Saturday, 13 December 2008

Television Terror

On Friday, February 12, there was a panel discussion on "Who is to blame for media hysteria on terror? Journalists or viewers? --Lessons from Mumbai Siege" organised by a new forum – Federation of Media Professionals.

I couldn’t attend it, but from what people who did told me, the representatives of the television news channels were quite unapologetic and repeated the same old arguments – that there were no dos and don’ts, that they did what was best in the circumstances, that they did not endanger operations etc.

This line of defence has been taken ever since criticism of the media coverage started even as the drama was playing itself out on television screens. And how did the news channels respond?

CNN-IBN apparently did a panel discussion on the media coverage, where it patted all television channels on the back (with the occasional sniping at rival channels). According to thehoot.org, a mediawatch website, Mail Today (a part of the India Today group which also owns Headlines Today and Aaj Tak) does a story on media reactions to the information and broadcasting ministry’s advisory on television coverage. It was completely one-sided with public criticism of the media blanked out. Barkha Dutt responds to two Facebook groups that got set up calling them hate groups. Sure, they were named after her (Can u please take Barkha off air! and Barkha Dutt for worst senior journalist on the planet) but that was only because she came to epitomise all that was wrong with television news on those three days.

But none of our senior television journalists would admit to being wrong. So if Barkha flaunted so-called testimonials from N R Narayanamurthy (who, it later turned out, is on the NDTV board) and Shashi Tharoor (who seems to spend his time in television studios now) apart from Suketu Mehta Salman Rushdie, Sunil Khilnani, in her article on the NDTV website, India TV’s Rajat Sharma got a certificate from an unnamed former army chief whom he got to address his colleagues in an article in the Indian Express. Barkha said Naryanamurthy called it the "finest piece of TV journalism in a decade"; Sharma said the former army chief was emphatic that “News channels did nothing wrong. Your coverage didn’t do any harm whatsoever to the commandos!” This after the chief of the National Security Guards has said that the media did endanger operations.

Worse, the television journalists talk as if they are above criticism. Barkha calls the criticism of the television media “a different sort of civil war brewing; one that places us in the media on the other side of the enemy line.” Surely there should be some limit to hyperbole. Sharma says the war against terror is not over and that therefore the government should stop putting the blame on the media and the media should stop criticising the politicians, bureaucracy and intelligence agencies.

How very cosy! Don’t criticise me and I won’t criticise you. Even if both of us deserve criticism. This you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours attitude isn’t journalism, by any standard.

A Parliamentary committee has concluded that some kind of statutory regulations covering the media are needed in the interests of society. What a very fascist idea. But then why do I – who is all for a minimalist state and cringe at the term `in the interests of society’ – after initially recoiling at the idea start to ponder over whether the committee has a point after all?

Calls for self regulation and media responsibility are made every time the media transgresses its limits and the government threatens action. But at the next big event, all this gets forgotten. The television media, especially, is not going to regulate itself, it is not going to respect any ethic unless it is made to.

Worse, they themselves seem to be asking for it, with their `we weren’t given any dos and don’ts’. From dos and don’ts to diktats and censorship is just one small step.

Sometimes, stern action is the only way to tackle brats. But in this case, the action against brats is going to have larger implications for even the saner and well-behaved lot.

One can only hope that out of this madness, some sense will emerge.

Am I being too optimistic?

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Election Victories

It was amusing to read all the newspapers and television channels waxing eloquent on how voters in all five states were assembly elections were just held voted for good governance. We are suddenly being told about the wonderful welfare schemes of Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Shivraj Chohan in Madhya Pradesh. But how come, till now, the only example of good governance was Shiela Dikshit. In fact, we were told, she would lose despite good governance!
In the case of Madhya Pradesh, most media reports were full of Shivraj Chohan's obsession with yoga classes and how he was furthering the Hindutva agenda. In the case of Chattisgarh, Raman Singh was being pilloried only for the Salwa Judum. But clearly, both these people have also done all the positive things that newspapers are now listing out. So why were these not highlighted earlier? I am not saying that the media should have glossed over the ridiculous things that Chohan was doing in Madhya Pradesh. Or that it should not have highlighted the so-called dangers of Salwa Judum. But should it have focused only on these and not the constructive work? Is that what a responsible media should do?
I find the same problem in the analysis of Vasundhara Raje's defeat in Rajasthan. All the reports are focussing on her arrogance, her personality-based politics and inner-party turmoil. There is hardly any reference to the fact that these pulled her down despite her good record on governance. Because from all indications (I have spoken to Planning Commission members and BJP-hating development journalists), she has done a good job in the social sector.
Yes, negative stories are more exciting than positive stories. But this natural inclination to negative stories should not lead the media to distort the reality.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Silver Jubilee

