Unlike The Economists, few, if any, among our newspapers and journals run a regular obituary column and, apart from the passing away of a celebrity being noticed in a few paragraphs, the Indian media seldom tell us of the contribution made by the person in his or her field of activity. When Russi Karanjia, the founder editor of Blitz, once an exceedingly popular weekly, passed away in February last year, little notice was taken of the event. Time was when Karanjia wielded a lot of influence and was known to have close links even with Jawaharlal Nehru.
One is reminded of James Sherley'slines: ?Sceptre and crown must tumble down and in the dust be equal made with the poor crooked scythe and spade.? One would have thought that the media will at least recongnise the death of mediamen. That is very seldom. The Hindu is almost an exception. In a recent issue (January 10) it took note of the death of RK Mishra, 76, who, in his time, was ?a key player in India'sTrack 11 diplomacy, before the concept became fashionable?.
Born in 1932 Mishra began his career in journalism from Kolkata working with dailies like Navbharat Times and Lokamanya before moving to join the Leftwing English daily, Patriot. He rose in ranks ultimately to become the editor-in-chief and Managing Editor of the paper and its sister publication Link. Mishra'slast innings in public service, The Hindu noted, also proved to be his most enduring, with the establishment in New Delhi of a policy think-tank, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) with financial backing from the late Dhirubhai Ambani. Significantly, among the leading policy analysts associated with the ORF are former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, General VP Malik (Retd) and a former Foreign Secretary, MK Rasgotra, not mention Prof. SD Muni, a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Journalism, especially in some fundamentalist countries is not a happy profession to serve, as a report from the India Abroad News Service (IANS) published by The Hitavada (December 29) shows. The report noted that in Pakistan one scribe was killed every month in 2008 and over 201 cases of abuse were registered. The most dangerous place to practice journalism in Pakistan was evidently Punjab which registered a total of 64 cases of violation against the media. The statistics revealed that last year, in addition to one media man being killed every month, more than three were arrested or abducted, six were injured in assaults, about 10 were threatened or intimidated and nearly two media organistations were issued gag orders. That, in short, shows how the Armed Forces controlled government functions in Pakistan. Hardly any in India are aware of such facts. Not the everything in India is honky dory.
In November last year, at the inauguration of a media workshop organised by Bangalore Doordarshan, a charge was made by veteran newsman SV Jayasheela Rao against the electronic media, of distorting news. This has become a somewhat standard practice. According to Rao, ?distorting news due to lack of understanding or to impress people in power, would not only jeopardise professional ethics but also social and human interests.? His advice does seem to have made any impact on television media. We may not remember the charge similarly made by Indian Naval Chief, Admiral Suresh Mehta, following the jehadi attacks on targets in Mumbai towards the end of November. Commenting on that The Free Press Jouranl said in a strong editorial (December 4, 2008): ?Mehta'sstrong denunciation of the coverage of the Mumbai terror blasts by the electronic media must lead to some introspection and soul-searching by news channels. It is a fact that this rat race to be one up on each other has led to unethical practices and sometimes disregard of established norms of behaviour in the media in general, especially in the electronic channels.?
But The Free Press Journal did not spare the Navy either?and quite rightly?saying that ?Admiral Mehta needs to acknowledge as a starting point that the Indian Navy under him failed to respond to the needs in nabbing the terrorists before they wrought havoc in Mumbai.? It is for the government to punish the Navy and for the media to learn in reporting where to draw the line. What, obviously, the media forgot was that everything that the media was reporting was being relayed to listeners in Pakistan who, in turn were relaying the same to the terrorists. One can only hope that there won'tbe another efforts to victimise Mumbai, in which case, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, one further hopes, will exercise one of those ?options? he is frequently talking about.
At this point one may ask an important question: Is the media keeping an eye on places like Bhatkal which is proving to be home for terrorists? According to an MP from North Kanara (Uttara Kannada), Anant Kumar Hegde, Bhatkal has become a haven of terrorist activities. Recently, the Uttara Kannada police released the photographs of two terrorist suspect from Bhatkal Riyaz Shahbandri and his brother Iqbal Shahbandri, said to be founders of the terror outfit Indian Mujahideen. Even the Justice Jagannath Shetty Commission report, which probed the 1993 Bhatkal communal violence was said to have hinted at possible terrorist activities at Bhatkal.
Not long ago (December 24, 2008) The Times of India published a report from its own correspondent that Islamabad has ?consistently been donating money to different associations (in India) in the past three years? and that ?though the amount of contribution made by Pakistan is quite low as compared to the big wigs, the money from Islamabad has put the country in the august list of donors?. Who are these parties in Islamabad that are making the donations? And to whom are the donations given and how are the donations spent?
There are a whole lot of things that one can learn from government documents all of which are available, if only the media is willing to do some serious investigation. How many NGOs, for example, are there in Bhatkal? Surely it is not all that difficult to find out? According to the Times of India money contributed by Pakistan has ?gone to NGOs engaged in carrying out various cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programmes??. Such as? In times, such as we are now living in, every bit of information becomes relevant. It is all very well to blame some one other. But occasionally, why not look at ourselves to see whether we are doing the job we are supposed to do in the larger interests of the nation?