Monday, July 11, 2011

Larger the banner, greater the hypocrisy

Until today, the news headlines say Rupert Murdoch should fire Rebekah Brooks from News of the World for failing to respect the law formulated for reporters. True, very true! Even so, is it possible?
In India sting operation is in fashion, today Tehelka is popular just because of its sting operation. Tarun Tejpal is the owner and Editor in Chief of the publication that’s the reason no one could question him or blame him for anything. However, if he would have been an employee or paid as editor of the publication then he would be out of the market. Few years ago, some news channel did sting operation on Shakti kapoor and we as viewers enjoyed it rather objecting upon such trends.

Aaj Tak did sting operation on Pramod Muthalik and Aasaram Bapu and many such people, by violating all ethics and rules of journalism, but no one goes against them. News channel needs TRP and viewership, which is only possible through controversy and scandals. If the editor bans such practices, then he would be accused for his inefficiency. However, if he does the sting operation at all and someone takes objections on it then the banner and owner both put the blame on the editor and washes their hands off.

I understand the pain of Rebekah Brooks, actually it’s not her fault it’s the fault of her thankless job and position, she was holding in the newspaper. I am sure; every newspaper and news channel definitely possesses taped conversations of thousands of celebrities, politicians, sports stars and common people. For the simple reason, if the desk question reporter about the conversation proof then they have to produce the records by default. Moreover, many times a source denies his statements, so one need to keep the proof. Rebekah Brooks is not the acceptation. I can understand why she had to fall on her own sword which she has sharpened for the interest of newspaper and its readers.

There is one story to dictate here for you. My editorial team was irritated over discussions and was cracking their brains for a topic to make the lead story on. I too was in thoughts as what to pen down for the front page story. The deadline was coming to an end. Then, I remembered Kumar Ketkar's speech in a Rotary Club function at Dombivli where he had recalled a situation from the time when he was the Editor of Maharashtra Times. Kumar was revealing the other side of Journalism which said Bad news is a Good news; a compulsory virtue of journalism all over the world. And just then, Poonam Chambers collapsed. It was a huge sigh of relief as finally there was something worth a lead. War journalists, crime journalists and others; they all strive for off-routine pictures and reports. Every journo aims for a Watergate; a life-turning event/scam. The class of journalists is reflected in the investigative journalism in any bear. There is equal scope for an investigative talent in all the beats of journalism.
Press Freedom, liberty to write, investigative journalism, journalism of courage are terms that have been imposed upon us since ages.

The most Hippocratic profession is journalism. One may recall Arun Shourie's rise and fall in Indian Express group. A layman remembers Mr. Shourie as a courageous journalist who exposed the cement scam of then Maharashtra CM Barrister A.R. Antulay. He then had to quit 'Express' as a prize for his courage. The reality is entirely different. But this scam and consequences after that was the end of Shourie as an Editor. The policy of publishing is guided by the affiliations and interests of the managements. A journalist or an Editor is merely a salesman. He can shoot only at the sweet will of the paymaster. Media; news media is a business venture as clear as a profit-making organization which has to pay salaries in time. Mid-day publications, take, for example, in reputed for paying-fat salaries and that too in time. It does not cover news much. It is the still most prosperous newspaper. Jyotirmoy Dey went out of routine and paid for his bravery by getting shot by the hands of underworld goons.

Still it is journalism of courage, as professed by it. It is a harsh reality that journalism as a profession is a paid job. What so chaotic about paid-journalism is when journalists at any level are doing a paid job? I feel we must end the hypocrisy in the fourth-estate and come out with real ourselves telling the world that we are not Superman, but we are sales executives working on salaries and hidden perk.

