Nobody but nobody would ever call Hindustan Times or its editor Vir Sanghvi as BJP leaners. If anything HT has been the strongest defender of the Congress all the way down from the Emergency. But suddenly its views are changing. And all because the UPA government has banned AXN for displaying some sexy advertisements.
Time was, to quote Sanghvi, ?The BJP was a fascist organisation? and the Congress was committed to freedom of speech, etc. And why was it so much in love with the Congress? Because, as Sanghvi stated, ?liberals needed all the help we could get, we were content to take the Congress at its word and to ignore its previous record in this area.? Now poor Sanghvi is in deep distress. He says: ?(They)?meaning Congress?have turned out to be just as bad as the BJP?if not worse.?
Phew! Fancy that! Congress worse than BJP? It seems that Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi is planning to introduce a new Broadcasting Bill in the Budget Session of the Parliament, a Bill better than the last one he worked on. Notes Sanghvi: ?Judging by that attempt at regulation, the Congress government'sattitude to the broadcasting sector is worse than anything the BJP could ever come up with. Priya'sBill would have made us all slaves of petty bureaucrats.?
Indeed says Sanghvi, things being what they are, ?it'senough to make me say: come back Sushma aunty, all is forgiven?. Sushma Aunty, of course, is Sushma Swaraj. According to Sanghvi, she ?raved and ranted about F-TV. But she never banned it. This government has gone much further. It has banned AXN because somebody in the Ministry did not like a programme on the world'ssexiest ads.? This is pure blasphemy. How can a fascist government be better than the secular Congress? Stands to reason, eh?
Sometimes one feels sorry for the media. Only the other day an international conference on media and governance was held in Delhi under the auspices of the International Communications Forum, the IC Centre for Governance and the India International Centre. The proceedings were reported by The Hindu (February 18). Inaugurating the conference, a former Chief Justice of India, J.S.Verma enumerated the Seven Principles of Conduct enumerated by the Lord Nolan Committee on standards in public life that included selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership. During the discussions, many truths came out. Thus, Magnus Linklater of The Times, London spoke about the pressures journalists and editors were always subjected to by proprietors. ?A businessman who buys a newspaper does so because he thinks he can use the newspaper to further his own personal interests?, he pointed out.
Linklater recalled what Robert Maxwell, the late proprietor of the Mirror Group used to say about editors that they were ?an inconvenience?. They should be, if they really are editors. H.K.Dua, editor-in-chief of The Tribune lamented the excessive influence of the Corporate Sector on the media and said that issues of concerns for millions of ordinary Indians were routinely blanked out of the media. Surely, not by The Tribune? By some newspapers, yes. And Dua would know who they are.
Then Siddharth Varadarajan, Associate Editor of The Hindu is quoted as saying that the media'sability to be ?problem solver? depended on the critical distance it was able to keep from both market and government. An idealist, that'swhat Siddharth is. Keeping one'sdistance from both the market and the government is like living without breathing. One can keep away from the market, but try keeping away from the UPA government! Come on, Siddharth, have a sense of reality.
One of the strongest criticisms of the media came from Amit Sengupta, senior journalist and former Edit Page editor of Hindustan Times. He argued strongly against the ?dumbing down? of news and the obsession with celebrities and rituals. It is so nice to hear senior newsmen indulging in some self-castigation. But do they all practice what they preach? What is worse, does the government care to listen to editors? Take this instance. Six senior journalists (Ramachandra Guha, Harivansh, Farah Naqvi, E.A.S.Sarma, Nandini Sundar and B.G.Verghese) recently wrote to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh concerning ?the grave civil war under way in the district of Dantewada? in which both the government and the CPI (Maoist) were engaged, pointing out ?the grave violations being committed by the Vigilance Group Salwa Judum and by security forces, involving the burning of villages, undocumented killings, rapes and the forced displacement of thousands of people?.
Copies of the letter had similarly been sent to the Chattisgarh CM Complaining in a letter to Outlook (February 26), said the signatories: ?It is both sad and ironic that a government which professes democracy and is bound to uphold the Constitution should ignore our letter?Despite growing evidence to the contrary, both the central and state governments continue to insist in public pronouncements that the Salwa Judum is a peaceful movement that must be supported.?
Ah well. The Prime Minister is heading a Congress-led government, doesn'the? No complaints, please. Meanwhile there are stranger things happening in the media world that takes one'sbreath away. Heard of Hindustan Times and Times of India? In the normal course they are at each other'sthroats and it is fun to watch them. But miracles can happen. In Delhi, according to Indian Express (January 19, 2007) a new morninger?and a tabloid, besides?is bring brought out by the rivals?turned partners, namely?and hold your breath!?Hindustan Times and The Times of India. The tabloid is called Metro Now. Apparently the paper is paying fancy salaries; And why not? But hold on. The story is not yet over. It is now reported that a Swedish group which pioneered the free tabloid newspaper is going to bring out yet another news paper in the capital called Metro International. The key word is ?free?. That means trouble not only for Metro Now but for all Delhi-based newspapers. Imagine getting a copy of a newspaper free! Never mind if it is not readable. Most of our dailies are not readable anyway.
Metro Now reportedly will have 48 pages and will sell at Rs 1. We have yet to know how many pages Metro International will give to its readers. But a gain, who cares, as long as someone gives you something free? In the end it is the world of advertisement that will prevail. Not news. And if it has to be news, it will be about Abhishek and Aishwarya. Unless, of course there is some other romance in the air of which we are not aware.