THE 2G spectrum scam and the subsequent Radia Tapes that exposed a few journalists has understandably created a good deal of anger and dismay in media circles. No specific charge of receiving cash for services rendered has been made against the journalists concerned who, in any event, must be well-paid. But this is nothing new. Reporters and even senior News Editors in the past have been recepient of ‘gifts’ from Public Relations firms for obligingly getting hand-outs published at regular intervals. It was all done discreetly, telephone tapping was not prevalent in the past on the scale that now is common and so much of the cozy relationship between PR firms and media persons went unrecorded. I knew of one reporter-this was sixty years ago!-who was given a ‘holiday package’ that enabled him to take his family once to Srinagar and on another occasion to Mauritius. When this was discovered he was unceremoniously sacked.
The New Indian Express (December 4) ran an article stating the kind of ‘gift’ media persons have been offered in the past, they include ‘Holiday packages’, refrigerators, washing machines, seats for their children in educational institutions, mobile phones, iPods and other electronic gadgets, jewellery (including necklaces and gold coins) liquor, dinners at luxury hotels, perfumes, material for saris, suits, dresses, discounts at spas, beauty saloons and pubs, pen drives, firecrackers, sweets, boxes of dry fruits, clocks, watches, pocket diaries, free parking etc. A news editor of a leading daily was given a free trip to France and was lodged in Paris in the costliest hotel in the world – a hotel which was patronised by the Duke of Windsor! The tip he had to pay to the hotel staff was more than his monthly salary, but, of course, it was paid by his PR patron. But that was a rare case. But one wondered what was it that he had done to help the PR firm to be rewarded in such a lavish manner! But in the past such instances were rare. Presently, it would seem, it is an everyday affair.
According to Amulya Ganguli (The Indian Express, December 3) the dilution of professional integrity among journalists can be ascribed to changing perceptions about the role of the media. He thinks that it may have all begun with the phasing out of anonymous journalism. And also to the dilution of values with newspaper proprietors openly going in for paid news. When proprietors themselves lack in values, why blame the news staff? If news and editorials can be sold for a price what is left of editorial independence? When newspapers become themselves corporations whose sole aim is to make money, and not to exalt values, where do we go from here? News is not covered.
Half a century ago, leading newspapers covered sessions of parliament and legislative assemblies in great detail. The utterances made by every MP or MLA were religiously reported. Covering Parliament was a privilege; for a reporter it was the height of achievement. Today achievement is supposedly measured by how often one meets Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi and how close one is to leading members of the party in power. To say the least, it is sickening.
Writes P Sainath in The Hindu (December 3): “The dominant media are not pro-corporate or pro-big business. They are Corporates. They are Big Business. Some have margins of profits that non-media outfits might envy. Media corporations are into hundreds of businesses, beyond their own realm. From real estate, hotels, mining, steels, chemicals, rubber and banks to power and sugar. Even into private treaties with other corporations in whom they acquire a stake. On the Boards of India’s biggest media companies are also top corporate leaders. …. And then there are top political leaders who directly own vast media empires. The dominant media are not pro-establishment. They are the establishment”. News coverage is not just poor. It is very poor. Pages after pages are given to pictures of non-entities which makes one want to throw up. In what way are they relevant to society or to the ordinary news reader?
One newspaper reproduced nineteen pictures of semi-nude girls in most revealing bikinis in just one issue. If nudity sells, why don’t some of our newspapers issue supplements on nudity, reserving newspaper columns for news?
The coverage of most of our newspapers of President Pratibha Patil’s visits first to the Far East and later to the Middle East can only be said to be disgusting. India is out to make friends and influence nations in its neighbourhood and President Patil’s visits are of great significance. Not for our leading papers, barring, let it be added The Hindu. Time was when editors were seldom, if ever, in the news. For one thing television had not entered the media scene. There were no Rajdeep Sardesais or Barkha Dutts. The Frank Moraeses, S Sadanands, Tushar Kanti Ghoshes or Chalapathi Raos were read not heard, even less seen. Today media people become celebrities overnight. Politicians want to meet them. And so would lobbyists. And with what result it is all too well known.
Time was when columnists hardly existed. Now they are dime a dozen. And they become centres of attention. The dilution of journalism is another factor that should command attention. Space in newspapers is being increasingly given to ‘Lifestyle’, to fashions, food and partying. Is one to suspect that one has to pay for having one’s picture published? Or is it that the person who throws a party buys a page? According to Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express (December 4) ” a good chunk of journalists are increasingly out of touch with what their readers think or feel”. So, when newspapers cheapen themselves so would their employees. What is left for them to be proud of? If proprietors are only too willing to make money at any cost, how can one expect their employees to be high-minded? The question that would naturally arise is: “What is wrong with making money? One doesn’t expect things to change. Worse, they will steadily go down. Politicians are purchaseable. So, one hears are judges; so sportspersons and now journalists. We have come to the end of the line. At this rate perhaps wars may also become purchaseable. One can almost see the smile on the fact of Mir Jaffer’s gosht. What is the harm in losing a war if that brings money in a Swiss bank account? Poor Bharat Mata, it makes one ashamed to say Bharat Mata ki Jai! What should she be thinking of us, humbugs?