सोमवार, 11 फ़रवरी 2013


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I&B Issues Directive to TV Channels for Protection of Identity of Children in Need of Care and Protection and Juveniles in Conflict with Law

10 Aug
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting today issued a directive to all TV Channels regarding Protection of Identity of Children in need of Care and Protection and Juveniles in Conflict with Law’.
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was set up in March, 2007 under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, with the mandate to ensure that all laws, policies, programmes, and administrative mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Any person contravening these: provisions is also “liable to penalties, as prescribed under the provisions of Section 21 (2) of the said Act.
On the subject matter, the Commission has recommended that necessary directives/set of protocols be issued to the entire print and electronic media to refrain from publishing the names, pictures, home address, school address and other parameters of their identity of such children who need to be reported upon by media on account of certain circumstances including difficult circumstances. As such disclosures only tend to leave their imprint and affect the social and mental health of children in their crucial stage of development.
All News & Current Affairs TV channels are required to abide by the provisions contained in the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994 and Rule 6(1)(l) thereof provides that no programme should be carried in the cable service which denigrates children. Thus by virtue of this provision the channels are already required to carry the programmes involving children with due care, maturity and sensitivity.
Accordingly, all News and Current Affairs TV channels are hereby requested to ensure compliance of the aforesaid directives of NCPCR as also the provisions of the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994 while telecasting any content involving children. Any violation may entail stringent action as per the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, rules promulgated thereunder and the terms and conditions of uplinking and downlinking guidelines.

‘No point in sensationalising’

10 Mar
Crime PatrolDastak, that airs twice a week in a late night slot, has not only completed over 52 weeks in the top 10 chart, but has also become the No 1 show this week. According to the ratings issued by TAM India, the official record keeper for TV viewing in the country, the two-part  episode aired on last Friday and Saturday on Sony Entertainment, showcasing the recent ‘Baby Falak’ case in Delhi and the associated human trafficking issue, scored 6.8 points, leaving popular dailies behind.
Host Anoop Soni gives credit to the show’s director Subramaniam and to the creative and research team that consciously cut down the graphic representation of crimes. “The ratings are overwhelming. But they also point out that we have an ever-increasing audience base, and have to be more cautious about the way we discuss a case study,” he says, adding, “There’s no point in sensationalising. The idea is to narrate a story in a humane manner and understand what leads to a particular crime and how it could have been averted.”
Anoop, who only shoots anchor links for the show, prefers to read the entire screenplay to connect with a story. He also reads newspapers and magazines thoroughly and passes on cases to the show’s two-member research team for consideration. “We can’t end crimes, but circumstances that lead to punishable offences can be changed,” says the actor-anchor, who remembers receiving great feedback for a series on female foeticide cases in India.   “There are thousands of cases we’d like to highlight alongside the role that cops play in cracking them. And trust me, there’s a large chunk of the audience that’s not tuning in for voyeuristic pleasure.”
Crime Patrol’s first season aired from May 2003 to March 2006, followed by season two that ran from January 2010 to June 2010. The third season started in September 2010 and ended in December 2010. The current season flagged off on April 29, 2011. Director Subramaniam, the brain and creative force behind the show, doesn’t know if this season will ever end.
“We’re trying to keep the show newsy. At the same time, we’re trying to keep the grossness levels low because we don’t want to show gruesome crimes too graphically,” he reasons. “We had thought we’d get a little break between these cases. But the good feedback won’t let us do that anytime soon.”

Media and key issues raised by Markandey Katju

28 Nov
Markandey Katju‘s forthright comments on the state of the Indian news media and the intellectual competence of many journalists have certainly raised many hackles. One does not have to agree with everything the chairman of the Press Council of India diagnoses or prescribes to see that his observations have hit home. Nor are his concerns confined to how and in what respects journalism and many journalists go astray and let the people of India down.
It’s not yet a month since the retired Supreme Court judge was appointed PCI chairman. He has already made it plain that he will speak up, and act to the maximum extent the PCI’s statutory powers allow him to act, every time the freedom of the press comes under pressure and each time journalists are targeted by the state.
This is in keeping with the twin objects of the PCI: “to preserve the freedom of the Press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.” For example, Mr. Katju has criticised as “grossly disproportionate” the award of Rs. 100 crore in damages in a civil defamation suit against Times Now and as “incorrect” the subsequent orders of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court on the matter. He has pulled up government departments and statutory bodies for delaying payment of advertising bills for years on end and asked all government departments to clear the bills within one month of the publication of advertisements, failing which they should pay 12 per cent interest on top of the amounts billed. In the latest instance, he has taken up with the Government of Jammu & Kashmir the issue of journalists being roughed up by the Central Reserve Police Force while covering protests in Srinagar.
It is clear that Mr. Katju’s critical observations on the performance of the news media, and especially television channels, have found resonance with the reading and viewing public. He has also found support within the establishment.
Inaugurating the National Press Day celebrations on November 16, Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari observed that in an environment marked by “the extremely buoyant growth rates” of the media and “minimal or no regulation” the focus had shifted to self-regulation, individual or collective. But “collective self-regulation…has yet to succeed in substantive measure because it is neither universal nor enforceable” and “individual self-regulation has also failed due to personal predilection and the prevailing personal interest over public interest.” Mr. Ansari wanted the ongoing national debate on the subject to lead to the publication of a White Paper, leading to “further consultations and evolution of a broad national consensus so that appropriate frameworks can be put in place combining voluntary initiative, executive regulation and legislative action, as appropriate.” He noted with concern the absence of media watch groups.
Several senior journalists who participated in a panel discussion on the occasion agreed that self-regulation was either non-existent or had failed. They felt the time had come to give the statutory watchdog, the PCI, more teeth, such as the power to levy fines, provided the threshold of prima facie evidence was raised high so that frivolous complaints would not be entertained. The other issue raised by Mr. Katju is the strange situation of the broadcast media in India having no regulatory framework. He has revealed that he has written to the Prime Minister asking for the broadcast media to be brought under the aegis of the “Press Council,” which could be renamed the “Media Council.”
Responding to the fierce objections expressed by the private TV channels and the News Broadcasters Association, he has asked them whether they wanted to come under an authority like the Lokpal — if they rejected the idea of coming under a statutory Media Council headed by him. The number of satellite television channels is in the region of 600; of this number, more than 100 are categorised as news channels. Justice Katju’s concern that influential sections of the media, especially the television channels, often trivialise the news and divert the people’s attention from vital socio-economic issues is genuine. As a judge of the highest court of the land, Mr. Katju was known for his libertarian views and delivered many pro-poor judgments. His credentials are strong when it comes to criticising the media for working against the interests of the deprived and the poor, for dividing them on caste and communal lines, and for promoting superstition and obscurantism instead of scientific and rational ideas.
Interestingly, a parallel discussion on the ways of the press and the issue of self-regulation versus statutory regulation is taking place in the United Kingdom. In his deeply insightful George Orwell Lecture, “Hacking away at the truth,” given recently at University College, London (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/nov/10/phone-hacking-truth-alan-rusbridger-orwell), Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger discusses several aspects of media-related issues, including media freedom, performance, the public interest, rogue practices, regulatory issues, media monopoly and domination by the Murdoch empire, and the need to guarantee plurality and a level playing field. Much of this discussion is relevant to India. Among other things, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the functioning of an independent and full-time internal news ombudsman, known as the Readers’ Editor in The Guardian (The Hindu has adopted the Guardian model) as “the most local form of regulation” that has proved effective.
With deep insight and rare candour, Mr. Rusbridger discusses the lessons to be learned from the phone hacking scandal and what the press could expect from the comprehensive Leveson Inquiry instituted by the government: “Well, talking of rules and codes, we discovered that the thing that we call ‘ self-regulation’ in the press is no such thing. Whatever the original laudable ambitions for, and achievements of, the Press Complaints Commission, the fact remained that it had no investigatory powers and no sanctions…it was simply not up to the task of finding out what was going on in the newsrooms it was supposed to be regulating. The PCC was lied to by News International.” It then committed “the folly of writing a worse-than-meaningless report which, as we wrote at the time, would fatally undermine the cause of self-regulation as represented by the PCC. In the absence of anything that looked to the outside world like regulation, the rogue actions of, I hope, a few journalists, have landed the press as a whole with a series of inquiries which will last not months, but years, and which will, I suspect, be quite uncomfortable for all involved.”
The uncomfortable exercise cannot be dodged and The Guardian‘s Editor proposes a positive way of looking at it: “it provides an opportunity for the industry to have a conversation with itself while also benefitting from the perspective and advice of others.” Perhaps the time has come for a comparable exercise addressing the specific Indian media situation, the challenges as well as opportunities.