Twenty five years ago, on this day, I walked into the Old Lady of Boribunder – Times House, opposite what was then still known as VT (Victoria Terminus) in what was still Bombay – to become a journalist.

I was an idealistic twenty-something then, with just two career choices in mind. One was the civil services and the other was journalism. Both, I felt, could help me do something for the country. Journalism was my first choice. I had appeared for my civil services prelims in Delhi and had opted for Bombay for the mains, which were due to start on 2 November. In the event, I never appeared for the mains, even though I had carted all my preparatory notes and books to Bombay. A second chance came some years later. Again I gave the prelims and again bunked the mains. The call of journalism proved stronger.

Do I regret the choice? No, but I would be lying if I said I never ever questioned it. There were times I felt fleetingly that perhaps I should have given the IAS a shot. As a journalist I can only write and rail about something, but as a government official I could do something about it, if I was so inclined. But deep regret? Never. And though there were many disappointments and falling off of rosy spectacles, somewhere I still believed that journalism was about enquiry, raising questions and highlighting neglected issues, about providing a forum for answers to those questions and solutions to those issues, about telling people about things as they are so that they become better informed. And above all facts were supreme.

Today, I am deeply disillusioned with journalism in a way I never have been before. I pick up the papers in the morning and on every page of every paper, I see a complete lack of rigour. Three different papers will have three different versions of the same event. It isn’t about each having an exclusive angle – it’s just that the basic facts will be different. How on earth can that be possible?

Basic facts are wrong. Clearly there’s no fact checking happening at all. Laziness has become the hallmark of today’s journalist, the best example of this being the hoax carried out by Penpricks, the blog being run by a bunch of Goa journalists (see my earlier post on this). All major newspapers fell for it and when they realised they had been had, none of them bothered to apologise to their readers. One newspaper quietly pulled it off its website. No heads have rolled in any newspaper.

One source stories – even concocted stories -- have become the norm now. Reporters will be lazy, will try to cut corners. But shouldn’t someone be ensuring that they don’t? Unfortunately, editors are not just turning a blind eye to this phenomenon, they appear to be encouraging it. Some years back one friend heard about some development on her beat. Being from the old school, she checked it out, found it was wrong and didn’t file the story. The next day other papers splashed it. The bureau chief asked her. She told him the story was wrong. Only to be told “you should still have filed it.” The next day all the other papers carried a denial from the ministry! But that didn’t get my friend back into the good books of the bureau chief or the editor.

Where also is the concern for issues? I don’t mean to imply that journalism should be all about breast beating and bleeding hearts. Developmental journalism, if not done the right way, can be quite boring and let’s face it people don’t have the time to digest long pieces on sombre topics like wasteland development or rural drinking water supply. But to ignore all serious issues altogether? Is that right?

Some months back I had gone to meet Montek Singh Ahluwalia for a story on the economy. He got quite worked up over the fact that just the previous day, he had inaugurated a conference on health and though he had made many important points on health in his speech, all the press wanted from him was a quote on inflation. The next day’s papers had nothing on the conference and he was quoted everywhere on inflation. “I didn’t even say anything significant on inflation,” he lamented as he showed me the bunch of press clippings. The following day he was going to be the chief guest at an event organised by a publishing house. I told him the proprietor-cum-editor of that paper didn’t want serious issues like health and education in the paper.

A friend’s niece quit journalism in four years, saying she didn’t want to write about bubblegum and candyfloss. But that is what journalism is becoming today. A feature on women activists in a respected and leading paper needs to have a repressed sexual urges angle – need one say any more?

