Kangaroo Courts in India

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Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana, the 48th and current Chief Justice of India who himself had started his career as a journalist and worked with Eenadu newspaper from 1979 to 1980 was recently critical of media and chose words which if spoken in Parliament would have been expunged or declared un-parliamentary, as per the going trend (In lighter vein). He not only called media biased, ill-informed and agenda-driven but also branded television debates as ‘Kangaroo Courts’ which according to him are proving detrimental to the health of democracy.

Nevertheless, journalists are continuing to report from areas under conflict, inundated regions, court rooms, war zones, virus affected world, rioting areas and hostile precincts in antagonistic weather conditions, facing rowdy mobs, angry politicians, travelling distances and reporting events round the clock only to keep public well informed in their drawing rooms about the situations that are developing across the length and breadth of the world which surely affects their lives directly or indirectly.

There’s no doubt that some black sheep and half-baked journalists have entered the profession or some professionals are not following ethics of journalism but not everyone can be painted in same colour. Agreed that journalism has come a long way and its transformation from print to electronic to social in mode has made many follow trends, meet deadlines or function 24X7 during which ethics become first toll but still not everyone is damaging democracy or harming the system or affecting justice delivery system.

This even the Justice Ramana agreed saying and I quote, “print media still has a certain degree of accountability whereas electronic media has zero accountability as what it shows vanishes into thin air. Still, worse is social media.” He might be right in his own perspective but the fact is that almost all print houses today have their presence on electronic as well as social media platforms and several electronic media channels also have their accounts on social sites, if not print media.

This means, journalists are working round the clock and on all media platforms to ensure that right and credible information is disseminated in most authentic and trustworthy manner. In between some who jump the gun definitely damage their own reputation and not that of democracy. News channels, newspapers and social media apps besides portals provide platforms to debaters, politicians, influencers and all those who make headlines but ensure that views expressed are that of the speakers or debaters and not of those of media houses.

This establishes that debaters have to have a control on their own self, use chosen words and debate while having facts and figures with them and not blame it on media. Media at one point of time was used as a canon to defeat the agenda of British rulers and make people aware of their rights. This required an understanding of importance of the press and knowing how to use the written words most effectively without offending anyone. Since, Mahatma Gandhi knew the power of press, he believed in editorial independence, adhered to truth and self-restraint which according to him were the three overriding considerations for any good journalism.

When Mahatma Gandhi started newspapers Young India and Harijan and Bal Gangadhar Tilak published ‘The Kesari’ and ‘The Mahratta’, they knew that rulers will suppress their voices but they still chose words that could convey the message and not even offend anyone. Despite their restrain the government imposed Rowlett Act ordering stricter control of the press against which Gandhi launched a Satyagraha while continuing his publications. Today many youngsters might know the power of press but their inclination towards any political outfit or individual not only exposes them but also demeans the standards of journalism, which the Justice N V Ramana was referring to, may be directly or indirectly.

Anyone who knows the art of using the written and spoken words most effectively is capable of not only debating well but also writing well. As a matter of self-introspection if we look inwards we need to know that simple yet forceful writings are need of hour. Passion and a burning indignation with clear understanding of the popular feeling can enable one to give expression to the written or spoken words. Mahatma Gandhi also believed in arousing certain desirable sentiments of people through powerful writings and also exposing popular defects fearlessly while holding on to the ground firmly.

Having command on the language and using right words at right time, giving references of relevant articles, quotes or anecdotes spelled out ably not only made debates healthy but also empowers reporters conduct interviews well. Absence of such qualities, perhaps were the facts towards which Justice Ramana was referring to. Debating, be it in courts, legislative assemblies, municipal councils, panchayats or both houses of Parliament must be healthy, free of abusive language, rich in facts, productive and aimed at bringing reforms besides making differences in the lives of common people and not just for creating a din or playing to galleries.

Television debates, to some viewers, might sound like Kangaroo Courts and posts on social media look like half-baked journalism but there’s always a scope of improvement which if managed by self-regulations must be done. No one is flawless and no one is perfect either, but a scope of improvement if applied, can lead to better reporting, news writing, feature writing, editing or presenting news on electronic or social media which is sure to be interesting, informative and also reflective of objective journalism of ethics.