Media can play a role in educating poor on their rights

19 Sep
Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare is back in the news after hardly a week of post-fast recuperation at his Ralegan Siddhi abode. He has held a two-day meeting with core members of Team Anna and reportedly given 17 interviews to TV channels in 11 hours. However, the news from New Delhi does not appear encouraging in respect of the promised passage of the Lokpal Bill in the winter session of Parliament, at least not in the way Team Anna would want to have it.
The mass movement against corruption may need to cross many more hurdles before achieving the aim of having a strong and effective Lokpal in place. For instance, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), after a critical study of the government’s Lokpal Bill and Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill, has claimed that both the Bills were “unworkable.” Presenting the agency’s views on the two bills to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Law, Justice and Personnel recently, CBI Director A.P. Singh pleaded that the CBI should be retained as the premier investigating agency for corruption cases, in accordance with a Supreme Court judgment to that effect. The underlying principle behind the bills is to give more autonomy to the investigating agency in order to shield it from political interference. The CBI chief was also critical of any provision that would confer police powers on the Lokpal to empower it to supervise the anti-corruption wing and contended that such a move might result in a breach in the doctrine of separation of powers. The investigating agency also feared that some provisions of the bill might cause conflicts of jurisdiction and erosion of credibility of both the organisations. (The Hindu, September 15, 2011.) The issues raised by the CBI will no doubt be addressed before finalising the legislation.
More anti-corruption laws
The same day Union Ministers Salman Khursheed and V. Narayanasamy, members of the Group of Ministers on the media, unveiled the government’s plans to bring in more anti-corruption laws. These would deal with electoral reform, public procurement policy, public disclosure, accountability of judges, and service delivery to citizens (citizen’s charters). These laws would be in addition to the proposed law on the Lokpal. Another task before the Centre is to expedite disposal of about 10,000 corruption-related cases pending action for decades through fast-track courts and other measures. The government, the Ministers revealed, would soon form a committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to study cases that were pending trial for more than 10 years and arrange for speedy trials.
Media have a major role
Although a sort of grievance redressal system has been introduced at the Central and State levels in the last decade, most of them have remained on paper; and where they function, awareness among people about the functioning of the system is poor, according to studies. Besides, the officials in charge of the system ought to take greater interest in connecting ordinary people to the government. What also emerges from the studies is that a large number of officials do not specify the timeframe within which complaining citizens can expect redress. Here is an area where the news media can make a real difference: they can raise public awareness about the grievance redressal system, play an educative role on citizens’ rights and entitlements, and also independently monitor the working of the system. There is great scope for insightful reporting and investigative journalism here.
A mixed response
The last column (“Print media do better than TV: coverage of Hazare fast,” September 5, 2011) has, by and large, received a good response from the readers.
Here are some excerpts:
M.K. Bajaj (Zirakpur) regretted in his e-mail that the news channels competed with each other to ridicule and humiliate the democratically elected government of the day. Even parliamentarians and politicians of all hues were not spared. However, he had a word of appreciation for The Hindu for its balanced coverage. S.V. Venugopalan (Chennai) felt the splendid range of cartoons by Keshav and Surendra deserved special mention in the column. Anoop S. (Thodupuzha) appreciated all the editorials on the subject in The Hindu for their “clarity and objectivity.” Akash Goyal (Yamuna Nagar) noted, in his brief mail, that the column had ignored “hours and hours” of debates provided by the news channels. C.G. Rishikesh (online) observed that the review “sadly” confined itself to “summarizing the editorials and articles,” already read by readers. If the heading had been ‘Coverage of Hazare fast by The Hindu,’ that would have been nearer the truth, he commented.
Interestingly, the fight against corruption in India led by Anna Hazare received wide media coverage in the United States and Germany. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and several other newspapers published reports and articles. Kurt Waschnig from Oldenburg, Germany in his response to the The Hindu (online) noted that German newspapers, including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau, reported regularly on Anna Hazare’s fast and his determination to curb corruption in India. “The coverage of Anna Hazare’s movement in German newspapers was balanced and insightful,” Mr. Waschnig remarked, adding that The Hindu‘s editorials and articles showed that the newspaper as a national institution supported Anna in his legal and peaceful fight against corruption.

The cosy world behind the tapes

9 Dec
Barkha Dutt - Inclusive Growth - World Economi...
Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr
Vidya Subrahmaniam in THE HINDU

The public face of the journalist is of a brave, feisty adversary tothe rapacious establishment, not the party animal who will wilt before the charms of the corporate lobbyist

