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September 03, 2006
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September 03, 2006

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Home > 2006 Issues > September 03, 2006

Media Watch

A journal discussing journalism

Nothing can be more appealing to a journalist than a journal discussing journalism, say, like Vidura, which is the journal of the Press Institute of India or Journal of Communication Studies published by the Makhanlal Chaturvedi Rashtriya Patrakarita Vishwavidyalaya. A recent issue of Vidura (January-March) was understandably devoted to Media Review.

It carried such articles as ?Reporting the Issues That Matter?, ?New Challenges for the Old Media? ?Editors and Leaders?, ?Development and Shashi Tharoor?s Media Priorities? and ?Deaths in Journalism??not a comforting article incidentally to read.

Can one believe it?but in one year, 2005 alone, as many as 150 journalists died in the line of duty of whom 89 were especially killed by criminals, political extremists and sinister paramilitary groups operating on the fringes of society? One journalist, Mohammad Harun Hassan, was gunned down in Baghdad in an unspeakably violent manner. He was the Executive Secretary of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate and also editor-in-chief of Nabdh Al Shabeb newspaper. He was not only a courageous voice campaigning against political corruption, but he also spoke out against journalists who disgraced their profession by collaborating with military intelligence services.

Yes, there are journalists who, as the saying goes, are ?embedded? with the Army. But death is death, no matter what a journalist is engaged in. A recent death of a dear friend, K.N. Prabhu, was most distressing. For almost three decades he was the Sports Editor of The Times of India and no better sports editor has had the paper for a long, long time. He had retired over twenty years ago, but Times sports reader would always remember him for his lyrical reportage. He could quote Shakespeare or Browning, Keats and Shelley with case, but more relevantly, very appropriately.

Reading Prabhu?s report on a Test was sheer pleasure. He lived frugally but wrote extravagantly but now he has returned to the pavilion. This writer salutes him for the heritage he has left behind. Not that journalists don?t commit errors. Goodness knows they make enough to make an editor weep. Way back in 1988, flushed with celebrating 150 years of its existence, The Times of India Group appointed an external ombudsman, former Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati for some three years. But the experiment, alas, did not last long. It couldn?t even have been three years and it hardly created a ripple. Now The Hindu has appointed an ombudsman in K. Narayanan, a former retired news editor who cannot be fooled.

In the first place he knows how The Hindu works, having worked for it. And to know the internal functioning of a paper makes the job almost cent per cent easy. But there were certain lines he could not cross. The editor-in-chief once told him: ?As for astrology and various cross-cultural forms of mumbo-jumbo, I regard it as part of the social responsibility of a great newspaper not to promote or spread irrationality in any form. There are more than enough outlets for such irrationalities, as it is.?

According to Narayanan, The Hindu?s ?core values are secularism and rationalism? and it always seeks to promote these. No doubt it does. But the staff is apparently wary where to draw the line. Thus there was that story about a woman having entered the Sabarimala Temple. In the non-Kerala editions there was a brief report on the second day of prasnam. There was a controversy also about malpractices but that was not dealing with religion or communalism. The finding that a woman had entered the sanctum sanctorum and touched the deity and a Bangalore actress?s claim that she had also done, so got noticed in The Hindu late and only when the Karnataka Assembly debated it. But that is taking secularism a bit too far.

In his column Online and Off Line in The Hindu (July 24), Narayanan wrote: ?We are reporting the controversy in a non-sensational way was the response I got to my queries. The most innocuous story can be made sensational; and the most sensational story can be made tame. It is the presentation, the angle taken, that matters. There was nothing ?sensational? in the Sabarimala related events which other sections of the media covered in detail.? One supposes that it is this basic conservatism?rather than secularism?that makes The Hindu so credible. But one can carry it too far.

The Sabarimala incident was of interest to a large number of people but The Hindu maintained its distance from it with remarkable detachment. Narayan?s own comments make interesting reading. One can understand The Hindu?s refusal to carry astrological forecasts. Kasturi Srinivasan, editor of the paper for a long time was apparently clear in his mind that astrological forecasts was ?mass cheating??though he himself believed in astrology! The Hindu?s staff must be constantly living in jitters. Narayanan says: ?Consultations and exchanges are absolutely essential in newspaper production for doubts to be cleared and creative ideas to emerge. Also coming into play in decision-making is an element of uncertainty. How will the superiors react if I carry this news item? In such situations, the easy way is to play safe, by either referring a piece for clearance or just sitting tight over it.?

For all that, never mind Shri Narayanan. The Hindu still remains a most readable paper. Not many?in fact, hardly any, newspaper has a ?Reader Editor??someone outside the closed staff who listens to readers? complaints and answers them. H.K. Dua of The Tribune is quoted as saying that the job of looking into complaints falls into the territory of an already functioning editor who, if ?competent and professional? should automatically be the Reader?s Editor as well.

As Dua sees it, frankly, it is an editor?s job to look at complaints and be accountable to the public. But does an editor have time? He can?t be sitting whole day and night in the office looking at copy and correcting it or chucking it out. That is the job of a News Editor. And News Editors come to the job the hard way. But, to go back to Vidura, for journalists it should be the Bible for its excellent presentation of timely and relevant articles. It tells one what is going on in the field of journalism in India as no one else does. Even its obits are well written. The latest is about a doyen of Hindi journalism in Rajasthan and founder of Rajasthan Patrika group, Karpur Chand Kulish. He was 80 when he passed away on January 17. But what a great institution did he set up!

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