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'Media misguided: Deliberate action of the media divide the people'

Press Council Chairman Markandey Katju has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggesting that the electronic media should be brought under its purview and should be given "more teeth".

"I have written to the PM that the electronic media should be brought under Press Council and it should be called Media Council and we should be given more teeth. Those teeth would be used in extreme situations," Katju told Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate programme.

Katju said that he had received a letter from the Prime Minister that his letter had been received and "they are considering it".

The former Supreme Court judge said he had also met Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and that she had told him probably there will be a "consensus".

Thapar had asked Katju whether he was seeking more teeth for Press council.

"I want powers to stop government advertisement, I want to suspend license of that media for a certain period if it behaves in a very obnoxious manner, impose fines," Katju said while maintaining that all these measures would be used only in extreme situations.

On if these measures would not threaten the freedom of the media, he said, "Everybody is accountable in a democracy. No freedom is absolute. Every freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions. I am accountable, you are accountable, we are accountable to the people."

Katju said that he thought TV debates were "frivolous", and there is no discipline among panelists. "It is not a shouting contest," he told Thapar.

He also spoke about how he thought things could be changed. "There must be some fear in the media," he said, quoting Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas that 'bin bhay hot na preet'.

Katju said, "I have a poor opinion of the media" and added that "they should be working for the interest of the people. They are not working for the interest of the people and sometime they are positively working in an anti-people manner."

He said, "Indian media is very often playing an anti- people role. It often diverts the attention of the people from the real problems which are basically economic.

"80 per cent people are living in horrible poverty, unemployment, facing price rise, health care (problems)," Katju said.

"You (media) divert the attention from those problems and instead you project film stars and fashion parades as if they are the problems of the people," he said.

"Cricket is an opium of the masses. Roman emperors used to say if you cannot give the people bread give them circuses. In India send them to cricket if you cannot give the people bread," Katju told Thapar.

The Council Chairman said, "Whenever bomb blasts take place, in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, within a few hours almost every channel starts showing an e-mail has come or an sms has come that Indian Mujahideen has claimed responsibility or Jaish-e Mohammed or Harkat-ul-Ansar or some Muslim name," he said.

"You see e-mail or sms...Any mischievous person can send but by showing it on TV channels you are in a subtle way conveying the message that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb throwers and you are demonising the Muslims...99 per cent of people of all communities are good people," Katju said.

"I think it is a deliberate action of the media to divide the people on religious lines and that is totally against the national interest," he said.

Katju said that India was in a transitional period moving "from feudal agricultural society to a modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period in history. When Europe was going through this period, media played a great role.

"In Europe, great writers like Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius, Diderot helped. Diderot said that man would be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest," he said.

During the interview, Katju said, "Here the media promotes superstition, astrology. 90 per cent people in the country are mentally very backward, steeped in casteism, communalism, superstition and so on."

He said, "Should the media uplift them to a higher level and make them a part of an enlightened India or should the media go down to their level and perpetuate their backwardness?"

The former apex court judge said, "Many TV channels show astrology which is purely humbug."

In response to another query, he said that though he respected certain individuals in the media, in "general the rut is very low, I have a poor opinion of media people. I don't think they have knowledge of economic theory, political science or literature or philosophy."

He said, "People need modern scientific ideas but the reverse is happening."

Citing an instance, Katju said that "the photograph of a high court judge was shown next to the photograph of a notorious criminal for two consecutive days" on a TV channel.

Katju, who had been a high court judge, said the channel had done a story on baseless allegations against an upright judge. "You condemn a corrupt person I am with you but why should you condemn an honest person."

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