Mahatma Gandhi, for whom journalism was a service, wrote in his autobiography and I quote, “The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy”. Similarly, television debates if go unabated and without any self-regulations or uncontrolled volley of words, they too are sure to land not the debaters in trouble but also affect the society in a bigger way for the simple reason that commoners take newspapers as well as media reports very seriously. Mind it!

Here becomes relevant the Justice Ramana’s theory that if this kind of journalism where biased views are spread, the system will get harmed. So far as justice delivery getting affected because of television debates is concerned, this does not sink in for the simple reason that law of the land goes by evidences and facts and must not get influenced by such debates or write-ups, though writers are free to opine.

The criticism by Chief Justice did backfire as many questioned what they termed as ‘rouge collegium system’ of appointments for judges. They even questioned working days of Supreme Court which come out to be somewhere 200+ days, huge pendency running in crores in subordinate and all other courts and asked why declaration of assets by Supreme Court and High Court HC Judges is voluntary but not mandatory as is the practice in 60% of major 161 countries in the world.

This, if stretched could go too far and even lead to allegations and counter-allegations which we don’t intend indulging into. However, as suggested by the information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur, after Chief Justice NV Ramana said that kangaroo courts by media were detrimental to the health of democracy, we can focus on our own profession and go in for an introspection rather adopting any collision course with anyone who is entitled to his or her own opinion as per the freedom of speech.

Justice Ramana last time delivering his lecture on “Democracy” had questioned the credibility of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and suggested breaking what he had termed as a nexus with political and executive. Democracy rests on four pillars of legislature, executive, judiciary and the press. If each one of these pillars begins to find flaws in each other, which definitely exists, then we will head towards a Doomsday. This statement is not vague and can be justified with ample of evidences at all levels and in all spheres.

The way executives are working poorly, there hardly is any decision beginning from supplying essentials to fighting calamities or fixing responsibilities of rioters and monitoring performance of developmental projects where courts do not interfere. When majority of executes indulge in passing on the buck or remain indecisive, courts are bound to interfere. Similarly, when courts delay justice which is considered as ‘justice denied’ media begins its trial which then irks judges. And finally when legislators fail to deliver, courts and media nail them. This is why we all need to work in our domains perfectly and also introspect.

This system of governance which could have been serving masses as means of checks and balances has become a vicious cycle where everyone is either settling score, trying to outdo each other or establish ones supremacy over another for no reasons. All four pillars of the society need to realise their responsibilities and functions in a way that an order prevails in the system and democracy is strengthened.

Journalism and working journalists often come under attack by politicians who can’t stand their criticism and begin showering their advices on media persons. Media persons had during past been gagged, snubbed, avoided, barred, in some rare cases manhandled and at times even killed or assassinated while reporting from conflict areas or for speaking truth as well as revealing the same. Their tireless efforts might have gone unsung but their works have always stood the tests of time and exposed biggest of scams and also set right many wrongs prevalent in the society.

Some sections of media including electronic, print or social do not function the way they should and have been found to be inciting violence or spreading hatred among various sections of the society. What’s required is that each one of them stops emotional tampering, verify facts and truth, report credibly and not get swayed away by emotions. This is the only way to get rid of words like “biased, ill-informed, agenda-driven, Kangaroo courts, taking the country backwards, concerted campaigns or media trials.

Chief Justice Ramana had also said, “New media tools have enormous amplifying ability but appear to be incapable of distinguishing between the right and the wrong, the good and the bad and the real and the fake”. This might hold some water but onus of anything gone wrong because of any “Kangaroo Court” on television was the end result of individuals losing control over language or running out of right words and not the media houses. It cannot guarantee of debaters speaking ably, using decent languages, placing one’s views meticulously rather responsibly, choosing right words or speaking in tone that conveys message and not make others feel offended or creates ruckus anywhere. The media provides a platform to let world know what’s cooling up in people’s minds! Courtesy Daily Excelsior

(The writer is senior journalist)

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