To succeed, a politician has to keep his ear to the ground. Yet success can be cruelly destructive; it is so deceptively flattering that it eventually insulates him from the very thing that has made him a success: public opinion. For the politician, fed on heady tales of his invincibility and listening only to courtiers and attendants, the moment of discovery can be shattering.
The Niira Radia tapes have come as a similar, awakening moment for journalists. At one level, the tapes are about a nation in deep crisis, with a corporate lobbyist shown as being able effortlessly to penetrate and influence decision-making at multiple levels. If this is a mere teaser-trailer, as reports of 5000 more tapes suggest, what more damning, frightening things are we going to learn?
At another level, l`affaire Radia is a stunning indictment of the media, or at least sections of it. Indeed, for journalists caught on the tape, and tried by members of their own tribe for the lapse, the troubling question is about their credibility. Did they go too far in placing themselves at the disposal of Ms Radia knowing she was a lobbyist for two powerful corporate groups, the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani? Forget the people at large, why did their explanations not carry conviction with the rest of the media? And more critically, did stardom and public adulation cause them to lose their way so badly that they could not judge between right and wrong?
That illusions of grandeur and infallibility can affect journalists in exactly the same way they do politicians and film stars has been evident in the discussions held so far. Barkha Dutt chose to face a firing squad of senior media professionals on her role in the Radia tapes and yet missed the opportunity to show remorse and recover the fund of goodwill that had made her an icon. Her point: She would not apologise for a wrong she had not committed and it was entirely valid to talk to a corporate lobbyist and trade information for information. Ms Dutt threw counter questions at her interrogators, suggesting at times that they did not know the first thing about modern-day journalism.
The verdict was that Ms Dutt did herself no favour by acting so self-important. There were the inevitable comparisons between TV journalists and the politicians they attacked; it seemed that both could be brought down by hubris. Also revealed last week was the yawning gap between rank and file journalism and club class journalism, placed on opposite ends during a discussion on media ethics held at the lawns of the Delhi Press Club. Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN Rajdeep Sardesai, who was among the panellists, wrongly assumed that he was lecturing to a captive audience. Pitching in strongly for the dramatis personae on the Radia tapes, he argued that sourcing stories from lobbyists, even if not desirable, had become a requirement of fast moving journalism. It was excessive and unacceptable therefore to treat this as a serious misconduct. And then, Mr. Sardesai made a fatal error: He said he detected professional envy in the orchestrated outrage against Ms Dutt.
This was more than what the assembly of journalists could take. They were being portrayed as dull, and plodding in comparison to the savvy new media. The floodgates opened and for the next hour or so, it was the popular TV editor’s turn to listen as reporters tore to shreds the thesis that competitive compulsions had allowed for a variety of liberties in reporting, including tapping corporate lobbyists for information, and even allowing opinions to be formed by this information. Incensed mediapersons related their own experience of being able to break stories without compromising on journalistic sources. A senior print journalist with a stupendous track record in political journalism spoke of resisting alluring baits and finding access to important sources solely on the strength of her hard-earned credibility. Another shouted that not all journalists were in the profession for fame. However, unlike Ms Dutt, the amiable Mr. Sardesai quickly conceded the point, accepting that the lines separating journalism, politics and lobbying had indeed blurred to unfortunate portents for the health and future of journalism. The debate wound up with someone good humouredly remarking that the grassroots media had finally taken their revenge.
With the Radia debate into its third week, it has become more than apparent that a new kind of journalism has completely rewritten the rules of engagement in the profession. For those working with television, the glamour and fame can be overpowering, with the high visibility translating into throbbing, pulsating fan clubs, enormous following on social media networks and celebrity status on the party circuit. For the likes of Ms Radia, the “celeb journo” is a sitting duck, a vulnerable target both for passing on and acquiring information. News gathered this way slowly and inevitably acquires a legitimacy that eventually allows all lines to be crossed. From this to concluding that news cannot be got any other way is a small step. The trappings of power work similarly for politicians and journalists. Cut off from the rude realities of the normal world, both begin to live in a bubble of their own making. But whereas the politician, used to voter mood swings, will quickly learn his lesson when the truth hits home, the journalist, not tutored in this art, will react in anger and shock and go into spasms of denial.
Journalists who enjoy the limelight must also be prepared for the backlash when it comes. It can be argued that the journalistic indiscretions revealed by the Radia tapes are small change compared to the scale of adventurism on the part of politicians. Yet journalists alone, among a host of players caught on the tapes, have been at the receiving end of public anger: Rapid-fire tweets, emotional, angry lashing out on facebook accounts, chain text messages, black humour forwards, the responses have fed on each other. Partly lynch-mobbish, the fury is in larger measure because of a feeling of being let down. The public face of the journalist is of a brave, feisty adversary to the rapacious establishment, not the party animal who will wilt before the charms of the corporate lobbyist.
Television has hugely expanded this mandate with journalism turning almost vigilantist in the studio; here the fearless, morally superior and much loved anchor is judge and jury to the condemned political class. What the tapes have done is to expose this virtuoso performance as a sham. The combative anchor who relentlessly interrogates and shames his guests on the 9 pm bulletin morphs into an altogether different character on the tapes, entirely at ease with dubious elements. From the perspective of the trusting outsider, the cosy compact between the interrogator, the interrogated and the go-between must surely seem like a rude joke pulled off at his expense.
It does not help that most of those caught out on the tapes have a wafer-thin defence. The one claim that they have all made is that they strung Ms Radia along — as if the hard-nosed lobbyist can be so easily taken for a ride. The question is: What gave Ms Radia the confidence that journalists can be commandeered to do her bidding? What explains the easy familiarity between the hacks and their corporate contact? How is she able to wake up lofty names from their slumber? If, for all her pain and perseverance, Ms Radia only got the journalistic heave-ho, then it is a serious comment on the wisdom of the corporate groups that employed her.
Nor does the privacy argument work, given journalism’s increasingly ferocious appetite for news of any and every kind. Don’t TV eager-beavers chase after their targets, ensnaring them in stings and so on, often without a thought to the damage the telecast might cause to personal reputations? Taped conversations between alleged terrorists are the staple of the medium. Two years ago, TV channels feverishly ran a “sex tape” that allegedly featured a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary. The tape turned out to be a fake but the RSS man lost his job. TV channels on a moral trip on privacy have had no qualms about using salacious gossip involving some of the world’s biggest names, provided by WikiLeaks.
A case has also been made out against Outlook and Open magazine for not following the due process involved in doing the stories, including checking back with the taped journalists. Due process? If the tapes establish anything, it is the attempted subversion of the due process. As the lobbyist of a telecom group, Ms Radia manoeuvres to place a favoured candidate in the Telecom Ministry. She tries to influence parliamentary debate. She makes veiled suggestions about fixing judgments, and she co-opts willing journalists. In one of the tapes, she skewers the news head of a leading financial daily for daring to miss a story; the quaking, quivering news head in turn apologises to her as if she were his boss. Columnists reproduce her lines verbatim, so much so, when the first of the columns appear, Ms Radia and a senior colleague chuckle at the poor journalist’s vulnerability.
Some of the implicated journalists have since been suspended by their organisations. The media must introspect more seriously, following it up with a clear understanding of the red lines, if lobbyists are not to make a habit of bossing us, if people are not to treat every story and every journalist with suspicion.