The Times of India consistently maintains its reputation as a balanced newspaper and does not run after exposures and scams/scandals. Very rarely it does operate as an exposing medium against corruption, but then it never hits below the belt. The RK’s cartoons have placed Times group in an exclusive place in the world of print media. The Times editorial are a stuff for aspirants of competitive examinations as also for administrators, political executives and corporate. Girilal Jain occupied the office of the Times group as an Editor for a pretty long time and added academic depth to the editorial column. Kumar Ketkar, initially wrote for Economic Times before taking over the charge as an Editor of Maharashtra Times, the Marathi language edition of the Times group. Kumar happens to be the first journalist to have switched over from Economic news to political news coverage. Kumar

Ketkar's editorials left a mark on the readers' minds. Very unfortunately, he made an unsung exit immediately after winning Padma Shri in year 2000-01. Ritu Sarin, of Indian Express earned a place in the category of celebrated journalists when she exposed the Tata tapes involving Field Marshal Sam Manickshaw with Mr. Ratan Tata, a business-tycoon. Ms. Sarin's exposures have a class of her own and she too, like her counterparts in Times does not hit below the belt, nor does she profess scams-exposure as a career. Neither Mr. Girilal Jain nor Ms Sarin has won a Padma for their contribution to media.

Sucheta Dalal, a phenomenon that came to be from the Big Bull exposure of the Stock Market kite-flying scam, left the Times Group to join its arch-rival Indian Express. It was a very unprecedented move, and she continued there for long before launching her own publications. Ms. Dalal won Padma Shri quite late in life, almost a decade after the exposure. Friend or foe, it has to be a subject and not a person, is the way she professed journalism. Her article appealing mercy for Harshad Mehta, not from the criminal prosecution but from the hectic investigation and judicial journey was on humanitarian grounds. She had written that Harshad Mehta might die in prison if subjected to a suffocating system. And that is what happened years later as Mehta died of cardiac arrest in Thane jail.

A name that flew a lot like a stormy wave amidst the Bofors controversy was of Ms. Chitra Subramaniam of 'The Hindu' newspaper, a south-India based English daily. Ms. Subrmaniam with her editor Mr. N. Ram earned an international repute for cornering the then Congress government over the kick-back allegations in a purchase deal of Howitzer Long-range guns, known as Bofors.

The Swedish company had allegedly paid kick-backs to an official broker of Indian origin Mr. Win Chhada for executing the contract. Then Congress MP and matinee-idol Amitabh Bachchan made a history as he put his papers as an MP. It happened for the first time in the history of 'Independent India' that a Member of Parliament resigned over a controversy. The electronic media brought a type of journalism without much depth. The weight and depth of print-media journalism are totally absent in this form of news media.

In the times of “Sabse Tez” viewers are taken for granted. We see Arnab Goswami on TIMES NOW screaming “Enough is Enough". Who are you trying to fool?” Then we have a beard-sporting chap on a multi-national banner threatening us all the time like a gangster. His tone, ups and downs in his voice have no consonance at all with the topic or the incident he is narrating. What we hear all the time is “Better watch my programme or you had it”. The space titled Breaking News is compulsorily flashing round the clock. It is now understood by the viewers that like an ad or a banner occupying the cable movie channel all the time.

Editorial Ownership and foreign ownership are two concepts in media that make a lot of difference for such banners that are under such management. As for foreign ownership there was a hue and cry from the locals some years ago and government was forced slap some restrictions. I do not recollect the details or modalities of these norms, but then the class that foreign media possess and function with, we lack; especially in electronic media.

The application of mind and appetite for news and news and news; in-depth news, is tremendous in foreign journalists. I remember recently having read of a boy in a very poor African territory who produced electricity with windmill that he made of scrap items collected from his village. His village had never seen electricity before.

The CNN correspondent reached him, took him to international conference and exposed his talents to the world, I do not recollect any such news item in the related to Indian media for years together. There is no dearth of brave journalists, who if given an opportunity shall strive for excellence. Problem is that the managements in the age of competition cannot afford to concentrate on journalism as such. It is a harsh reality that journalism as a profession is a paid job.
The introduction of electronic channels has faded off the charm of breaking-news and scam-exposures.

There is compulsorily the tag of Breaking News 24/7 on every channel. What is flashed under that tag is a scrap by compulsion. I also remember a very leading channel breaking news when Amitabh Bachchan on his way from hospital to home; decided to take a left turn for his mother's house. The news channel reader was excited so much that his belly fell off breaking the news.

Less written, less agony, here I stop out of irritation….

Because it reminds me of my days at Afternoon Despatch and Courier and staffs’ dirty politics, this is probably the fate of every editor in our country…

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