IT is no pleasure to be critical of the media but it is the task of the media to be self-critical. As the Bible puts it so clearly, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it salted?”
Aseema (March 2010), which calls itself a monthly “Journal for National Resurgence”, carries a critical article on the media which deserves attention. Perhaps it is not known that there are as many as 55,780 newspapers in India reaching out to as many as 142 million people out of which, believe it or not, 8,141 are in English. At least these are the figures supposedly provided by the Registrar of Newspapers in India in March 2004. How much do individual newspapers sell? Aseema does not provide the facts. It possibly cannot. But it says: “The manipulation of circulation figures is also an ongoing practice…companies will deliberately increase pages to make the newspaper’s weight more profitable to raddhiwallahs (waste paper vendors) who buy copies in bulk and make more money selling it as waste paper than selling at the artificially- lowered cover price. Circulation figures get a fake boost.”
It seems such tactics are known and ranted about in trade circles. One newspaper is charged with “editorial hawking as ‘advertorials’ where the editor supposedly controls the paid content, as against conventional ‘advertorials’ which the marketing department sells in clearly separate, marked space and sometime different fonts”. According to Aseema, “In a major power shift in the 1990s, the new generation of marketing whiz-kids” has systematically “crushed perceived editorial uppityness”.
Newspapers are sold with such expertise as is called for the sell toothpaste and editors and journalists are treated “as dispensable as used tissues”. It is a crying shame. Time was when editors like Tushar Kanti Ghosh (Amrit Bazaar Patrika), Devdas Gandhi, Durga Das (Hindustan Times), S Sadanand (Free Press Journal), ‘Stalin’ Srinivasan ( The Indian Express) and Frank Moraes (The Times of India) were held in positive awe by the public. How many editors enjoy such reputation today? And one might as well ask: How many newspapers make amends for publishing false reports? Does one remember a story that was very prevalent at the time of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat when it was widely alleged that the then state Bajrang Dal convener, Babu Bajrangi had led a violent mob of activists, some of whom not only burnt alive local Muslims but also raped a pregnant woman, slit open her womb with a sharp-edged weapon and threw both the mother and the foetus into the fire?
According to a report in The Hindu ( March18) datelined Ahmedabad, “The doctor who performed autopsy on the bodies of three victims of the Naroda-Patiya massacre…has denied that the womb of a pregnant woman was slit open by the attackers.” The report said: “During cross-examination before Special Court Judge Jyotsnaben Yagnik on Wednesday, Dr JS Kanoria said he found the foetus in place in the womb of Kausarbanu Sheikh…To a question by the Public Prosecutor, he did not rule out the possibility of her having been thrown into a fire by the attackers, resulting in her death, but disagreed with the claim that her womb was slit open…”
What is more important, for months together, one of our ardent secularists had gone round the country showing the actual ripping open of the woman’s womb in all its gory detail. Two questions arise in this connection. One, what is the duty of any human being, whether he be a photographer or a plain reporter, when he sees right in front of him, a pregnant woman being gored? Should he, as a professional photographer, continue shooting the scene in total disregard to the suffering of a woman, or should be drop his camera and beat up the offender? Who comes first: The professional or the human being? Aren’t we human beings first, last and always? And the second question is: Shouldn’t those who were obviously showing a faked film be punished adequately for propagating a lie?
What is shocking is that, apart from The Hindu, one does not remember any other English-medium newspaper publishing the story. Many of these papers, if one remembers those days, did mention the story of a woman’s womb being gored. Shouldn’t they publish the new findings, if only to clear their conscience? Or is it a case of letting the past bury the past?
The Hindu, incidentally, had a correspondent in Pakistan, one of only two Indian journalists permitted to function in the country, the other being the correspondent of the Pres Trust of India. The Hindu correspondent, Nirupama Subramanian has now returned after completing her four-year-long term and has written a short piece for her paper (March 20) on her experiences. She would do well to write a full book on what it was like to be an Indian special correspondent in Islamabad, especially considering that it was a woman correspondent, surely, a novelty in Pakistan.
Among many interesting remarks that Nirupama has made, one goes like this: “Despite the heavy hand of the State in every sphere of life, I found people who were willing to set aside long internalised stereotypes and prejudices about Indians and Hindus to try and understand me and my point of view and they accepted with good faith that I was trying to do the same. We may not have entirely convinced each other every time, but we managed to build little bridges of our own… If there is anything I learnt from those personal experiences in Pakistan, it is that these little bridges are the key to peace.”
Meanwhile, it is pleasant to note that a new Marathi daily has just been launched in Nagpur entitled Lokshahi Varta. Presiding over the inauguration on March 16, BJP president Nitin Gadkari was reported by The Hitavada as saying that newspapers must continue to play a pivotal role in maintaining national unity, uphold a sense of tolerance, a spirit of accommodation and pluralistic traditions. He could repeat that when he would be meeting the editor of Sammna, Bal Thackeray, next in Mumbai. That would make more sense. Some of our editors need constantly to be told of their duties and responsibilities.