An opportunity for an open-minded panel discussion on the state of the Indian media, aberrations that have crept into the profession, criticism which was leveled by recently-appointed chairman of Press Council of India, Justice Markanday Katju (retd), its partial endorsement (and part rejection) from sections of the media – including this author – and complete rejection of his comments by others in the profession – including representative editors’ bodies – has been unfortunately lost.

The occasion for the discussion was a seminar co-hosted by Delhi-based Foundation for Media Professionals and Press Club of India and was scheduled for Saturday, November 12, 2011. Unfortunately, a day before the much-anticipated event, it had to be called off because of “a disagreement between FMP, PCI and Justice Katju on the format of the discussion”.

What were the differences regarding the format to be followed in the discussion for which the panel included besides Justice Katju, media professionals and members of the academia – Rajdeep Sardesai, Neelabh Mishra, Zoya Hasan, Pankaj Pachauri, Abheek Barman, Madabhushi Sridhar and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta with T R Ramachandran as moderator?

In a nutshell, Justice Katju was under the impression that the event was primarily a lecture by him followed by cursory comments by others on the panel. He felt that he had been misled by the delegation from PCI which had gone in the first instance to invite him and when he learnt about the format, he cried off. This left the organizers with no recourse but to cancel the meet.

Justice Markandey Katju Interview; courtesy CNN-IBN

With this decision to stay away from a discussion where he would to be on equal footing with other senior professionals, Justice Katju has possibly left himself open to the charge that his real intent was not to initiate a reform movement from within. Rather, the raison d’être behind his calibrated criticism of the media in general and journalists per se was aimed at ensuring spotlight on him.

If this was not so, then even if there had even a miscommunication it would have elevated his status if he had graciously participated in the panel discussion. After all, the proclaimed objective of his ‘get-together’ with select media persons on October 10 and his interview with Karan Thapar was to generate a discussion. If for a moment he thought that opinions could be passed off as verdicts outside court then he is sadly mistaken. Neither the media as a whole nor journalists in particular appreciate anyone with a talk-down approach.

True, there are sections in the media who think that there is nothing wrong with the industry and that the growing trivialization and increasing numbers of market-driven stories and analyses were inevitable in the post-liberalisation era. But there are also a significant number of media professionals – at all levels – who are not very comfortable about the state of affairs and are willing to contribute their mite in any democratically driven reform movement. This, however, cannot be led by a preacher.