious impact of this nature of financial need gives rise to so-called ‘rat race,’ where information loses its integrity and ‘anything goes’ becomes the attitude that is favoured by the monopolistic elite. Katju has raised an exceedingly important and a systemic issue. Let us not trivialise it.

The author is a senior journalist
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