New Delhi: Contending that press freedom is "not an absolute right", Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju on Friday said that freedom of press "must" be "crushed" if media's functioning leads to backwardness and "lowers the standard of living of people". The former Supreme Court judge, who is known for his candid and often controversial comments, also criticised media for giving more importance to Bollywood and cricket than vital national issues and took a swipe at channels for "promoting" superstition and "backward ideas" through their shows on issues like astrology.
"Freedom of press is not an absolute right. The absolute right is the improvement of standard of living of the masses. If freedom of press helps the improvement of standard of living of masses, then its a good thing. But if freedom of press lowers the standard of living of people, makes people poorer, then we must crush freedom of press," Katju said.
"Sachin Tendulkar has scored his hundredth century, now rivers of milk and honey would flow in the country. Cricket is the opium of the masses. People are drugged with cricket. The Roman emperors used to say that if you cannot give people bread, give them circuses," Katju said.
The PCI chief was speaking at a function organised to mark November 16 as the National Press Day. Many senior journalists like BG Varghese, Inder Malhotra, Nihal Singh and Shravan Garg were among those present. "Because again and again I tell you, get it clear in your heads, one and only one principle...one and only one test of every system is the (whether) standard of living is improving. Is there employment opportunities, health care, education, is it getting better of not. So please don't think that freedom of press is an absolute right," Katju told the gathering.
"People are more important thing than journalists. Please don't think that you are Gods. And what is that will improve the standard of living of people? It is scientific ideas. And combating backward ideas," he said. Targeting astrology shows on channels, he said, "Many of you people, journalists I have seen on TV channels show astrology, which is pure nonsense. If you keep people backward, it is pure superstition. Don't you have any common sense?"