And then there are the mistakes – spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes, missing articles and wrong punctuation marks. My memory goes back to 1983 and The Times of India desk in Bombay, where the chief sub will throw the copy back at us if we made any mistakes. And a year later, to The Times of India desk in Delhi, where we would be asked for written explanations for wrong headings, poor subbing. Those systems have disappeared.

Was everything about those days good? Certainly not. There were a lot of things wrong even then. But the spirit of journalism remained alive. That’s not the case now.

What saddens me most is that the decline in journalism is being presided over by people from my generation.

In 2002, I stepped out of journalism, to write a book and do other things – mainly a lot of editing work and consultancies for UNDP. It was a very enlightening and educative three years. I didn’t miss not being a journalist (I was writing occasionally just to keep my PIB accreditation and when I wanted to sound off on something) and didn’t even bother looking for a job, though a lot of people who thought I was making a mistake would keep telling me to approach this editor, go to that paper. Just as I was wondering how to convert what I was doing into a viable revenue stream, I got an opportunity to work with an editor I had a lot of respect for and whom I had never worked with before. But today, as I look back on these 25 years, I am beginning to feel the first stirrings of regret – that I didn’t work out an alternative career for myself. Let me clarify: not because the editor didn’t turn out to be what I expected of him, but only because of what journalism has become today.


Thursday, 21 August 2008

Shameful Silence

The Supreme Court has issued notices to the media on a public interest litigation over the role of the media in the Arushi-Hemraj double case, especially the slanderous reports on the Talwars. It has also suggested that guidelines be drawn up for media coverage of ongoing cases. The Times of India has carried a long article saying this is a case of misplaced priorities and that the police were more guilty in defaming the Talwars than the media. In a related development the press has gone to town over the reinstating of Gurdarshan Singh as IG Meerut Range after he was removed following his allegation at a press conference that Rajesh Talwar had killed his daughter.

In all this, something has been totally ignored – the fate of Krishna and the two other servants arrested for the murder. Has a chargesheet been filed? Has the CBI got conclusive evidence against them? Last I read, and this was some weeks back, the CBI said it knew where the weapon was. So why don’t they produce it and why don’t proceedings against the trio start? Of if there is no evidence against them, why aren’t they being released on bail?

The media is completely devoid of stories on this. In contrast, look at what happened during the 50 days Rajesh Talwar was in jail. There was almost a daily bulletin on him and when he was released there was an outpouring of grief on his wrongful incarceration. But nobody is agonising over the fate of the three servants, let alone shedding tears. Nobody is asking the same questions that were asked when Talwar was languishing in jail. Forget opinion pieces, nobody is even doing a news story on whether their remand period has ended, what is happening to their case, have they got bail. I had dealt with this issue in an earlier post Media Under Trial for Media Trial and the current silence in the media only seems to confirm what I had said toward the end of the piece – that there is a class issue here. Maybe the trio were the real murderers and maybe Talwar had been framed. But if Talwar had to be released for lack of evidence then the same yardstick should apply to these three as well. If the media overkill when Talwar was in jail was shameful, then its silence over the fate of the three servants is equally shameful.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Stung Editor

Today’s Economic Times has a snippet in its gossip column, Through the Third Eye, which says that the editor of a well-known English daily was privy to the cash-for-votes sting and had promised to publish details of the scandal in the paper. But he developed cold feet. ET puts this down to the grapevine and refrains from mentioning the editor. But here’s my guess – Shekhar Gupta of Indian Express. I arrived at the name through a process of elimination.

I first thought of Chandan Mitra, editor of The Pioneer, who is in the Rajya Sabha on a BJP ticket. But then I figured that he’s would not have backed out, precisely for that reason. Somehow I felt the BJP would have preferred to involve a more widely-read paper than Pioneer. Now, it could not have been the extremely pro-Congress Hindustan Times. Nor could it have been The Times of India. The snippet says the editor backed out. Times of India’s editors don’t have the power to take such decisions. So it could only be the Indian Express.

