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 B G 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?
"This kind of freedom to promote backward ideas, to keep people poor, do you think you are lords that you will dominate over the Indian people! People are superior to journalists. you have to serve.... you must behave like Hanuman. Hanuman ji served Lord Ram, today Lord Ram is the Indian people," Katju said.
"There is massive poverty in this country, massive unemployment....farmers suicides....for five years you will not let this be published. Then ultimately a great journalist like P Sainath so much highlighted it that you could not prevent it," he said.
He said that an event, where models wore garments made from cotton produced by Vidarbha farmers, was covered by hundreds of journalists while only local mediapersons covered farmers who were committing suicides.
"Don't you have any shame? Is it responsible behaviour on your part? And you talk freedom-freedom at any cost, let the Indian people go to hell," he said. "I have been a biggest supporter of press freedom. None of you have fought for press freedom like I have," he added.
Katju said that journalists had been affected in Kashmir during police action on protesters after which he raised the matter with the state government. "Did any of you send me a letter of congratulations for defending press freedom?" he asked the gathering and said that he had also defended journalists in Maharashtra and raised his voice for cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.
Katju said that he was playing the role of 'Jambvand', who had reminded Lord Hanuman of his strength and duties. Katju said that Bollywood and cricket personalities seemed more important than national issues for the media.