On an earlier occasion, reference was made to the fact that The Indian Express had won the International Press Institute India Award for excellence in journalism during 2005. But no mention was made as to who constituted the jury. Now The Hindu (November 19) tells us that the jury was headed by Justice A.S. Anand, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and consisted of N. Ravi, chairman, IPI-India and editor of The Hindu, Shobhana Bhartia, editorial Director Hindustan Times, Philip Mathew, Managing Editor Malayala Manorama and M.K.Razda, editor-in-chief, Press Trust of India. And this is the point: Express and other papers are rivals and yet those very rivals gave Express credit for excellence.
May it be said that this reflects the utter impartiality of IPI?India and the very credibility of members of the jury. Congratulations, gentlemen. You have made all of us proud. Only the other day The Times of India (November 19) invited Shashi Tharoor?everyone by now should know who he is?to be Guest Editor for a day. An old gimmick, but let that go. Tharoor was honest to the core. In an article that was given front page second lead prominence, Tharoor gently prodded ToI by quoting the American politician Adlai Stevenson who had said that newspaper editors are men who separate the wheat from the chaff and then print the chaff. ?These days the prevalence of Page Three stories and their ilk would seem to bear out this observation? said Tharoor pointedly. There must have been some red faces in The Times of India editorial room. To stress his point Tharoor further said, that ?newspapers seem to spend more and more space discussing trivial matters in a trivial manner.? So appropriately said.
The full text of his column deserves to be discussed in every journalism classroom. Among other things he noted: ?If breaking news is now the lifeblood of the television news, taking broken news and making it whole is something only a newspaper can do.? Bless his heart, Tharoor said all that needs to be said about journalism. As Guest Editor, he chose two stories as worth publishing: One concerned farmers in Uttar Pradesh; another, interestingly enough, about the media itself. The latter noted, quite fairly, that all media these days tend to be some version of magazines and that the divisions between media forms are beginning to give way and ?newspapers look like television screens which, in turn, look like very busy newspapers?.
Does the media have any social responsibility? Who is responsible for the corruption of social values? Television channels? Daily newspapers? Magazines? There was a time when one received a major shock reading one whole page on how to make love?physical love?in a Mumbai tabloid. And what is the result? A collapse?a total collapse?of morals.
Reading The Times of India (November 19) gives one the shock of one'slife. Maybe Shashi Tharoor did not read Times Life supplement and an article headed ?Sleaze, please!? which said: ?Pornography and virtual sex are old hat. Youngsters today are using social networking sites to go on a libido rampage?.Sex now is so out there and up front and so much a part of social networking that in many instances people have even given out their mobile numbers online.?
The article quotes a 24-year old young man as saying: ?I?ve made 70 friends and dated 25 girls so far. I?ve had it real good on Orkut. I go out with different girls but they don'tmind having sex just for fun.? And it is to this end that our media has come. But thank God not all is lost. Time magazine's60th anniversary issue has named Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, steel baron Lakshmi Mittal and IT Czar Narayana Murthy, not to mention Sachin Tendulkar and Amartya Sen among Asian heroes. There is still hope for Indians. The trouble is that the newspaper today is fast becoming not a mission but a commodity.
Way back in the 1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had imposed a limit on the number of pages in a newspaper, the then editor of The Statesman, C.R. Irani had asked: ?Is the newspaper a cake of soap?? Well, it may not be a cake of soap or even a masala dosa but considering that people today have to pay heavy costs of accessing television channels or buying newspapers and magazines?especially magazines?that the media has been, for all purposes, truly commoditied. So how does one get out of such a predicament? The matter was discussed on November 16, in Bangalore under the auspices of the Karnataka Media Academy which was observing National Press Day. One of the panelists, Deepak Thimmaiah said in the age of electronics, newspapers should give more space to views than news, now that new channels were ?breaking news? on an hourly basis. They give information, not knowledge. They turn us into morons, not scholars. People are not even well informed.
Consider the story of the boy who was kidnapped for ransom, Anant Gupta, all of 3-year old. The police had a story of how they rescued him from the kidnappers. Then it turned out that the kidnappers, having received Rs 50 lakh as ransom, themselves had returned the child to its parents. Who is right? According to The Hindu (November 19) the entire issue ?has come under the scanner?. The paper quoted Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee President Salman Khurshid as saying that the kidnappers were apparently close to the State Government agencies!
According to Khurshid the entire story ?smacked of something deeper?. Something deeper? How deep? Alas, there has been no follow-up. As far as the media was concerned, the child had been rescued, the money paid as ransom has been recovered, so what more is there to talk about?
And Shri Khurshid himself seems to have taken maun vrat. A PTI story quoted by The Indian Express said that ?police did not arrest anybody after recovering the money, raising doubts about their version.? So what is the truth about the abduction and the final recovery of the child? No one knows; what is worse is that no one cares to find out. The news has been ?broken?. So we go on to the next story and then the next and after that the next yet, ad infinitum. Are we to take that this is contemporary journalism? The attitude is: the child has been recovered, na? The ransom too has been recovered, na? So what else is there to report? So we pass on to the next story and after that the next. In the end we get drowned in information of utterly no value.