Hello, this is Niira

1 Dec
This is a portrait of Mr.Ratan Naval Tata made...
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New Delhi From the website of Vaishnavi Corporate Consulting, the public relations firm run by Niira Radia, a concise statement of what the firm offers its clients:
“Understand mindsets that lead to reporting patterns in news, editorial policies and leanings”
“Effectively represent our views to the media through position papers and regular interactions”
“Hence enable influencing of media views”
Unremarkable PR firm claims? Or a corporate mission statement that’s unwittingly only too apt?
Radia is at the centre of a growing controversy where the basic storyline revolves round questions on her influence and the mindsets of some media professionals. News magazines Open and Outlook published transcripts of Radia’s conversations with politicians, industrialists and journalists. Radia’s conversations with journalists have led to questions about media ethics, and some of the journalists whose conversations with Radia have been published have both defended themselves and asked questions about the tapes leaked so far.
There is now a central government-ordered inquiry into the Radia tapes. There’s also a petition in the Supreme Court filed by Ratan Tata asking the question whether the publication of the Radia tapes aren’t a violation of privacy rights. Tata’s companies are among Radia’s clients, as are other big corporate groups including Reliance Industries headed by Mukesh Ambani.
The published transcripts feature Radia’s conversations with senior editors based in New Delhi and Mumbai. Journalists identified in the tapes include Vir Sanghvi, Advisory Editorial Director of HT Media (publisher of Hindustan Times); Barkha Dutt, Group Editor, English News, NDTV; Prabhu Chawla, Editor (Languages), The India Today Group; Shankkar Aiyar, former Managing Editor, India Today; and M K Venu, who was then Senior Editor, The Economic Times, and is now Managing Editor of The Financial Express, a sister publication of The Indian Express.
Radia’s conversation with Sanghvi and Dutt seem to have happened around the time the UPA-II government was being constituted in early 2009. The transcripts seem to indicate that Radia was seeking Sanghvi’s and Dutt’s help in securing the telecom portfolio for the DMK’s A Raja and to keep another contestant, former telecom minister and DMK member Dayanidhi Maran, at bay. Also, the tapes feature discussions around the legal and corporate battle between the Ambani brothers on the KG basin gas pricing.
From the published conversations, Sanghvi and Dutt appear keen to help Radia and also offer to mediate between the Congress and the DMK.
For example, Sanghvi says: “We’ve made a basic offer, if Karunanidhi responds to us and tell this that he would like to respond directly, he would like to talk to Ms Gandhi. He spoke only to Manmohan Singh. We would be more than happy but we’re not going to chase them now. We’ve told Maran that also they’ve to come back to us and tell us what they think of our offer. And apparently the DMK is getting very bad press in Chennai.”
In one of her conversations with Radia, Dutt is heard asking the lobbyist what she (Dutt) should tell the Congress; the context was that the Congress and DMK appeared to have reached a deadlock on the portfolio distribution issue. Dutt asks Radia: “Oh God. So now what? What should I tell them? Tell me what should I tell them?” Dutt is also heard offering to speak with Congress leaders on the DMK’s behalf and even promises action on their requests. “That’s not a problem. I’ll talk to Azad (reference to Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad). I’ll talk to Azad right after I get out of RCR (apparently, referring to the Prime Minister’s residence, Race Course Road).
One of Radia’s conversations with Sanghvi also deals with the gas dispute between the Ambani brothers. In one instance, Sanghvi seems to be asking Radia on what he should write in his weekly column, Counterpoint, in Hindustan Times. “What kind of story do you want?” he asks Radia.
Sanghvi’s Counterpoint that appeared in the Hindustan Times on November 28 said the column is being discontinued for an indefinite period.
The conversation with Venu relates to the placement of a certain news story that Radia wants published. Venu tells Radia if she wants better coverage she should give the story to CNBC, a business news channel.
Chawla is heard discussing the row between the Ambani brothers with Radia. Radia appears to have called Chawla to seek his opinion on the ongoing tussle and the two talk about courts and developments within the government on the issue. “Abhi tak Supreme Court ka, between you and me, kuch finalise hua nahin?” asks Radia. To this, Chawla says: “Finalise ka matlab kya hai? Bhai, Murli Deora bhi jayega court mein. Prime Minister is also putting pressure on Murli Deora to settle it. Because ultimate it is national loss na, as you put it.”
Open and Outlook have said the tapes and the transcripts are courtesy a petition filed by Prashant Bhushan, an advocate, in the Supreme Court seeking an investigation into Radia’s role in the 2G scam. The two news magazines have said these tapes were from official phone taps that happened between May 11, 2009 and July 11, 2009.
According to a senior income-tax official who was part of the team involved in the phone-tapping, the I-T department was investigating cases of tax evasions and I-T violations by Radia and her various PR agencies. As part of the investigation, the department, after a go-ahead from the Home Ministry, tapped Radia’s and some of her associates’ phones between August and October 2008 and May and July 2009. Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Investigation was investigating several bureaucrats and individuals in the 2G scam case.
During its investigations, the CBI came across Radia’s name and asked the I-T department if it had any information on her. In a letter, dated November 16, 2009, Vineet Agarwal, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Anti Corruption Branch, CBI, wrote to Director General Income-Tax (investigations), Milap Jain, asking if the I-T department had “any information or records pertaining to any middlemen including Ms Ni(i)ra Radia, regarding (the) award of UAS licenses”.
In response, Ashish Abrol, Joint Director of Income-Tax, apprised Agarwal that the I-T department has been tapping Radia’s and some of her associates’ phones.
In his letter, dated November 20, 2009, Abrol wrote to Agarwal: “From conversations it appears that Ms N(i)ira Radia might have had some role with regards to the award of Telecom licenses…There are some direct conversations between Ms Radia and Telecom Minister (Raja)…” Abrol asked the CBI to collect the “extracts” of the conversations from his office.
On November 15, 2010, Bhushan filed a case in the Supreme Court with a copy of the “extracted” conversations and sought Radia’s interrogation in connection with the 2G scam. When asked about where the tapes came from, Bhushan said, “I cannot reveal the identity of my source. All I can say is that these conversations were tapped by the I-T department and the tapes were submitted by the CBI before the Supreme Court.” Explaining why he filed the petition with the tapes, he said: “The CBI has had these tapes for around a year but it didn’t bother to interrogate Radia in connection with the 2G scam.”
According to the I-T official, there are close to 6,000 pieces of conversations, out of which nearly 1,000 have got leaked.
No journalist named in the tapes has disputed the fact of the conversations with Radia. “I am not denying these conversations (with Radia),” said Sanghvi. “But at the same time, I am mystified about the source of these tapes and also the timing of the leaks,” he said. “It has been suggested to me that somebody in the government may have leaked these tapes to set the media on itself,” he said. Another journalist named in the conversations said: “The selection of the tapes and the manner in which they were released also make it seem like a case of corporate rivalry but in any case, the leaks have managed to deflect the ongoing debate on the government’s silence on 2G scam to the media.”
When contacted, Outlook’s editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta did not want to speak on the issue and the magazine’s editor Krishna Prasad regretted “not sending in a response” to questions sent on email. Open’s editor Manu Joseph, in response to a questionnaire sent by this newspaper, sent a note saying: “Open is sure of the authenticity of the recordings. That is the reason it ran the story.”
The journalists in question have denied any wrongdoing. Venu has initiated legal proceedings (civil and criminal defamation) against Outlook arguing that the magazine’s insinuation that he was part of the lobby — that “put Raja in the Cabinet” — was incorrect and defamatory since there’s no reference to Raja in the transcripts.
In a statement on NDTV’s website, Dutt said “the one sentence being used to damn me, ‘Oh God, What should I tell them’, is in fact two separate sentences, neither of which are related to A Raja or the telecom portfolio at all. When transcripts are edited and capture neither tone nor context, the message is severely distorted.”
She said that “the magazines that published the tapes themselves have flouted several principles of good journalism… They didn’t cross-check anything before publishing the said tapes”.
Some media veterans see the issue differently. “Nobody can deny the existence of lobbyists and PR people in the political or corporate space. It is a fact that journalists have to deal with such people while chasing stories and powerful people. There is nothing illegitimate in this,” said B G Verghese, former editor of Hindustan Times and The Indian Express. “There is no suggestion of corruption or any wrongdoing on the part of the journalists in the tapes. If at all, they come across as willing listeners and this is no crime.”
The issue has received some play in the US media, with The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post having reported on it. There have also been responses from media observers. “There is a clear clampdown, an orchestrated silence, in the media on this issue. Television news channels, which will pounce on the slightest hint of a controversy, have not even found the issue worthy of examining, forget about chastising people from their own fraternity,” said Santosh Desai, a columnist and CEO of Future Brands, the company that manages all the brands owned by retailer Future Group.
“Even if no quid pro quo is established, there is a clear evidence of power broking in the conversations. Journalists (in the conversations) seem quite comfortable in the role of players and those who peddle influence…they seem at ease in a space that they are not supposed to be in. And this is neither good for journalism nor for the democracy,” said Sevanti Ninan, an independent media observer.

