IT is rare for a retired editor of national paper to lash out at the media for its shortcomings. One recent example is that of Vir Sanghvi who has been writing a regular column for The New Sunday Express. How come? This is the background: On June 25, model and actress Viveka Babajee was found dead. She reportedly killed herself. In noting found after her sad death it was deduced that her boyfriend had driven her to commit suicide. There was a time in the 1990s when she had her moment of fame. Later, she quietly faded from public consciousness. By the turn of the century the media, as usual, had moved on but her unexpected death turned her into a celebrity overnight. The media went all out to dig into her past. Was it necessary?
Writing in The New Sunday Express (July 4) Sanghvi turned livid. He wrote, “That we in the media should be so obssessed with her suicide tells us something about how the values of tabloid journalism and Page Three have taken over quality papers and Page One. It is absurd that the details of her love life and the culpability of her boyfriend should be a lead headline on news broadcasts and it would be comical if it were not so tragic that respectable news channels should devote their air time to debates about whether the boyfriend was responsible. Is this what journalism has been reduced to?” Yes, Mr Sanghvi that’s exactly what has happened.
Sanghvi then added: “When it comes to the media, however, I have no excuses. We are not acting out of grief of out of some sense of compulsion. We are merely pandering to the lowest common denominator for commercial consideration. We know that stories that combine sex, glamour and death find a ready market. ”
And then comes the final denoucment. “I make no distinction between the print and TV… The worrying thing is that the journalists and editors don’t even realise that they are doing something wrong. The new credo is: If it sells, let’s do it. Journalists spend a lot of time diagnosing society’s ills. But sometimes, we should look at the state of affairs of our own health”. Well said. But does anyone care? One can assure Mr Sanghvi that none does.
Take another case. David Davider was once heading Penguins in India. Later, he was transferred to Canada where he was doing equally well. Then he supposedly had an affair’ with one of his staff members who, so to speak, spilled the beans and sought to sue him. Should that have made big news in the Indian media? Not even one in a million in India probably had heard of David. It was not that he had committed murder or arson. An insignificant event was blown out of place and in no time it was quickly relegated to the waste paper basket.
Again, one might ask, what sort of journalism was that? One has to read newspapers like The Telegraph, Hindustan Times or DNA to look at the space devoted to young ladies showing off their physical splendour. It is no exaggeration to point out that one daily carried nineteen pictures of girls in bikinis in just one issue. One would like to ask Mr Sanghvi whether that is journalism too. And forget the picture of society people attending parties. What news do they make? Who are these Toms, Dicks and Harrys for a paper to give them that much space? Is that “Paid News” What have we come to? Incidentally, according to The Hindu (June 24), The Election Commissioner has asked Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to appear before the Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla, at his own request, to give his version of the ‘paid news’ controversy. A form of ‘news on payment’ had been exposed by the paper after the October 13, 2009 Maharashtra Assembly elections.
One has to be careful about exposing politicians. The Times of India (Bangalore edition) got into trouble when, in four issues dated June 16, 18, 20 and 21, 2006 it criticised the character and conduct of K Govindraj, president of the Karnataka Olympic Association and vice president of the Indian Olympic Association. The story carried the heading: “Govindraj, Are You the Dirty Raj”? On July 5, this years, four years later, the paper submitted its apologies on the front page.
It is painful to believe that a paper of such high standards as The Times of India should have published articles without “proper verification”. It is a lesson to all journalists. Public figures, especially those holding high positions are under constant scrutiny. Unless one professes Yellow Journalism, a reporter has to be extra careful in making allegations, especially of a serious kind and check and double check information passed on to him by interested parties.