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Riveting: Newslaundry grills Katju on teeth, freedom of speech & Indian fools; Katju bites back

Current affairs, media and culture blog Newslaundry’s Madhu Trehan asks former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju, now the chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), some tough questions about himself and freedom of speech. Is Katju’s bark not already bad enough, she asks, that you need more bite? As the interview proceeds, Katju’s fuse is lit several times, and barks and giggles ensue.

“I’m not a dictator”, claims Katju, because the PCI is democratic and run by 28 members, of whom 20-odd editors and journalists are democratically elected.

Katju wants to be able to punish or suspend licences of media houses to publish, as well as regulate online media.

But Katju claims that he personally wields very little power – most letters or statements he’s made, such as his letter to National Broadcasting Standard Association (NBSA) Justice Varma asking to investigate Salman Khursheed case, was not written in his official PCI capacity, but as a citizen of India, which anyone can do, he claims.

Should journalists be licensed? “Yes,” says Katju. “Why can journalist licences not be suspended in case of gross misconduct?”

Social media control? “Not controlled. Please understand difference between control and regulation.”

Trehan teases that of course Justice Katju thinks 90% of Indians are fools. Katju laughs, and they discuss how or whether freedom of speech and upsetting religious sentiments can cause riots and what protections there should be.

Quoths Katju: “I am all for freedom… I am the greatest champion of freedom. I have been the biggest fighter of press freedom, none of you have been [when journalists have been attacked in Kashmir, I was the only one to raise the voice, journalists attacked in Maharashtra, or Aseem Trivedi arrested, etc].” Trehan agrees somewhat with Katju’s credentials here.

Katju rails on: “You people [media] behave like mad cats”, because relevant issue in country is Amitabh Bachchan’s 70th birthday, Tendulkar scores 100th century, and so on, while relevant issues are not dealt with.

Many media companies are losing money, responds Trehan, they have to try and survive.

“Close it down,” shouts Katju about loss-making media houses [Ed: If media houses could be shut down so quickly, how many would there be left to regulate?]

Katju propounds his philosophy that in a democracy the people are the kings, in theory, and everyone else, including media (and judges) are their servants. He says, by way of example, “I had never visited Connaught Place for seven years,” after having lived only 4 kilometres away in Delhi as a judge. “I am a human being, I would like to go out in the evening, and have a jolly good time and go to cabarets and night shows…”, he says, but can’t because judges have to live a very reclusive life because “what would people think of me?” I have to deny myself.

“Cabarets? They don’t exist anymore,” Trehan laughs sympathetically. “What planet are you from?”

I am entirely for Tehelka and support sting operations, says Katju, adding that he does not think that starting investigations of media houses could result in them being hounded and shut down as Tehelka infamously was. “I am just asking Justice Verma to find out, not to close down India Today and channels. I am not wanting Justice Verma to hound these people, in fact he doesn’t have any power to [hound them].”

But Katju admits he doesn’t speak to journalists informally about their stories before starting an investigation. They go into a detailed discussion about India Today’s Salman Khursheed story.

Justice Verma was my hero, adds Katju.

Interview concludes with both agreeing a lot of journalism makes problems, and Trehan having learnt Katju’s philosophy “by heart”.

Katju finishes with: “What wrong have I done? A section of the media attacks me, Justice Katju wants to muzzle the media, gag the media, he’s a dictator, a tyrant, this is what many people [have said] but what can I do?”

Worth a watch.

Also: The amazing adventures of Captain Katju (cartoon).

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