Of course, I have limited myself to the Delhi papers, so I could well be wrong. But of the well-known non-Delhi papers, BJP couldn’t have gone to the pro-left Hindu. The Telegraph is confined to Calcutta. DNA, maybe? Unlikely. I don’t see my ex-boss Jaggi being privy to these kind of things. So the needle points firmly to Shekhar Gupta. Now if only someone will confirm it for me.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Stung Sting

The case of the so-called cash-for-votes sting operation is getting curiouser by the day, and it’s difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong.

To recap, on the day of the trust vote in Parliament, three BJP MPs waved wads of currency in the well of the House, alleging that Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party and Ahmed Patel of the Congress had tried to bribe them to abstain from the vote. Later BJP leader L K Advani said that the BJP had taken the help of a news channel to conduct this sting and that he would reveal the name soon. CNN-IBN then came out and said it was the channel and that it had handed over the tapes to the Speaker.

With speculation that the channel had been armtwisted into not airing the tapes, CNN-IBN later clarified that it had intended to air the tapes but its investigations were not complete and that the BJP MPs had jumped the gun. Among the rumours was one that Anil Ambani who held some stake in CNN-IBN had pressurised it not to air a tape that incriminated his dear friend Amar Singh. The BJP is now saying that CNN-IBN had promised to air the tapes hours before the trust vote but it had reneged on that commitment. It has now decided to boycott CNN-IBN until it airs the tapes. However, it was not banning CNN-IBN from its press conferences.

The Editors Guild has condemned this as pressure tactics and says it infringes on the freedom of the press. Indian Express in an editorial has said this “also raises ethical questions that hark back to the issue of a political party’s democratic responsibility. The BJP might just end up as a double loser”.

First I am surprised the Editors Guild has been so quick to condemn the BJP for boycotting the channel. Because I didn’t see any Editors Guild statement when commerce and industries minister Kamal Nath banned CNBC-TV18, CNBC-Awaaz and Crisilmarketwire (then part of TV18) from his press conferences. All because one CNBC-TV18 anchor was needlessly aggressive while interviewing Nath during a brouhaha over cement prices. Nath’s aides would selectively go up to journalists from these three organisations and request them to leave. I myself was witness to one incident during a conference on WTO at the Maurya Sheraton. The press information officer was on phone and was saying CNBC is not allowed. The matter was later sorted out (how, I am still wanting to know) but this was a patently undemocratic act by the minister. The anchor was insufferable that day and Nath was right in getting angry. But banning the channel was not the answer. There are other ways of handling this. He could have complained to the editor, gone to the Press Council or simply boycotted the channel the way the BJP has decided to do. But how can he ban a news organisation from his press conferences? Press conferences by ministers are not private parties at their residence where they are free to pick and choose the invitees.

Kamal Nath did what he did. What was the rest of the press community doing? Even as his aides went around tapping CNBC reporters and cameramen on the shoulder and escorting them out, other print and television journalists sat quietly and attended the press conference. One walkout by all of them would have brought Nath to his senses. But to come back to my question – why was the Editors Guild silent then?

Separately, this particular sting – like all other stings – raises several questions which journalists must grapple with. Should journalists doing stings get into deals with their sources about when to publish/air the sting? But it’s all a question of give and take; the source has a reason for helping the journalist so some assurance will have to be given/some deal struck. Without the source’s help, the sting cannot be done. There will be no easy answers to these.

That said, the whole controversy over whether the channel was pressurised into not airing the tapes, whether the tapes had conclusive evidence (as the BJP claims) or not sufficient evidence (as CNN-IBN claims) will get sorted out only if the tapes are aired at the earliest. If they have conclusive evidence, it will become obvious that CNN-IBN was pressurised. The channel will only earn sympathy. If the tapes are inconclusive, then the channel will come out as a strong adherent to journalistic ethics and gain everybody’s respect. The BJP will end up looking silly. So it’ll be a win-win for the channel.

Anyway, here’s a link to an interesting point made by Jaya Jaitly in Indian Express, about the double standards in dealing with the Tehelka tapes on arms deals (where she figured) and the CNN-IBN tapes. http://www.indianexpress.com/story/343534.html

Monday, 14 July 2008

Media under trial for media trial

On Saturday morning, as I watched the just-released Rajesh Talwar and his brother Dinesh Talwar plead with the media with folded hands to let them walk to their car and later to leave them alone for some time, I was filled with a sense of dread. Something I've felt whenever I've seen television cameras hounding private citizens, intruding on their grief or troubles. What if, I thought, tomorrow something similar was to happen to me or to my family? Will I have TV cameras hounding me like this, stationed outside my house, catching every private moment? I recall reading about Praful Durani saying his father, a heart patient, is not able to go out for his daily walk because of the cameras parked outside their house.