Vir Sanghvi /Advisory Editorial Director with HT Media Ltd (publisher of the Hindustan Times and Dainik Hindustan)
In at least three instances, Radia is seeking Sanghvi’s help in reaching out to the Congress leadership and Sanghvi assures her of help. Sanghvi also seems to be discussing the content of his yet-to-be-written HT column. An email to Rajiv Verma, CEO, HT Media, asking him about the company’s stand on the tapes did not elicit any response. On November 28, Sanghvi, in Counterpoint, his column, announced that he was “taking a break” from writing the column. “I do not deny that these conversations happened, but the tapes have been doctored and the context tampered to give the conversations a certain slant,” he told The Indian Express.
Barkha Dutt / Group Editor, NDTV
Radia seems to be seeking Dutt’s help in resolving a logjam between the Congress and the DMK, and Dutt says she will communicate Radia’s and her bosses’ stand on various issues to Congress leaders. Said Dutt, “I never passed on any message to any Congress leader. But because she was a useful news source, and the message seemed innocuous, I told her I would. Ultimately, I did no more than humour a source.” In a statement, NDTV Group CEO and executive director Narayan Rao said, “To caricature the professional sourcing of information as ‘lobbying’ is not just baseless, but preposterous”.
M K Venu
Senior editor of The Economic Times at the time of the conversation; now managing editor of The Financial Express, a sister publication of The Indian Express
Venu and Radia discuss industry gossip; Radia seeks Venu’s opinion on whom she should give a certain story to. Venu says she should give it to an organisation that will display it prominently. Venu has initiated legal proceedings (civil and criminal defamation) against Outlook arguing that the magazine’s insinuation that he was part of the lobby — that “put Raja in the Cabinet” — was incorrect and defamatory since there’s no reference to Raja in the transcripts.
Shankkar Aiyar
Managing Editor with India Today at the time of the conversation
Discusses Cabinet formation of the UPA-II. Radia communicates with him on the portfolios that DMK wants for itself in the new government.
Ganapathy Subramaniam
Senior Assistant Editor, The Economic Times
Shares with Radia the placement of reports in the newspaper.
When contacted, a spokesperson of the Times Group said: “Media should refrain from publishing private conversations that merely serve to titillate and can damage individual reputations… A story has to go through many editorial filters before it appears in ET, which is often frustrating for PR agencies…We are watching the situation and reserve our right to act against individuals and publications if they harm the image or credibility of our brands.”
Prabhu Chawla
Editor (Languages), The India Today Group
Chawla’s conversation with Radia is about the gas dispute between Mukesh and Anil Ambani. Radia seems to have called Chawla to seek his opinion on the gas dispute case being fought by the two brothers in the Supreme Court. Chawla and Radia discuss the possibility of the Supreme Court judgment being fixed. Aroon Purie, chairman and editor-in-chief, India Today Group, didn’t respond to an email from The Indian Express. In a statement, Chawla said: “The 13-minute conversation had nothing to do with the controversial 2G of A Raja. Niira called me as she said ‘to seek my expertise’ on the ‘Battle for Gas’ between the two Ambani brothers. I merely told her that the earlier the brothers put an end to their private battle, the better it will be for the public good.”

Freedoms to question

27 Jul
I am happy to be present at this event to confer the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards. I am impressed that these awards are being given for achievements ranging from civic journalism to investigative reporting, and for subjects like “Uncovering India invisible” and “On the spot reporting”. This wide array of awards depicts the vast canvass of activities covered by journalists in India. I am confident that those who have been conferred the awards will continue to contribute to the development of journalism in the country.
Ramnath Goenka, in whose name these awards have been instituted, was the founder of The Indian Express, well respected for his commitment to promoting excellence in journalism. He was a multi-faceted personality — a media baron and an industrialist, a politician and an opinion maker. He has been most aptly described by veteran journalist Shri B.G. Verghese as “a patriarch of the press”, who had presided over a media empire spanning the country in seven languages. He was ever willing to contribute to national causes. He participated enthusiastically in our independence movement. In fact, the growth of journalism in India has been intrinsically linked with our freedom struggle. Indian publications and Indian journalists, of that period, like Ramnath Goenka, joined in the efforts to give expression to the collective aspirations of the people for freedom and also participated in the freedom struggle. For Gandhiji, his journals Navjeevan, Young India and Harijan were platforms through which he communicated his ideas on a range of issues. His association with journalism made a deep impact on him. He said, “My newspapers became for me a training ground in self-restraint and a means for studying human nature in all its shades and variation. Without newspapers, a movement like Satyagraha could not have been possible.” These words capture the essence of journalism and the power of media. If at that time the objective was freedom from colonial rule, today the vision of a progressive India, a developed India and a nation with a leading voice in the world, inspires the entire nation. Journalism and the media are important participants in this process of nation building. I am confident that the media which is a vehicle for disseminating news and for shaping an enlightened public opinion will play its role of a catalyst for positive change. While doing its work, I hope that the media will always keep national safety and security interests in the forefront.
As we all are aware, the reach of media in the country has increased dramatically since Independence. Today, India is the second largest market in the world for newspapers. Our electronic media industry has been growing at a fast rate, and last year we had the fourth largest number of television stations in the world. The powerful voice of media has thus been further amplified with an augmentation in its speed and spread.
With a long tradition of freedom of press in the country and high professional standards, contemporary journalism can draw strength from this legacy. Its role as a promoter of goodwill in society and of creating awareness is enormous. There are many instances where media has highlighted the work and achievements of ordinary men and women who had deeply influenced society. I can frankly state that it is through your work, that I first came to know about the girls from Purulia in West Bengal, who stood up against child marriage, about a young environmentally conscious girl from Chhattisgarh who found a useful way of recycling plastic materials, and about a man with meagre income in Jharkhand, who was educating a group of orphans, to cite a few examples. Through such reporting, media has demonstrated its social conscience. To appreciate and encourage such commendable individual actions in society and this positive trend in media, I invited them, along with the reporters of these stories, to Rashtrapati Bhavan. I am sure that such good work will continue and media will cover social issues which impede progress and, in this context, profile the ability of ordinary people to overcome challenges.
Journalistic accounts are important chronicles of our time. Media should, therefore, encapsulate events objectively. Utmost care should be given to project the correct facts without sensationalising information. While our media is doing good work, it, like other professions, is operating in a dynamic environment and must constantly review and revalidate its role. There is also always scope for improvement in every human activity. I would recommend introspection as the route for self-assessment and course correction, if necessary.
To begin with, technologies are leading change in various sectors, requiring them to constantly change their working methodologies. Faster and most sophisticated manners of processing and disseminating information would require media to look at its delivery system at all times. Till a few years ago, the newspaper used to appear at our doorsteps every morning and there were the periodic magazines. Today, the media operates in a relentless 24-hour news cycle. In this situation, the newspaper headlines in the morning are no longer new. Therefore, while on the one hand, newspapers have to offer readers much more than what were the headlines on the TV screens yesterday, on the other hand, television channels have to constantly find ways of filling up the 24 hours. Sometimes, this can lead to a crisis of content. Issues can be trivialised, while trivial issues can become headlines. The impact of TRPs on news television channels is another issue on which some reflection is required, to determine programming content.
Media needs to assess how it can adapt itself in this era of new emerging technologies. Partnerships between newspapers, television and the new media as well as multi-media format of journalism, would require a journalist to be both media savvy and tech savvy. This would also mean that training modules for journalists would need to be modified.
Audience and readers are not only better informed but are becoming more demanding as well. Well researched articles are always welcomed by them. In a fast paced world, often it is in-depth research that suffers. Media organisations and news bureaus are as good as their research establishments and back offices. I would urge those present here to look at this aspect in the profession, and develop a strong research and data base in their organisations.
Today, the business environment has become very competitive. In an attempt to be the first to break the news, stories begin to be aired or come on the pages even before all facts have been fully verified and double checked. Honesty, integrity and conviction are the three fundamental characteristics that define a true professional journalist. These should never be compromised in your work. Moreover, the duties of journalism and the media can never be dictated by the market.
However, it appears that the world of media is seeking new revenue sources. This adds to the debate of costs and revenue factors in the functioning of the media. How would this impact its future growth? Another question is whether the search for revenues leads to the commercialisation of media and how this would influence its performance.
Before I close, I would like to say that media is a powerful tool in a democracy. Ours is the world’s largest democracy with a diversity of castes, religions and languages. Our population includes economically weak sections as also segments that are illiterate. Moreover, there is the potential of 540 million youth who constitute the majority. So, our media has an even greater role to play. It can influence the transformation of all these groups in our population into being tolerant, harmonious and having mutual understanding; ready to share their responsibilities of keeping this great country together and to sustain its democratic values. I do hope our media chooses to do this, as it has a great capacity to mould public opinion.
Excerpted from President Pratibha Devisingh Patil’s speech at the fourth Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, Delhi, July 22, 2010

