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India: When the media makes news

December 3, 2013

By Seema Mustafa

FRANCE-INDIA-MEDIA-WOMEN-CRIME-SOCIAL-FILESJournalists are sinking to new lows, with the Tarun Tejpal case still reverberating through India.

The media itself is obsessive about the coverage, almost as if the publicity will atone for his sins. But all said and done, Tejpal is the symptom of a malaise that is becoming deep-rooted, and afflicts almost all media houses in one way or the other.

Journalism, a great profession, has fallen into disrepute because the media houses have moved away from the serious business of news-gathering into the world of power, advertisements, glamour, mega-festivals, as editors and anchors and owners acquire celebrity status. One recalls the days when newspapers like The Statesman and The Patriot refused to give bylines for even exclusive stories, looking at anonymity as an asset.

While this might have been a little harsh for reporters seeking some recognition (after all, this is all that one had in an era where wages in Delhi newspapers were as low as Rs 500 a month), the reversal today has really come as a major blow to serious journalism. Everyone wants to be a celebrity, preening and prancing in the limelight, even as hard and fair reporting takes a backseat altogether.

Proprietor-editors set the tone, and all others follow. Mixing business with journalism is a bad idea, as the latter eventually loses out, with the moneybags dominating. Governments now do not need to impose censorship, their capitalist cronies do it for them, determining who or what should be written about on a daily basis. And given media houses’ fascination for the big bucks and high voltage celebrity events, the industrial houses manage the last word and news is eventually tailored to specific requirements.

The editors today are no longer the Mulgaonkars, Edatata Narayanans, Frank Moraes, Kuldip Nayars of yesterday. And that is certainly not an issue, except for the fact that the standards have fallen as have the priorities.

For those named above, and many others of that tribe, news was a drug, facts sacrosanct, and professionalism a bare essential. They refused to compromise on these basics, and as young reporters, we were witness to many an argument between the professional editor and the management about the placement of advertisements, indeed even the content of advertisements.

These men (unfortunately very few women even then in top positions) stayed till the newspaper went to bed, guiding the process throughout the day and well into the early hours of the morning. There were no glitzy events, no glamour, just serious work tailored by the realisation that news could make or break individuals and institutions, and hence a heavy responsibility rested on the editorial teams to check and re-check the facts. Read more at The Free Press Journal.

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