Dr Balram Misra
Press Council of India Chairman Markande Katju’s recent suggestion that our journalists should have a degree in journalism deserves thorough public debate. The present socio-political status of our country, stinking so badly due to lack of suppression, courtesy the 7×24 media channels and the IT revolution generated rapid speed of NEWS, must have disturbed the socially conscious former Supreme Court Judge.
The way he has blamed media leaves one to ponder why this salaried public servant wants to furbish only media rather than worrying about the root causes that generate the stink. A free debate may include many aspects like his declaration that Judiciary must not seize the functions that are supposed to be dealt with by the Executive wing. This declaration, probably, smacks of a careerist’s hankering for a bigger favour from the government, and therefore, his suggestion to improve health of media, which has of late been relentless in exposing multi-phased scandals. However, his approach has been ill baked and far from giving a wholesome deal to the malady. He has ignored the big role played by media barons, the masters that hire journalists to propagate their pro or anti-government policies that have potential to get big fortunes from government, whose conscience seems to have been usurped completely by the overwhelming sense of careerism, so fondly relished today almost in every walk of our life, in every field.
Here I want to share some of my experiences with readers about how our media people have been subjected to by our system. Every narrative is truly based on real happenings at various places.
Undoubtedly, our media attitude towards the deprived, cheated, hence poor population of our country has tremendous scope of improvement. There is no doubt that a very considerable part of media, like politics, is functioning like any business concern. Unlike pre-1947 days it has become a profession, and almost stopped being a mission. The sole aim of the professional media barons appears to be making money through publishing / telecasting / texting sensational news collected / managed /coloured / imagined / manoeuvred/manufactured/cooked or manipulated by their correspondents, often paid less salary but enjoying full liberty to compensate through yellow journalism. Most of such reporters come from poor backgrounds. With their media credentials they move in high circles with often threatening and sometimes blackmailing assumptions of supremacy. In press conferences they enjoy high teas and good food with dignitaries often in five star hotels. Back home when they face the diagonally opposite scenario of abject poverty and the pitiable limitations they get frustrated. Negativity becomes the dominant trend of their personalities. No progress or positive development in society or government attracts their attention adequately. Then they become fond of seeing and reporting only losses, damages, failures and lapses and try to become rich by all means, foul or fair. The missionary zeal they nourished and vowed to perpetuate when they were in colleges and universities gets auctioned in media market. They become careerists, and careerism dictates their vanquished conscience to shut up and do whatever asked to do. The worst trend that sneaks into their being is their conviction that nothing can change status quo except piles of currency notes. I quote a few instances I came across. Years back a correspondent of a reputed Delhi based English language newspaper group published a story about some alleged statement of a prominent national leader. It was quite odd, so I decided to verify it, and came to know that the leader had not spoken at all on the reported topic. The presentation of the story was so attractive and pressing that it could hardly be doubted by readers. I met the learned friendly correspondent and wanted to know the source of the news story. He was all smiles, and confidentially acknowledged to me that the story was cooked by him to oblige editorial policy. His command over English language, passion for details and insinuations, extra ordinarily fertile imagination, and the lucidity palpably found in his expressions, both, spoken and written, were so great that doubting his reports was not possible always. His life style and that of his family made him give deaf ear to the voice of his conscience, and obey the call of careerism.
A Hindi publication of another big media group attracted my attention, not always for good reasons. Its news items were burdened with lopsided views encouraging a particular ideological whim. So I met the editor and talked to him about the editorial oddities. The editor was academically a highly qualified, journalistically well- equipped and politically a blue eyed man of many. I asked him rather bluntly why his pursuit of Saraswati was always ignored or superseded by his craze for Lakshmi. He ignored my query smilingly, and wanted to keep me occupied with the usual exchange of pleasantries. On being coaxed he said, “Please give me twenty crore rupees, and I shall abide by all of your idealistic suggestions and do what you want me to do.” I was astonished. My unsuppressed bewilderment made his eloquence sharper, and he opened his inner-self and mouth and said, “I do not serve ideologies. I serve my employer who had invested many crores in opening and running this newspaper. I must take care of my job that gives me and my family regular and decent flow of life. I am now used to good living, good food, and good drinks. I can understand your point of view and I will do accordingly if I own a newspaper. I can have my own newspaper only if I have at least twenty crore rupees . He quoted Duryodhana from the Mahabharata, and reminded me of the Gita’s dictum that those not knowing pravrutti and nivrutti cannot be truthful. That was what the editor lectured to me in a friendly manner. I got the message.
In a bid to verify the veracity of a news item released by a Delhi based news agency, when I contacted the originator of the report he very jovially conceded that the practice of cooking news was the compulsion of reporters. Unbearable pressure from the bureau chiefs to bring presentable news for daily bulletins often results in cooking a presentable news. “We are paid not only for collecting simple news, but for our flights of imagination also, for necessary treatment of a news, i.e. mirch-masala add with news,” he chuckled.
Obeying the editorial policy of his Delhi based Hindi newspaper a reporter reported something aimed at damaging reputation of a Andhra Pradesh leader. The leader had little or very poor knowledge of Hindi then. One of the words, the leader was reported to have said about another leader the reporter believed to be from opposite group, was takshak (serpent). When contacted to react on his alleged comment the leader gave a hearty laughter, and explained that he had not spoken even a single word against the said leader, or anybody else. “By the way, what does this word takshak mean?” he asked me. Both, the report and the reaction, became a source of amusement for many days for many.
Ordinarily it is believed that the bureau chiefs or editors cross-check all the published news. It is not the case in all respects. While in a remote village I noticed a neta-type young man on a motor cycle. Hindi word patrakar, meaning a journalist, inscribed on metallic plates fixed on the front and back of his motorcycle made me chat with the man. It transpired that the semi-literate man was originally a farmer cum newspaper vendor who, after passing High School examination had started a part time job of supplying news of the rural area to a city based correspondent.
The most important fact media barons and their employees ignore is the crucial tug of war between two strong forces. Broadly speaking those forces may be called pro– India and anti- India. The anti-India forces are determined to disintegrate the nation and then distribute its parts among themselves, or sell them to their alien masters. The pro-India forces are determined to keep the integrity and sovereignty of their nation in tact by all means. The tug of war, its implications, and the consequences, must get serious attention of the media barons and their employees. Accustomed to think in terms of short term gains they ignore this big problem. They must debunk and aim to neutralise the anti- India forces to avoid any further damage to the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India. They must save India. Who will live if India does not? Much is in the hands of media barons and their editors, bureau chiefs, correspondents and the reporters. Justice Katju must address this problem also.
Let us not forget that the pre-requisites for a news person should be honesty, earnestness, conscience, genuine concern for society, and above all courage of conviction to call spade a spade. Such qualities cannot always be guaranteed by any academic degrees.