Paid news, a deep-seated malaise

20 Jan
N. Bhaskara Rao IN THE HINDU JANUARY 20 2010

The practice of paid news is no longer limited to smaller or regional language news media. If not addressed now, it will become overt as a normal course of the news media’s function.

The practice of paid news is not a recent phenomenon. It was blatantly evident in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections. It has been there all along in the coverage of corporates also. Earlier, it was limited to a few journalists, and covertly. It has now become an overt and institutionalised affair, as if there was nothing unusual or deviant about this. It has now reached the proportion of being described as “fourth estate on sale” (EPW). This practice is no longer limited to smaller or regional language news media. It is happening all across the news media. Like ‘overzealous ad managers,’ there are overzealous journalists. This practice, if not addressed now, will become formally overt as a normal course of the news media’s function.
It is difficult to define paid news. It could also be described as quid pro quo news, it may even be better described as unfair or camouflaged news or advertising. It may not always be possible to establish something as unfair or camouflaged. But it should be possible to develop a methodology even without circumstantial evidence. There could be an independent monitoring and analysis arrangement in a transparent way for a six-month period before a Legislative Assembly election. An ASCI-like arrangement could be mobilised by the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Election Commission of India (ECI) together. Various bodies like the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) should also be involved in formulating guidelines. But they should not wait for a consensus.
Much-talked-about political reforms, particularly electoral reforms, are yet to see the light. In the meanwhile, everyone knows how money and media power in India’s electoral politics has been on the increase. The ‘note for vote’ phenomenon nationwide is hardly a secret. Transparency by way of disclosures both by political parties and contesting candidates is vital. The ECI’s measures to restrain money power and media power should be viewed as well within its purview. In a democracy, free and fair elections and a free press are equally important. Each should sustain the vibrancy of the other.
The situation calls for protective measures and corrective initiatives by news media themselves in their own interest and by other stakeholders in civil society. No single initiative or measure can curb such deviant behaviour; a combination is required in the spirit of “checks and balance.” The best bet, of course, is a more active audience and citizenry. But in the absence of such sustained activism, three-pronged efforts are needed. First, from within news media, individually, and as a Fourth Estate institution. Secondly, from professional bodies like academics, independent research and civil society groups. Lastly, from regulatory agencies like the PCI, the ECI, the Information Commission, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Series of initiatives needed
1. Dependence on ratings/ranking: There are by corporate instruments, not editorial ones. Discussions on the pros and cons of this syndrome need to be encouraged and promoted so that more reliable and relevant criteria can be evolved in such a way that the credibility of the news media is retained.
2. Disclosure practice: This should happen at two levels. One, news media must state any conflict of interests in the course of news coverage and presentation. The media should also disclose their own ethical code or standards. They should indicate the responsible person for such disclosures periodically, like the readers’ editor, ombudsman or a panel of internal and external experts. The disclosure should also be of revenues, linkages with other industries and corporates, and shareholding in other media. Disclosure should be built into the reporting pattern as well, as Mint has been doing for a couple of years. The news media, for example, should report on their own how much space and time they have devoted to commercials in the previous quarter or six months. Editors too could disclose their assets voluntarily and periodically in their own interest.
3. Redressal arrangements: Complaints about any aspect of media operations have positive implications — for content. There should be some provision for readers and viewers to “write back” or “talk back” and for an explanation in turn by the person responsible in the news media. The Readers Editor of The Hindu has set a good precedent in taking note of complaints and explaining wherever necessary, as he did in the case of the paid news phenomenon. News media should promote such arrangement so that readers and viewers are aware of it. This is over and above what the state agencies are expected to do. In the more specific context of paid news during elections, the Election Commission should be both proactive and also take on measures to curb such practices on its own and preferably with the Press Council of India.
4. Media watch: Academic bodies, independent research agencies, and civil society groups should be encouraged to monitor media contents and articulate their views from time to time. Several such independent media watch groups are needed in the country. Basic data based on trends of space and time for advertisements and analysis of ad content is essential for preventive initiatives. The Centre for Media Studies (CMS) has been doing this. In fact, way back in 1995, it came up with the description, “marketing media not mass media.” And in 2001 it brought out a publication for the first time, “Paradigm shifts in media operations.”
5. Professional bodies engaged or associated with news media in various capacities like the Editors Guild, the Advertising Standards Council of India, journalists associations, and the Indian Broadcasters Foundation, should take the initiative towards a more responsible and accountable news media. This can be done by setting up their own panel, as the Editors Guild did in the case of paid news and codes or guidelines for their members, particularly on conflict of interest.
6. State bodies like the Press Council of India, the Information Commissions, TRAI, and the Election Commission of India need to be proactive. Only then can they play their role. But their taking up deviations by individual news media organisations is equally important. The Press Council should come up with guidelines after involving the media across the country (even if a consensus is not possible) and the Election Commission should take the responsibility to implement the guidelines.
7. The media should be brought under the Right to Information Act (RTI) so that some accountability comes into media operations and managements.
8. Government media campaigns, other than on specific occasions, should be discouraged six months before elections.
9. Real-time counselling services should be provided to individual journalists, political leaders, and candidates in specific situations on how they should go about their tasks in a given context. Such counselling can be by an independent body but specialised.
10. Guidelines, however broad, for the news media on poll coverage should be formulated. Television channels and newspapers should be viewed together in relation to their coverage of candidates, parties, issues, and campaigns.
11. Limits on ads either in terms of percentage of space or time or in terms of percentage of revenue from commercials can be considered. Such limits may not be legally sustainable but could come through a voluntary industrial effort. Apart from this, advertisements of all kinds should be positioned distinctly to demarcate them from the edited space and time the same way as facts and comments are demarcated from news reporting.
The practice of paid news or camouflaged news or advertising is not limited to election times. It was not something new, which was encountered for the first time, during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The practice has been there in many different contexts and for much longer. It is not always possible to isolate such coverage. Circumstantial evidence may not always be available. Nevertheless, guidelines can be worked out for an independent monitoring and analysis arrangement in a transparent way. By not taking cognisance even when the practice has been brought to public notice, the concerned agencies have failed and professional bodies have gone along. The malaise lies much deeper. As free and fair elections are as important as a free and independent press, correctives are needed in our electoral process too. The issues involved need to be addressed comprehensively and the ‘cleaning wounds’ approach will have only a temporary effect.
(Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao is founder Chairman of CMS Academy of Communication & Convergence Studies;
Email: nbrao@cmsindia.org)

