Justice Srikrishna’s secret note

BY Madabhushi Sridhar| IN Media Freedom | 01/04/2011
High Court indicts Former SC Judge’s Report - Part I: In the report of a panel set up by the government he had suggested that the media should be managed to frustrate the goals of pro-Telangana agitators.
MADABHUSHI SHRIDHAR reports on the AP high court’s decision castigating this. Pix: The Srikrishna Committee
A secret recommendation on exploiting media bias,  tendered by a former judge of the Supreme Court who is heading a panel to look into the Telangana issue, has raised many questions.
Justice L. Narasimha Reddy (on 23rd March) directed the Central Government to disclose the ‘secret’ eighth chapter of the report submitted by Justice Srikrishna, Chairman, Consultation Committee on Affairs of Andhra Pradesh, popularly known as Telangana Committee.
The Home Minister convened an All (AP) Party Leaders’ meeting in Delhi and handed over to them copies of the report except Chapter 8. On page 423 of the report, Srikrishna revealed that a secret note was sent to the Home Ministry in sealed cover, which was written based on a meeting between V.K. Duggal, former Home Ministry bureaucrat and member secretary of the committee, and senior officers including police officers of 17 districts of AP. Former Congress MP, Narayan Reddy sought a writ of mandamus to disclose the chapter. To justify his direction to disclose, Justice Reddy went into the contents of the secret chapter which was made available by the Additional Solicitor General of India to the court.
In the secret note Justice Srikrishna had suggested to the Home Ministry that media should be managed to build opinion against separate statehood for Telangana. In this note the committee explained the regional links and interests of the media houses and advised that these be exploited. The former judge even went to the extent of recommending the use of Government advertisements as an inducement to the media to turn the opinion in favour of a united Andhra Pradesh. Other secret recommendations spoke of managing political parties, softening the Telangana Rasthra Samithi and using appropriate weaponry and strategies to tackle students’ agitation.
The High Court did not find anything in chapter 8 worth keeping a secret and said: “…The only basis for making it secret appears to be that such ideas do not occur to jurists and social scientists and they are not said in public.’’
The secret parts of the report which were quoted by the judge read:
Media Management: (i) Andhra Pradesh has got about 13 Electronic Channels and 5 major local Newspapers which are in the forefront of moulding the public opinion.  Except for two Channels (Raj News & Hmtv), the rest of them are supporters of a united Andhra Pradesh. The equity holders of the channels, except the above two, and the entire Print Media are with the Seemandhra people. The main editors/resident and sub-editors, the Film world etc. are dominated by Seemandhra people. A coordinated action on their part has the potential of shaping the perception of the common man. However, the beat journalists in the respective regions are locals and are likely to capture only those events/news which reflect the regional sentiments.
(ii) Hyderabad city, which is expected to be the center of most of the agitations, is generally covered by journalists who are votaries of a separate Telangana. Hence a lot of media hype on the Osmania University Students agitation, self-immolations, etc. may be created. Therefore, media management assumes critical importance to ensure that the reality is projected and no hype is created. In the immediate past, it is observed that the media coverage on the issue has shown a declining trend resulting in a lower intensity of the agitation. Each of the media houses are affiliated to political parties. In the print media the major newspapers are owned by Seemandhra people and the Regional contents published by them play a vital role. …”
Justice Reddy lamented the way a former Supreme Court judge had reduced press freedom into a business activity. He said, ``It is a matter of deep concern as to how a sacrosanct fundamental right was reduced into a business activity and converted as tool to distort public opinion.” The judge suggested that if “they (media) do not agree with the opinion formed by the Committee, they have to prove their neutrality”. Unfortunately the media did not take on this challenge.
To lend support to the opinion formed by the committee headed by Srikrishna, Justice Reddy narrated an incident that occurred on the Osmania University campus at the peak of the agitation. He said that there was heavy presence of specially assigned policemen on the campus and on a particular day they resorted to indiscriminate lathi charge and even grabbed girls by their private parts. When a journalist captured this and it was telecast on a channel, he was beaten up by the cops who also burnt his motorcycle and urinated on it.
While this clearly showed the bias of the establishment and while the Srikrishna Committee had exposed the overall bias on the issue, Justice Reddy felt that it was inappropriate for the Committee to advise the exploitation of this bias to serve political interests of governments.
In matters of secret reports the American Supreme Court has evolved a principle of ‘clear and present’ danger to decide on secrecy of reports. This was made amply clear in its ruling on making public the policy defects in the war against Vietnam. Our judiciary could benefit from reflecting on this.
(The author is coordinator at Center for Media Law and Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad)


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