Maybe there will be some leniency towards me because I'm from the profession and some friend or ex-colleague or ex-boss will talk to someone. But I cannot be absolutely certain of this and feel secure.

The first time I was really shocked and enraged by this was several years back when a Noida girl got her groom arrested for demanding dowry. Aaj Tak cameras barged into the groom's house along with the police, into his bedroom and showed us visuals of the man being woken up by the police, putting on his T-shirt in a sleepy daze and being arrested. I thought some sense would prevail. It hasn't.

Shouldn't there be some law/regulations/norms to protect the privacy of ordinary people? Or at least not have the scenes we witnessed with the Talwars?

That said, I am, however, quite irritated with the question that is being posed - should the media apologise to the Talwars. And my immediate reaction is, why? And why just the Talwars? There are so many cases where the media conducts its own trial and declares people guilty. Why hasn't this question been asked before?

Sure, there have been a lot of unsubstantiated stories about the Talwars. One of the first ones in print I saw was – not in a tabloid – but in the very respected The Telegraph, which carried a story on the second or third day about the parents’ partying lifestyles. How is that relevant, I wondered then. I was also angered by some of the bizarre stories the television channels aired, including one by Aaj Tak which reconstructed the night of the crime on the basis of CBI sources, giving Krishna the clean chit and raising questions about the parent's claims that they slept through it.

But I cannot believe that the media sat and concocted these stories on its own. The stories always come from somewhere. In this case, it was the Noida police and the CBI. The question then arises, shouldn't the press verify? I have never covered crime, so don't know how such information can be verified. Is there a way of cross checking? If there is I would like to know.

The first day when Rajesh's release was announced, this question – should the media apologies – was asked of former Delhi Police Commissioner Ved Marwah on either CNN-IBN or Times Now. And he said, hold on, this is not a clean chit, the CBI is only saying they have no evidence `as of now' and he is only out on bail and `walks free’ is the wrong term to use. But that point was overlooked completely.

The media is supposed to apologise for believing the Noida police's bizarre theory and every sickening insinuation it put out about the Talwars as well as those selective leaks from the CBI about their conduct. That's a valid point. But then why are we now expected to believe everything the CBI is saying about the three servants? Okay, Rajesh Talwar was framed by the Noida police under pressure to solve the case, but why couldn’t the same have happened in the case of the servants? The CBI could well be framing them because it is also under the same pressure to crack the case? If the trio have confessed, then why aren't they telling the CBI about where the murder weapon is or where Hemraj's cellphone is? Once Vikas Yadav was arrested for Nitish Katara's murder and confessed, he took the police to the spot where the murder weapon was hidden. So why are we - who are so quick to believe Rajesh Talwar's innocence - so reluctant to believe that the servants could also have been framed? That the real murderer may still be out there? If tomorrow, the servants are let off for lack of evidence, will there be similar demands that the media apologise to them? Will they get the same outpouring of media sympathy that the Talwars got, especially on NDTV?

I think there is a class issue here. Rajesh Talwar is one of us; the servants aren't. People like us can't do something like that (I'm not even remotely implying that Talwar was involved) or shouldn't face what he did. But servants? Oh, they're quite capable of doing that and a spell in jail is no big deal (the sight of Krishna being pushed on the floor to sleep while in CBI custody made me uncomfortable). That is probably why the Talwar's relatives and lawyers were invited to television studios during the days he was in jail. But not Krishna's articulate niece who is proclaiming her uncle's innocence or his lawyer.

