Justice Katju warns newspapers against tarnishing reputations



New Delhi: Press Council chairperson Justice Markandey Katju on Saturday asked newspapers not to damage reputations of people and warned them of serious legal action in case of violations.

Holding a Bengali newspaper from Kolkata of failing to maintain high standards in reporting a matter about a 34-year- old woman IAS officer, he said, instead of referring the case to the inquiry committee of the council he was making a public statement on the issue.

Justice Katju referred to the case of the newspaper carrying an item last month against the official Sripriya Rengarajan, who was detected some time ago having lung cancer of an advanced stage and granted leave to go to Chennai for treatment.

The paper reported that she was removed by Chief Minister from the post of District Magistrate, Hooghly, on a complaint against her character. The news item carried various other allegations, Justice Katju said without naming the paper.

He said that a delegation of IAS officers of West Bengal cadre met him today with a grievance regarding the publication of the news item.

Justice Katju said he was informed by the delegation that the allegations against Rengarajan were totally false and baseless and had done great damage to her reputation.

"The civil servants of West Bengal are greatly incensed by this totally false, scurrilous and calumnious news item. A written complaint was made to the newspaper by the Secretary (Personnel), Government of West Bengal, but instead of publishing the rejoinder in a prominent place, the newspaper published the rejoinder in twisted and highly cryptic manner on 30.9.2012 in a very inconspicuous place," Justice Katju said.

He said that while newspapers certainly had freedom of speech under the Constitution, it was subject to reasonable restrictions and not an absolute freedom.

Newspapers also had a responsibility not to damage the reputation of anyone because it was an invaluable asset of a person, Katju said.

The former Supreme Court judge said that in the present case he has perused the papers and was satisfied that the newspaper in question acted in a irresponsible and reckless manner only with an object to provide cheap sensationalism.

"In this case the false reporting against the character of a young lady officer suffering from an advanced stage of cancer shows utter callousness, insensitivity and irresponsibility on the part of the newspaper concerned," he said.

"All the newspapers in the country are hereby warned that the Press Council will not tolerate such violations of the norms of the journalistic ethics and will in future take serious legal action if that is done," he said.

PTI