Do editors matter these days? The straight answer to this is: No, they don?t. Proprietors do. Editorship was downgraded a long time ago; in fact several years ago and things haven'tchanged for the better. Proprietors have come to realise that editors are expendable and can be sent away at short notice.
In the past several editors had to suffer such ignominy. Think of them: Frank Moraes, Girilal Jain, B.G.Verghese, Arun Shourie, Vinod Mehta? their name is legion. They were sent away practically without warning. The latest to suffer is M.J. Akbar, founder-editor of Asian Age who also took up the chief editorship of Deccan Chronicle. Akbar must be the most accomplished living member of the journalistic profession considering that he was the one who started the weekly Sunday for the Ananda Bazaar Group and subsequently went on to launch The Telegraph, both from Kolkata. To start a magazine or a daily from scratch and turn it into a success is remarkable by any standards and Akbar deserves full credit for his work. He was editor-in-chief of Deccan Chronicle till February 29. It would seem that on March 1, when he was on his way to the Asian Age office he learnt to his shock and surprise that his name was no longer on the paper'smasthead as editor-in-chief. By any account, this is an unpardonable act and strongly deserves to be condemned.
A proprietor is free to send away his editor but it would be a gracious act if he is given sufficient notice. If, for instance, an editor is past sixty and has been given an extension in service, even then courtesy demands that he is told at least a week in advance, if not a month, that his services are due to be terminated. Akbar is only 57, and he has many years to go. What needs to be stressed in these perilous times is that proprietors are more interested in the bottom line than in class journalism. To proprietors it is money that matters and not news. It is advertisement revenue that matters, not political analysis. It is no secret that some newspapers are even willing to sell news space for personal publicity.
Everybody has heard of Page 3 journalism. There is nothing that anybody could do about it. Editors?some newspapers call them as editors of say, Mumbai or Bangalore market as if their job is to buy and sell fish. It is not the editor who determines what goes into the news columns but too often it is the advertisement manager who dictates to the desk.
Akbar is said to have been sacked because he was reportedly favouring the Opposition to Congress. Akbar, one can be sure, will find his niche in the days to come but the world should know how the media functions these days. Plainly, there is no such thing as editorial freedom. Proprietors are at the mercy of those in power and one way to keep them contented is to get servile editors to obey instructions. It may be poor journalism but it is good business. Freedom of expression is for the birds. But how well are our politicians and policy-makers doing in their own spheres?
Sonia Gandhi, the high command of the so-called Congress high command has been president of the Congress for ten long and continuous years. That is longer than any presidential life that any Congress leader in the past has lived. That by itself is a record of sorts. In the first place it shows that there is no one in the Congress fold who has the stature to be president of the party. Sitaram Kesari who was unceremoniously thrown out was an embarrassment. And there was none in the party of headless chicken who had an all-India stature. Inevitably, they had to run to Sonia Gandhi to wear the mantle which, reportedly she did with great reluctance. The reluctance has apparently faded. In recent days there has been a spate of articles describing Sonia Gandhi'srole in the past decade, not always flattering.
Neerja Chowdhury writing in The Indian Express (March 17, 2008) noted that while Sonia Gandhi is ?the undisputed leader of the Congress with no challenge to her leadership? and has been ?wielding unquestioned power in the party and the government?, she is not able ?despite her power and authority to revive the Congress? and ?it shows how morally exhausted the party is?. Added Chowdhury: ?The dynastic principle can only bail it out up to a point of it being a holding operation, which is what it has been under her stewardship? noting that ?Sonia Gandhi will have to involve people at a wide level, the dynamic, the dispossessed and the dissenting to rejuvenate the party.?
Girish Nikam, also writing in the Indian Express (March 14) pointed out that ?as Sonia the leader, her record is not impeccable? and that ?one of the biggest complaints against her within her own party has been that she has refused to wield authority?. Is that so? Yes, writes Nikam ?Sonia seems to be made of a different mould?. Apparently Sonia's?flavour of the season? is Veerappa Moily and Prithviraj Chavan, with Ahmed Patel, her political advisor ?being the man for all seasons?.
Nikam thinks Sonia Gandhi ?seems far more confident? and shows ?none of that nervousness and anxiety which ruled her once? ten years ago.
Harish Khare, writing in The Hindu (March 12), tracing the history of Sonia Gandhi'sten years as Congress mascot gave her credit where he thought credit was due though adding that the ?win-votes-for-us burden has also prevented her from locating her ideological anchor in visionary ideas?. ?The Congress in turn? according to Khare ?remains a happy stranger to innovative ideas and policy literacy?. Khare'ssumming up of Sonia Gandhi makes interesting reading. He writes: ?She is content to be a happy and cheerful conservative, unwilling to shake up her moribund party?. She remains a benevolent patriarch always willing to accommodate and reward bogus sycophant and family loyalists. Unable and unwilling to take harsh decisions… she has in effect delayed …realignment with a changed and changing India?. Having presided over the Congress with wisdom, Smt Gandhi needs to summon from within, the sagacity and foresight to put slowly on place, and exit strategy.? That is very subtly put. The question is; will she dare? And equally importantly, will the headless chicken which form her senior party membership let her go? She had, according to Khare, preferred individual loyalty in exchange for a putative Midas touch. That is obvious. One waits to knows what other commentators have to say about both Sonia Gandhi and the party she has led unchallenged for ten long years.