What does amuse me is the holier-than-thou taken by the English channels, blaming the Hindi channels and English tabloids for the sensationalising. I remember this gem from a Headlines Today anchor before Rajesh Talwar's arrest. He was wondering why the parents are refusing to speak to the media. The channel kept airing a clip where the couple are going up the stairs to their flat, and just as Rajesh is about to speak to a microphone thrust into his face Nupur tugs at his kurta to stop him. The anchor mentions Nupur's action and says in an incredulous tone, `and why would she do that?' The implication was clear: they must be having something to hide or else why won't they come and bare their souls to a voyeuristic media.

I rest my case.

The fall of standards

I got this comment to my post on The Hoax Follow up. Sunil Varma was one reader who got taken in by the news reports on the arrest of the former Nazi. “I do wonder what mechanism "responsible" publications follow to check the veracity of stories they carry.” Another commenter, Som, wants media to have a self-regulating mechanism. We used to have these mechanisms at one time. Our bosses would ask us difficult questions. What happened? Where have they gone? It’s a question many of my generation are asking. Even as others of my generation have presided over the decline in standards.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The hoax follow up

Please do read the follow up penpricks did on the hoax it carried out. on www.penpricks.blogspot.com.
It is a really sad comment on Indian journalism today.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

What a hoax

On Monday, all the papers went to town about a former Nazi being arrested, rather dramatically, on the Goa-Karnataka border. Johann Bach, who reportedly managed a concentration camp, was hunted down by Berlin-based German chancellor's core office (GCC) and Indian intelligence agencies. The information seems to have come from a Goa-based organisation called Perus Narkp, which is said to be the intelligence wing of the GCC. One paper even had a map detailing Bach's various places of stay - Argentina, Bulgaria etc etc.

But the next day only Indian Express reported the Karnataka police as saying that they didn't know anything about it and it could well be a media hoax http://www.indianexpress.com/story/329584.html.

Strangely enough, DNA carried the first story about Bach's so-called arrest the day after everyone else did and when questions were already being raised about it.

The hoax was carried out by a Goan media blog - www.penpricks.blogspot.com. Go to the site and read all about how it was done. Absolutely brilliant! And hilarious, but what a tragedy for the media, to think that everyone swallowed this.

This is lazy journalism at its worst. The trend of relying only on press releases for stories has worried a lot of us who came into the profession 20-25 years back. Shouldn't what Indian Express did the day the story broke been done the day the press release landed in every newspaper office? And shouldn't all newspapers have done this checking (late though it was) that Express did? Or did Indian Express do it after realising that it had been, well, had? Uncomfortable questions for which there will be no answers, unfortunately.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Comic Relief

This one is just too funny. It happened on CNN-IBN during the breaking news on the PDP withdrawing support to the Congress-led coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. The anchor was speaking to Omar Abdullah, who heads the National Conference. She told him to hold on while she got a PDP minister on the line. Someone came on the line and the anchor asked him a rather involved question. At the end, he said he was not the person concerned!!!!!

A Very Relevant Column

An excellent piece in today's Business Standard

The problem that is the media

LINE & LENGTH

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan / New Delhi June 28, 2008, 0:36 IST

http://business-standard.com/common/news_article.php?leftnm=10&bKeyFlag=BO&autono=327286

The media needs to introspect about the steep increase in the dissatisfaction with it.

Between 1980 and 1997, I was a full-time journalist. Since then I have been a columnist for this newspaper. This takes up, on average, about three hours a day. In the remaining time, I do a bit of this and a bit of that and it is great fun.

But since my primary identity has been of a journalist, it is not surprising that people should complain to me about the media as if I can do something about it. Initially, I would defend my professional colleagues as being more sinned against than sinning. But not any longer because I think the journalists have a lot to answer for.

So I have decided to devote this article to the media, for two reasons. The first is that 11 years is a long enough time for me to be able to stop defending my former professional colleagues. Second, in the last few months, there has been a steep increase in the number of times people have voiced very deep dis-satisfaction with the media.

Thus, when people complain, it turns out very quickly that they are complaining about television. Print is usually less complained against.

Second, if you ask enough questions, it turns out that most of the complaints are occasioned by irritation rather than a factual mistake in reporting. That perhaps explains why there are fewer complaints against print, which irritates no one except those about whom it has got the facts wrong. They, of course, are incensed but it is only by chance that one gets to meet them when they are really angry. Some, of course, phone to protest.