The changing face of Indian media

10 Jan
Journalists must protect social equilibrium, says Justice G.N. Ray
The technological breakthrough in printing has brought in unforeseen structural change in the print media. It has not only helped in better designing and layout and more attractive presentation with improved colour scheme in printing of the papers but also made it feasible and economically viable to print more multi-edition copies faster and at lesser cost with better get up and attractive type, thus, enabling the press to cater to more readers stationed at different locations.
Today’s readers of the print media have a wide variety of options to choose from the publications devoted to specialised subjects because of diverse information easily available on account of technological development. With a click of the mouse news and happenings in every part of the globe are before you.
The advertisement revenue has become the main revenue base of the press. In the case of the metropolitan press, it accounts for about 70-80 per cent of its total revenue. Consequently, space in the newspapers is disproportionately occupied by the advertisements. The gap between news and advertisement ratio is fast widening.
The advertisements have also made inroads in the policy and outlook of the newspapers in more sense than one. With the rapid growth of advertisements by way of corporate communication and for luring potential consumers, the revenue earning of a newspaper from such advertisements is very often quite robust.
Investigative journalism as sting operation has opened a new chapter in the history of the press. It has made the press to acquire a more powerful position and has helped to enhance the image of the press as an active watchdog of society. Unfortunately, investigative journalism has often been misused to settle personal scores or to tarnish the image or blackmail individuals and men in position. This aspect of media behaviour deserves a careful scrutiny for taking appropriate remedial measures.
Today’s media, particularly big national level newspapers, are mostly owned by the corporate houses. These newspapers barring a few are running the newspapers to derive more and more profits like commercial enterprises. More and more revenue from corporate houses and commercial ventures being targeted, news content and articles have orientation suiting corporate houses and business community.
The emergence of big media houses and corporatisation of media is heading fast towards monopoly in the media. This is a matter of concern.
The small and medium newspapers, particularly regional newspapers with low circulation and operating in remote rural areas, are facing acute financial crisis and their survival is at stake because of rapid spreading of wings by big newspapers covering a large number of cities and districts.
The media, like other institutions, has also succumbed to the vice of malpractices and corruption. In the media, such malpractices operate in both explicit and implicit forms. Yellow journalism and blackmail were the known forms of corruption in journalism. But in today’s media functioning, subtle and implicit form of corruption is creating greater mischief.
The distortion, disinformation and “paid news syndrome” aimed to serve certain interests and suppression of news and concerns of other interests have become a usual feature in the media. The promotion of certain politicians and political groups, business magnets, commercial and industrial interests, products and services, and entertainment programmes through induced news and favourable articles and in the process, maligning rivals through interviews, articles, reports, so-called surveys and reviews have ushered in an era of tainted communication.
In the last parliamentary elections, the media in general and print media in particular has indulged in nefarious monetary deals with some politicians and candidates by agreeing to publish only their views not as advertisements but as news items and not to publish the viewpoints of other candidates and even publish news items against rival candidates as desired by the other party in exchange of specified amount of money. This “paid news syndrome” was so rampant that voices of concern were raised by members of various journalists’ unions and also members of civil society and eminent media personalities.
A committee has been set up by the Press Council of India to collect inputs from various parts of the country and make in-depth study of the malady of “paid news syndrome” in elections and to make its recommendation to the Press Council. Newspapers enjoy freedom of speech and expression as the watchdog of the nation and as a representative voice of the people with a solemn duty to inform the people and the government correctly and dispassionately. They do not enjoy freedom of speech and expression to misinform and give distorted news and project views of a particular party or group in the guise of news for monetary consideration.
Of late, trial by media of sub judice matters and incorrect reporting of court proceedings have become a disturbing phenomenon. Being perturbed by this growing menace, at the initiation of the Chief Justice of India, the Supreme Curt Legal Services Authority in association with Press Council of India, Editors’ Guild of India and Indian Law Institute organised a national level seminar in New Delhi to discuss this malady and to evolve remedial measures which were followed by regional conferences held in Kochi, Bhubaneswar, Mumbai and Guwahati. A training programme for reporters of court proceedings was also arranged.
Earlier, the editor used to control the contents of the newspaper, including the advertisements. Today, the office of the editor has been marginalised and the editor has very little or no say about the contents of the newspaper. It is the manager or director in-charge of advertisement who decides what space is to be left for contents to be published other than advertisements or write-ups desired by the advertisers and corporate sector.
It, therefore, does not require imagination to comprehend that real contents in the newspaper will be consumer and material-oriented thereby blatantly ignoring appropriate news. There is an imperative need to address serious issues for public awareness and good governance.
The representatives of media in seminars or round table concerning media functioning often assert boldly that the news contents are aimed to cater the felt-eed of the readers which they perceive as their duty and first priority. Such assertion is not only incorrect but a random statement without any basis.
The media being the most powerful mass communicator and watchdog of the nation and also the fourth pillar of democracy has a solemn duty to educate and inform people properly and correctly with appropriate news contents and not to slowly inert the urge of the readers for good and rich news contents, articles and write-ups.
By highlighting the needs and aspirations of the grassroot level of society, the media can truly contribute to the creation of a vibrant and developing India where every citizen would be equal.
The press in India has always been at the forefront of national life. Even though there has been a considerable erosion of ethics over the decades since Independence, the basic values adhered to by the Indian media over the ages, still continue to inspire. The media has always risen to the situation whenever there is a crisis.
In this new era of journalism rich with booming information and mindboggling entertainment and in the context of global invasion and competition, the need of the hour is sober introspection by the journalists and not losing the focus on the paramount duty of the media to be the fourth estate without making any compromise with vested interest.
In a multi-religious, multilingual and multi-ethnic denominations comprising the polity of India, the social fabric is quite delicate. Journalists must be very sensitive to this delicate and fragile social structure and should refrain from doing any act which may even remotely disturb the equilibrium of society.
The writer is Chairman, Press Council of India, New Delhi. This article is excerpted from his keynote address at the inaugural session of National Press Day in Hyderabad

The gains from masking reality

19 Nov
How can a media hawking editorial space to politicians and their parties for personal use, capture the reality for its readers and analyse it with sensitivity and honesty?

