By Atul Cowshish
The media in India is truly bipolar. And thanks in no small measure to Madame Niira Radia, the fact is now evident to the lay reader and the ‘aam’ viewer, who no longer has to suffer from the illusion that the world of journalism is defined by ABC—authenticity, brevity and credibility. A new age generates a new ethos and the product of the new age has adapted to new values, discarding the dated ones. Into the dustbin, thus, must go old-fashioned notions of ethics and morality, the two essential ingredients that had supposedly given credibility and respect to the staid media of yore.
There is the upper crust in the ‘brand’ media of today that hobnobs with the high and mighty, and wines and dines with the corporate honchos and their well-oiled spin doctors. It is this class of journalists, famous and comparable to glamorous celebrities in fan following, who are ordained to discharge the onerous task of telling the nation everyday – why or how the country is rotting, and the only way out is to listen to their ‘honest’ views.
At the other end are the hoi polloi that are seen scrumming at the press conferences by VIPs from the world of politics and bureaucracy for some newsy byte that may emanate from a statement or subsequent grilling by the inquisitors. They aspire to break the class barrier in journalism but the field is crowded and the competition is too tough to allow an easy and quick transfer to the upper league.
Make no mistake. The extent of immunity from various indiscretions enjoyed by the ‘A’ class of journalists is way above that of the much-cursed politicians. Journalists of high calibre commit no indiscretions. Period. They know their claims of safeguarding the ‘national interest’ carry more conviction than that of the ‘netas’ (leaders).
How forthrightly do the A-class journalists go about dissemination views! They burn the proverbial midnight oil, glued to their expensive mobiles, listening and responding reverentially to the great insights provided to them by the real movers and shakers in the country. Armed with the insiders’ knowledge, it is incumbent upon the high-flying journalists to use their clout and the great fund of public trust they enjoy to ferry messages between the government and business leaders.
‘National interest’ demands that it is the exclusive class of top journalists who must go on overdrive at a momentous occasion like cabinet formation, offer advice on the choice of solicitors and ensure the right placement of stories and articles in the media.
Plebeian journalists do not comprehend the word ‘accuracy’, well, accurately. Mere ‘cross-checking’ does not eliminate the danger of a factual error that is best avoided by asking straightaway the weighty ‘source’ about the contents that should be written or aired.
In the contemporary lexicon, the word ‘quid pro quo’ must be a synonym for blasphemy. Even to suggest that the influential source is ready to offer to the high-class media contact anything more than help with the facts to write a ‘story’ is unpardonable.
In the ‘rising and shining’ India, journalists need not be identified with the mythical ‘jhola’ (sling bag) and an austere style of living where the high point of unethical behaviour was accepting invitation to an evening of free tipple. Altruism is not in sync with modern journalism when your calling as a top grade journalist expects you to lead a style of living that matches that of your ‘source’.
Who can deny that India has moved miles away from the ‘socialist’ days of the 1960s or 1970s? That was the time when neighbours were envious of those who had a telephone connection or owned a scooter. And many journalists had both, obtained through their privileged position that entitled them to avoid the line for the two facilities. Today, anyone not owning a swanky car worth seven figures in cash and moving without the latest in mobile telephone will be clubbed in the OBC category of journalists.
It is a dated dictum that used to be dinned into the ears of impressionable young entrants into the profession in yesteryears that ‘editors should be heard, not seen’. As would befit the era of 24×7 TV channels, editors are both heard and seen, displaying their amazing dexterity in a variety of fields—cuisine, pop music, five-star travel and tourism. Oh, yes! Politics too.
Admittedly, with so many tasks on hand it must be taxing to write ponderously on matters politics that used to be the forte of the aforesaid editors who could only be ‘heard’, a metaphor for ‘read’, as there was no TV in the days of ‘dull’ journalism.
Admirable is the devotion of today’s top drawer journalists who for the sake of nothing but truth, the whole truth, take the job of being ‘heard’ so seriously that they do nothing but shout and scream on the TV screens! What amazing lung-power! And envious is the tenacity with which they stick to their point of view even when the ‘victim’ of their verbal fusillade questions the ‘facts’ hurled at him or her.
Come on. Be honest. When the print media in much of the world is hurtling towards extinction because of the various new ways of accessing the news—and views—is it realistic not to expect journalism in India to change its course and colours? The new age reader is better served by a new kind of journalism that speaks straight and reflects the views of people who really run the country—the big business houses.
Pity those who believe in the ABC of ‘dated’ journalism.