Third, in the financial press - about which I can claim to know something - it is not mala fide (as is often assumed) but plain old fashioned ignorance that lies at the heart of the problem. This is not to say there are no bent journalists. But they are far fewer now than a decade ago.

Ignorance manifests in some strange ways. For example, a day before the RBI increased the interest rates, the largest circulated newspaper in the country reported that no such thing was even being contemplated. And when the increase was actually announced, the reporter on the largest-viewed business channel just lost it, saying the RBI had misled the markets because it had said that it "soothing" things just the previous day. Recently, a well-reputed newspaper carried a report on page one that every dollar that India accumulated between April and June cost it Rs 169 per dollar. The actual figure was less than Rs 43.

Fourth, there has been a staggering increase in the number of publications, and with it, a corresponding increase in the number of columnists, that is writers who have a fixed space reserved for them in the publication. The result is that persons with very little understanding, leave alone comprehension, have become pundits, writing pretty much what they please. (Many people believe I am one of them but a pox on them).

Fifth, with only a few exceptions, there has been a general devaluation of the editorial. Few papers ever took them seriously but now in most newspapers it has become just one more hole in the page to be filled. And, what is worse, many important newspapers, it has become a vehicle for airing the personal opinion of the editor, rather than that of some group or class interest, which is what the editorial used to do in the past. Two striking examples of this are worth citing. One is the manner in which the nuclear deal has been written about by a leading newspaper from the south ? India will become a US pawn in that country's battle against China. The other was the view, expressed repeatedly, in a BJP paper from Delhi that the exit of Nepal's monarch was a blow against Hindus, quite disregarding the fact that those who voted the monarch out were themselves Hindus. There has also been a steep decline in the intellectual quality of the persons charged with writing editorials because it costs so much to hire a clever, well-read and sensible writers.

Sixth, the proliferation of TV channels and its hit-and-run nature has meant the deployment of a vast army of the untutored persons who not only report the news but also, as they babble along, give opinions, usually in response to some inane question from the anchor. But, as I said, these persons are merely irritating. It is the print media that hurts more.

I can go on but the short point is clear: those who complain against the media have a much stronger case today than they did in the past. It is the media, particularly television, which has to take corrective steps. The policy only maximising viewership matters has resulted in people not watching the news as much as they used to ? they read the ticker underneath instead.

In the old days, they used to shoot the messenger who brought bad news. Now the messengers are shooting themselves.


Friday, 27 June 2008

Why?

Why is it that it is only a Calcutta paper - The Telegraph - that is following up a story about 300 children missing from Ghaziabad's villages since January 2007? The Delhi media seems to be completely obsessed with the Aarushi case, involving `people like us' even though there was a small report around the time that case broke. Something similar happened in the case of Nithari. When AnantGupta (son of the former head of Adobe Systems) was kidnapped, one Delhi paper had a story about how children were going missing from Nithari. Nobody, not the papers, not the television channels, followed this up. Then the skeletons were found and all hell broke loose. Soon after that Barkha Dutt wrote in her HT column lamenting how the media had got a whiff of the Nithari problem but had ignored it. One would have expected that after that, the media would be more alert. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Only telegraph has done two stories on this.

Dadagiri by Journalists

I was aghast to see in today’s Pioneer a report about how journalists are demanding revival of CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme) facilities for them. Apparently at the cabinet briefing, they gheraoed the minister of state in the PMO, Prithviraj Chavan, and forced him to assure them that he would take up the matter with the Prime Minister. But they were not satisfied with that and said they would not let the briefing start without a satisfactory answer. They were finally persuaded to allow the briefing to proceed.

This is nothing but dadagiri. One, journalists have no business demanding health facilities from the government, especially those meant for government employees. An unrelated point: the CGHS facility for government employees (which is hugely corruption ridden) is itself being pared down because of the financial strain. Secondly, they have no business holding up a press briefing on a cabinet meeting for these kind of demands.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Ruminating on the Media

There's a lot that is disturbing about the media - the focus of stories, the legwork (or lack of it) for stories, the slants, the grammatical and spelling mistakes. I'll be putting down thoughts on it from time to time, when something strikes me. They will be short pieces, mere passing thoughts.
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