The media is frequently attacked for its shortcomings and goodness knows often with sound reason. But there is no such thing as an ?ideal? newspaper though there are quite a few ?good? papers which provide a large variety of news. But when a two-day workshop was organised by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publications (DAVP) in Bangalore in early May, the media, so to speak, got it in its neck.
Many questions were asked of the media. Why, one participant asked, are developments in the field of science and technology not considered page one or prime time news? T.R. Anantha Ramu, a GSI Geologist and popular science writer asked: ?How many in the media know that Chennapatnam is rich in rubies, an industry being given the short shrift? Or that the state (Karnataka) has 76 locations with gold ore?? He also wanted to know whether the media is aware of the fact that there are in India some 2,899 research organisations and that, around Bangalore alone, there are some 65 of them. Science bodies also came in for some strong condemnation. K.V. Tagore of the Information Department and ISRO Director and Adviser had their own queries. Das asked: ?Jabua was transformed when ISRO communities came up there. This was also the case with Uttar Pradesh which saw drastic transformation. But why does ISRO not talk about it?? There were some explanations to media neglect of science and technology, mostly sarcastic. Thus A.P. Frank Noronha, DAVP Deputy Director General told the workshop that the media was pre-occupied with consumerism and sensationalism. And the scientists lived in their ivory towers. ?There is? said Noronha, ? a need to bridge this gap by efforts from both sides, to enhance contacts and interactions.? DAVP'sDirector General Dr Umakant Mishra himself said: ?Corporate communications of scientific institutions need to be improved and that what is needed is a national science portal.? But let this be said: Many newspapers do occasionally bring out Science and Technology supplements, though they may not be up to the expectations of the scientists. Newspapers are not just in the business of communication; They are also in business. They have to make money in order to survive and technological institutions and manufacturing companies must come forward not only with information, but also with adequate financial support. This is a two-way traffic. The trouble is that too much is expected of the media.
On March 6, 2007, Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan speaking in Kochi asked the media to be little more constructive in criticising court decisions. ?We are working under pressure?, he said. His excuse was simple. He said: ?We are working under so many adverse circumstances because the infrastructure provided is not good. We have large number of cases before us. We do not get sufficient time to read all the papers.?
Justice Balakrishnan said: ?When the media criticises the decisions, it might not understand the workload or the extent of the time taken on the decision-making process.? For all that Justice Balakrishnan said that the newspapers and electronic media are nowadays taking greater interest in the court proceedings. He said: ?About five years ago, we got one or two columns about some cases won, but now, in all the media, the major news items are about the court.?
That is flattering, but not necessarily quite true. Yes, when the Supreme Court takes some strong action, critical of governments it surely makes news. Yes, if some well-known socialites are involved in criminal activities, notice is taken of court judgements. True, the courts, in recent times, have been very much in the news, but that is only when sensational issues are involved. Lower courts do not get much attention and at the district level, courts hardly make news. It is also true that not every newspaper employs reporters that understand legal technicalities.
Reporting court proceedings is a highly technical matter but not many communication institutes or schools of journalism teach legal reporting. There was that issue of women working night shifts. Not long ago, Karnataka'sLabour Minister Iqbal Ansari made the astounding statement that women journalists in the ?print media? would be barred from working beyond 8 pm as if events of importance don'ttake place after 8 pm and all the world stands still. It was claimed that the Karnataka state government, in an excess of zeal has decided to strictly enforce a provision banning night shifts for women in shops, commercial establishments and hotels. Sources in the State Labour Department explained that the service conditions of journalists were governed by the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955. That was a relief considering that the Act supercedes the State Act. That quietened the alarm in media circles.
Labour Minister Shri Ansari had further created a needless controversy by insisting that women working late hours is ?against Indian tradition?. That created quite a furore.
The Hindu (May 11) quoted Karnataka Women'sCommission chairperson Pramila Nesargi as saying that the statement pushed ?women back into the four walls of a house?. Donna Fernandes of Vimochana, a women'sorganisation, said that Minister'scomment is ?outrageous?, adding that she was contemplating filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). Matters since then have cooled down. Shri Ansari has egg on his face. The sharpest criticism against him came from K.S. Vimala of Janawadi Mahila Sangathan who said Shri Ansari was shirking his responsibilities as Minister. She said: ?He should be taking stringent measures to check harassment, rather than asking women to stay indoors after nightfall. By his own logic, what should women who face harassment inside homes do? Commit suicide??
The law?if such exists?may be an ass. But the point was made that a minister should not behave like one. Happily, women in Karnataka have been left alone. They can work whenever they want to. Even women journalists who, these days, often outnumber their male counterparts at the reporters? desk. What can journalism these days do without women? In many newspapers, they are running the show, the good Lord bless them!