During the trial of Jesus when the issue of ‘truth’ was raised, Pontius Pilate is supposed to have said: “What is truth?” and the story goes that he did not pause for an answer. No doubt he felt that truth has many faces. In contemporary times we may well ask: “What is news?” and if the matter was raised before Jesting Pilate maybe he would not pause for an answer either.
In recent times we have heard a great deal about the shenanigans of Tiger Woods. He is a sports celebrity but in what way is the average Indian newspaper reader interested in his sexual escapades? And yet, almost day after day, our newspapers have been reporting what he and his wife said or did to the average reader’s utter disgust. One might as well ask the question: “What is news?” To the best of one’s knowledge The Asian Age (December 3) was the only paper that devoted a whole page to reproduce the speech, surely one of the best that Obama has made since he became President. It deserves reproduction in every paper. It provides one an excellent insight into the thinking of the US President.
Time was in the thirties, forties and even fifties of the 20th century when detailed coverage of parliamentary proceedings and proceedings in state legislative assemblies was standard practice. An average reader knew what was going on and just as importantly he got to learn what his representative was contributing in the making of national policies. We need to know how many MPs and MLAs are in attendance; how many absent themselves and what standards they adopt in raising the level of debate.
In these days of ‘breaking news’ we only get information, not knowledge. Very often newspapers take their readers’ knowledge of subject for granted. Take the case of the current proceedings in Copenhagen. Has anybody sought to explain what is meant by Greenhouse Gases (GHG) or ‘Greenhouse Effect’? Technical phrases are recklessly used, no doubt, under the presumption that the average reader is a sophisticated lot. Many of our editors and their subordinates need to spend a sabbatical year studying in schools of journalism.
Incidentally The Hindu (December 7) needs to be congratulated. It reproduced an editorial that was simultaneously reproduced in 56 newspapers in 45 countries on the subject of climate change—an unprecedented step in the history of international journalism. In explaining why it took this unusual step The Hindu said: “We do so (publishing a common editorial) because humanity faces a profound emergency. Unless we combine to take a decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet and with it, our prosperity and security…. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage.” Take the case of a story that DNA, a Mumbai-based newspaper, reported on October 11. The story said that the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) Delhi has summoned more than 70 (yes, seventy) journalists on charges that they were accepting bribes form a sub-registrar. The name of the sub-registrar was mentioned but not the names of the journalists. Fair enough. But whatever happened to them? According the DNA report the ACB “uncovered” names of several journalists who were on the sub-registrar’s payroll and who were getting paid anything from Rs 1,000 to Rs 6,000 pm for not writing against him. The acute journalist belonged to various channels and magazines. What one wants to know is whether the journalists obeyed the summons and if they did what exactly transpired in the end? Were they let off with a warning? Were their bosses informed? We do not know.
If speeches are silvern silence is golden. We give high marks for investigative journalism. A story reported by Tehelka editor (Investigations) Harinder Baweja, entitled “Welcome to the Headquarters of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba” was published in Hindustan Times recently. It won the second Karpoor Chandra ‘Kulish’ International Award 2008 for Excellence in Print Journalism.