To most of the smart whiz-kid managers planning to reinvent the print media as a lucrative multi-language business, the small-town market today is by and large an autonomous phenomenon, somewhat constrained by politics but not reducible to it. This theory has the genius of appearing to bow humbly before the reciprocal issue of how the vernacular media affect and shape local society and vice versa, while actually planning to straddle it, whip in hand.
The vernacular media establishment needs to watch out for such perfect-sounding inventions that never actually do what their labels claim, like diet pills or hair restoring substances. Attractive as the managerial dreams may look, the Hindi media themselves have so far not negotiated on their own terms the actual relationship between the uppity new investor and the class-specific vernacular readership. They lack a specific and clear system that can effectively firewall editorial in case the deal goes sour after an initial positive showing.
Many recent steps redefining news and its dissemination in the newspapers were taken hastily after bypassing the editorial department. They may have introduced lethal and invisible viruses within the system that may corrode and finally kill the newspaper. The vernacular media may be feeling cocky, having pulled themselves out of physical poverty under their own steam, but they have yet to learn how to deal firmly and decisively with another kind of poverty — that of the professional, ethical kind.
One is not being paranoid here. Not too long ago, some major dailies introduced a devilishly cunning scheme of offering what was innocently labelled ‘Ad for Equity.’ This met with loud applause from many managerial bosses all over. But before long the realty, aviation and automobile sectors went into a tailspin, and the scheme left the companies that had adopted it red-faced and holding bags of (economy class) air tickets, empty flats, unsold cars and so on.
A little later, during some of the Assembly elections in 2008, the local editions of several multi-edition Hindi dailies started displaying laudatory and frequently contradictory news items on their front pages about specific candidates contesting from the respective areas. With zero news value, none of these items merited such display, but through the election period the front pages and op-ed pages of some dailies continued to carry the mug-shots of particular candidates, even predicting a record win for him or her.
The dailies may or may not have collected some Rs.200 crore with this little duplicitous exercise in psephology, but a new idea of what has now come to be called ‘political advertising’ was planted across the country, triggering a trend. And soon one heard that the marketing and media marketing managers at several media houses were getting ‘creatives’ prepared about what was on offer, in time for the general elections. Several party functionaries who manned party ‘war rooms’ during the period, when quizzed, confessed to having been shown ‘impressive’ PowerPoint presentations by major newspapers, and in turn professing an interest in the offerings.
The hard copy version of one such offering made on behalf of one Hindi daily published from a rich western Indian State blatantly delineates the phenomenon. The script claims that some 36 Lok Sabha seats in two major cities in the State, including the State capital and the surrounding areas, were ‘feeded’ by the daily. The proposal then lays down a clear sequential map of activities it can spearhead to promote the party or individual candidates, quoting prices. At the local level it addresses the candidate, his or her supporters and well-wishers, the district-level party office, the local MLA or MLC or corporator, other local political leaders, the local advertising agency and the guardian Minister of the ruling party. At the State level it is the State political party office, Cabinet Minister and State-level political leaders, businessmen and industrialists and a State-level advertising agency. At the national level it addresses the central offices of political parties (media cells), national-level political leaders and Central Ministers from the State.
The working modalities include putting in place dedicated teams each day, comprising political or city reporters and correspondents, sub-editors, area advertisement managers and area sales managers, to do the needful. Fifteen days’ general coverage is priced at Rs.20 lakh, while seven days of exclusive coverage is pegged at Rs.25 lakh. Along with this, specially prepared four-page supplements in colour, exclusive interviews, positive views of the voters, positive editorial analysis, “only positive coverage” and “no negative publicity of opposition candidate or party,” and extra copies of the newspaper on payment basis, are on offer — at a price, of course. There is flexibility in making the payment: 50 per cent can be paid in cash and 50 per cent by cheque. The last frame in the presentation, ironically titled The Way Ahead, suggests that the daily would be willing to offer publicity on ‘other occasions’ also, apart from the election-time offer.
What a complex trade! Vernacular media readers are getting younger and more volatile and more demanding. But they mostly sit in small towns where an elegant bank with an ATM stands in the middle of shanties and huts with TV antennae, where after leaving the railway station or the airport one almost always plunges into the darkness of a grim, squalid, pot-holed road, where in the marketplace besides the glittering shop windows with Dior watches and Mont Blanc pens, the unlit windows of local shops lie empty. Private capital that has arrived in small towns, piggy-back riding the Hindi dailies, has only built shining sanctuaries for the rich. The Hindi readership has neither the means nor the intention to develop the rest of the city or ‘cusbah’. Its children cling to dreams of escaping to a big city and making it big there.
How can a media hawking inviolable editorial space to politicians and their parties for personal use during elections, capture this reality for its readers and analyse it with any degree of sensitivity or honesty? To read many marketing-driven Hindi dailies today is increasingly like entering a mind with multiple personality disorders, where endless, fierce and frantic discussions continue over everything from Beijing’s beastliness to Bt brinjal and Raj Babbar, next to cloyingly hagiographic accounts of how Rahul ‘Baba’ alone led his party to triumph in the byelections. Actually there are too many people now in the industry whose answer to the question, “what are the media for?” is, “to make money.”
Certainly there is nothing wrong in a restructuring of the industry, making it more productive and vibrant. The Janata Party government began the process and the BJP and the Congress have all continued to support this process. The government-controlled audiovisual media were certainly too big and lumbering and arrogant and were easily pushed to the margins by the leaner and more efficient private players. But why have the hugely successful Hindi print media that have always been in private hands and quite free professionally, begun to trivialise their own base and con their readership for piffling short-term gains? If this trend continues, the readers will react, and the next round of closures will have more serious implications, not just for those who will lose their jobs but also for the readers’ understanding of where they live and how their reality is inviolable and a part of the nation’s reality.
Hindi newspapers inspired by the capitulation of their big brothers in the media business may dent the case for India’s vernacular press, but cannot demolish it. When it does its job, a professionally run vernacular paper, funded jointly by advertising and paid-for-circulation, remains the best bet as a scrutineer of democracy and the best guard for the inviolable reality of our public spaces.
(Mrinal Pande is a senior Hindi journalist and writer.)

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