THE fifteenth anniversary issue of Outlook (November 1) is to be read to be believed. A maverick weekly run by maverick editors, it is a joy to read because it spares nobody. The central theme of this issue is the media and Outlook comes down very hard on it, naturally, considering what it is: Outlook.
The first stone is hurled by the journal’s editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta who writes, “I have been mocking the pomposity and pretensions of editors who not only think they are infallible, but believe they set the national agenda. It is a pathetic fantasy… I call my dog Editor, because he is stubborn, wilful and thinks he knows everything. I use him as a metaphor for the bloated egos of editors, myself included”!
Then comes another stone, this one hurled by Ajaz Ashraf, Foreign Editor. And what does he have to say about the media? Listen: “We decided to tweak a popular cliché and say that journalists who live in glass houses must throw stones at others.” The 15th anniversary issue does precisely that. It throws stones at the giant media houses, their ambitious owners, their flamboyant editors and wily marketing honchos. We have chosen to defy the norm that dog won’t eat dog because the media is palpably in crisis.
And what sort of crisis is the media in? Reports Ashraf: “You must have heard of our transgressions-media houses taking money to plug for politicians, demanding equity from campanies in return for positive coverage, allowing marketing honchos to decide what is news, pushing editors to the margins and reducing journalists to handymen. Haven’t you been astounded at what passes for breaking news? In the quest to win circulation and TRP wars, universally accepted journalistic standards have been compromised. These mortal wounds scream out the name of our affliction – an insatiable appetite for profits.
Then there is a column by the weekly’s editor, Krishna Prasad. According to him “we have lost our moral and ethical compass… need has given way to greed” and “our paper tigers, instead of inspiring us on to the high road are only too happy to invite us inspect the gutter”. How true! Prasad, continuing, says: “Fulminating against the pseudo-secular excesses of the English media is now a blood sport. Truth is, our influence is directly proportional to our ego and inversely proportional to our reach…large parts of the language media operate in a near-professional vaccum, sans the searing scrutiny and self-flagellation their anglicised counterparts are used to. Anything goes and usually does: wheeling-dealing, brokering, corruption, blackmail extortion, plagiarism, poor salaries and worse journalism.
Who will rein in the regional cows? … For all their shrieking and screaming English channels have a viewership of 0.4 per cent”. Coming down very heavily on Prasar Bharati – and very rightly too – Prasad wants to know “one show made by Prasar Bharati’s staff of 38,000 employees whose annual outlay of Rs 2,100 crore is underwritten by the taxes we pay”. And he adds, again very rightly: “DD remains the captive poodle of the government of the day, laying languidly outside our mind’s eye. How much longer can we afford that?” Good question.
And finally, Prasad raises one more important issue: the number of foreign correspondents employed by our rich newspapers. As everyone knows, they are too few. But why? Because, we are told, they cost a lot. Considering the amount of money our leading newspapers make, this is a blatant lie. The simple reason is, as Prasad notes, “outside experts provide our best opinion (and) freelancers do our most rigourous reporting from the back of beyond (and) investigative reporting in politics, business, cinema and sports is now very nearly dead”. Instead of appointing foreign correspondents, most of our newspapers are content to publish articles by former Foreign Service officers, retired ambassadors and their like. Addressing readers, Prasad asks: “Who speaks, if you choose to remain silent?”
Outlook, incidentally charges the media with catering to the needs of the rich and forgetting the needs of the poor. And it raises a pertinent question: “Are newspapers headed for the graveyard under the onslaught of the internet?” For anybody interested in the media, in the world of communication and in democracy this issue of Outlook should be must reading. Among contributors are Naom Chomsky who notes synically that “the task of intellectuals and the media is to ensure the public is quiet and obedient” and that in India the media certainly subdues the public. Another writer is Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who writes about the Indian media that if you pay they will publish you and “it’s a short stop to doomsday from here for our media”. If there is one weekly I would like to preserve it is the 15th Anniversary issue of Outlook. It is high class.
Reference has been made in the past of China not acknowledging Jammu & Kashmir as part of India. Now we have the instance of the British weekly The Economist (September 24) doing so obliquely. It has published a map showing Jammu & Kashmir. The southern part of Jammu & Kashmir is described as “administered by India” and the western part as “administered by Pakistan”. What does the Government of India wish to do about it? Ban the journal?
Reference was made in an earlier column that considering that a part of the 192-page report of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on its interrogation of the US spy David Coleman Headley has been published by the British paper The Guardian, there is no reason why the report in its entirety should not be made available to all the Indian media. Now The Times of India (October 28) carries a brief but vital summary culled no doubt from the same NIA report. Headley it would seem told the NIA that the Pakistan spy agency ISI not only has a ‘Karachi set-up’ to bleed India, using locals through the Lashkar network, but also has an exclusive ‘Nepal set up’ to pursue its design by putting Muslim Nepalese and their Indian relatives on the job. Again, this time The Times of India’s correspondent must have got his story from concerned officials. All this does not make sense. Why should the NIA report be kept a secret? Let the world know the full text of the NIA report. The Indian citizen has every right to know what Headley revealed. Why should it be kept a secret when parts of it get leaked every now and then?