ONE of former Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s favourite quotes ran as follows: Satyam bruyat priyam brutat na bruyat sat samapriyam. Speak the truth; speak what is pleasant but never utter an unpleasant truth. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had probably never heard of that saying or else he would not have told the six editors he called for a get-together that 25 per cent of the Bangladesh bureaucracy is ISI-oriented or something to that effect. What is interesting is that media reports made no mention of that comment which apparently raised Bangladeshi hastles. That indicates a certain maturity; politicians often make off-the-cuff remarks which once published they strongly dissociate from. The usual excuse given is that they have been misquoted or quoted out of context and sometimes they even go to the extent of denying what has been attributed to them.
We now learn that the comment was put online with the full permission of the PM’s office, from which an explanation is called for. In this particular case the decision not to publicise the Prime Minister’s comment was taken by editors. Good for them. But news and interviews are covered not by editors but by reporters, but it is not for them to decide what should be published and what shouldn’t be; that right belongs to the News Editor. This brings to mind a publication by the Press Council of India on Norms of Journalistic Conduct which should be must reading for all media people. It consists of four parts. Part 1 discusses principles and ethics. It covers accuracy and fairness in reporting, pre-publication verification, caution again defamatory writing, criticism of public figures, right to privacy, recording interviews and phone conversation, conjecture, comment and fact, eschewing “suggestive guilt”.
Actually just reading Part 1 in its entirety should suffice to make a good reporter. Can one publish “Press Notes” sent by disreputable characters with a threat that if information provided is not used, one has to face “dire consequences”? The do’s and don’t’s mentioned in detail in this work are excellent guildelines. There are references to obscenity and vulgarity. What constitutes obscenity? Some of our national dailies keep publishing photos of nubile girls in bikinis – one daily published nineteen such pictures in just one issue! – and one has never heard any complaints. It is obvious that these pictures were published to titillate the sex feelings of the largest number of adult males.
Considering that the Press Council’s publication is strictly for private circulation, it would have been quite proper if it was used to teach what constitutes right coverage and what doesn’t. Meanwhile, a disturbing situation has arisen that calls for study. The South Asia Media Commission of India has expressed deep concern over the suggestion of a government-appointed committee to use official advertisements to “manage” the media. The suggestion, as reported in The Hindu (June 3) is contained in the Srikrishna Committee Report, and sounds highly discriminatory. What the suggestion does is “to legitimise a practice, used stealthily by the authorities, especially in the States, against sections of the media considered inconvenient”. It is a well-known fact that many newspapers are hugely dependent on the government for advertisement revenue. Without such advertisement support some papers may just close down. In such circumstances government advertisements can be used as a mechanism to arm-twist the media. In effect what it means is that if a paper keeps criticising the government, no matter how validly, it takes the risk of being refused government advertisements. That would finish off the media. Is that right? What is the media for if not to fight for peoples’ causes and bring poor governance into the public limelight? For doing its job should a helpless paper be punished? No paper seems to have taken this matter seriously. It deserves attention.
The Media Commission has commended the High Court in Delhi for firmly opposing the suggestion, but there needs to be a public outcry against such evil techniques proposed ever so slyly. But in many ways it is not so much the newspaper that takes care of public interest as does the magazine. It comes as a shock to learn Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister’s autocratic and dictatorial behaviour which has now been exposed by The Week (July 10). That crime is on the rise in that god-forsaken state is all-too-well-known; what is scaring is that is goes unpunished. Mayavati is obsessed with memories of her late mentor Kanshi Ram whose statues are being erected at all odd places.
Recently among the buildings razed by Mayavati’s henchmen to make way for setting up the statue were a jail, a stadium, a Minister’s bungalow and a Commissioner’s office. And in true Mayavati fashion, the media was prohibited from photographing the demolition sites. One learns more about what is happening in the country from journals than dailies. The Outlook (July 11), for example, has a story on Vinod Rai, who happens to be the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Few people are aware of it or of the fact that it has under employment as many as 48,000 pepole. One of the glaring shortcomings of our dailies is that they have no time to explain the role and relevance of government organisations or parliamentary committees and such like. They presume that the reader is fully aware of what they stand for. Initials are freely used. What does PAC stand for? Or CDS? Or BCCI? ODI? UDRS? NSSO? BPL? SEBI? Never mind.