By Shishir Joshi
This is not in defence of the media. As you read along, you may realize it. In fact, it is quite to the contrary. Foremost, let me lay down some of the allegations against the media and some of the prevailing perceptions. That the media is a king-maker. That it is corrupt. That it is far away from the realities impacting the society. It thrives on sensationalism.
Partly, it is the media, itself, which is to blame. For the corruption. And for the perception.
Let’s start with the most recent one. Media as king-maker. Allegations which have shattered the holier than thou image. And as eminent journalist Arun Shourie put it in a TV show, “Time and again instances have come up where journalists themselves have been responsible for the betrayal”. Before the clarification, here’s a dummy’s guide to a media house. Very few people really know and understand how a news organization operates. Of the fifty-odd people who work, in what is seen by the outside world as the ‘powerful’ editorial of any news organization, a little less than half, say twenty or so, are what they called designated Reporters (working Journalists in the real sense). They are the ones who have a contact with the ‘outside’ world. Or, that, the outside world really knows about. Within those twenty reporters, barely four or five such journalists deal with the high and mighty; by this, I mean, with political heavyweights (covering the political beat) film stars (mind you, not any film star, but only the big five of Hindi cinema) and sports, again, here not just any sport or any sports heavyweight, but cricket and the mighty Sachin, no less.
So now, of an approximate 50 odd, we have come down to the top five in any Editorial, who have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the Rajas (not to be mistaken with Spectrum Raja). And within that, on a rare occasion will one odd journalist really misuse his seat or position. All this also depends on the weightage of the media house based on readership/viewership (NDTV among policy makers and Hindustan Times in Delhi do count for being heavy weights…umm..what a coincidence that I mentioned them ). Needless to say, being in a fancy designation helps.
If you are Managing Editor of NDTV or Advisory Editorial Director of HT, it can’t get better. So if a Managing Editor steps into a grey area or is caught on tape, arranging deals, does not mean you brand all of media as corrupt, right?
Well, not correct, if perception and a bit of hara-kiri is to go by.
How often have we seen PRESS stickers adorning two wheelers and cars of media persons! Any self respecting journalist who holds a valid identity card from his organization will tell you that these stickers are not required. Not required unless you are using them to ensure the traffic cop does not stop you. Maybe those using these stickers do not know this, but the ‘public’ and the traffic police surely believe this is the reason.
But Press stickers are not by themselves responsible for the perception. So called king-maker’ journos often have events at home or ceremonies where the Kings get invited. The ‘King’ does attend and graciously, using first names with the Journo, makes a grand entry and exit. Who wouldn’t like a high-and-mighty walk into your living room and back-slap you, chat up your family and share a chai with you, leaving your family, friends and neighbors in a daze? Who will not feel a feeling of being a king maker if the King himself visits him during festivals and calls him by his first name?
Mind you, there is nothing wrong in the high and mighty visiting you.
But, where the hacks go wrong, is when they start believing that the powerful are in love with you the person and not you the Journalist. I promise you, it can’t be further away from truth, in most cases. Without as much realizing that when your community or neighborhood notices you, with the King, one half of the locality thinks you are powerful. The other half thinks you are corrupt. You, in fact, are an ass with a big bloated ego, refusing to see the writing on the wall. “You are so dear to me”, says the politician and you glean with pride. What you don’t read between the lines is he muttering under his breath that ‘I accept you only with your designation and organization.’
The power of a journalist in today’s age(unless his good deeds speak volumes) is like the hair on the head, the tooth in your gums and the nail on your fingers. Valued only when in its place. Worthless, when chopped. There was a time, when journalists wielded the power of the pen. The power, by what they wrote. Based on facts and fair play. That was power. Real power laced with absolute respect. Today, the power has corrupted. Absolute power (based on a belief that he is the king maker) has corrupted absolutely.
The far and few, but absolutely corrupt journalist is powerful not by what he is capable of writing, but his ability to WITHHOLD information. The power to conceal a story, often at the cost of a favour, or as seems in the case of the Radia tapes, through an alleged TRADE OFF makes the corrupt journalist in the lot nothing less than a white-collared extortionist.
But you hate them, you call them names and yet, you do not speak out against them. What is it that scares people when it comes to speaking up? Or speaking out? Unless it is in hushed tones? Politicians have been hurling abuses at each other, taking names, in the spectrum scam. But no one has dared name the journalist(s) or media houses at all. Now, for once, much after Outlook and Open named the scribes, has a TV channel begun debating the role of the hacks.
While Social Media has been active in this case, MSM (Mains Stream Media) has been largely mute. Be kind to thy comrades for they may one day come and lord over us, could be one logic. But what stops the rest of the world from talking about these names in public? Two reasons come to my mind. One, Industry captains do not wish to rub India’s much watched English channel the wrong way. “I am seen on it and would continue wanting to be seen there” is what they believe. Any rubbishing of the network, or its key stake holders would mean, a black out.
The second, and more real fear is of an unwarranted backlash. I call it the Dolly Bindra effect. Nobody wants to rub Media big wigs the wrong way. However wrong they may be! They may be paper tigers but, Tigers no doubt. Their growl is more venous than the (non existent) bite. They have a habit of bouncing back and, like the boxing cushion, slamming right into your nose. So, however, much you dislike them, hate their guts, have evidence of their alleged wrongs or have taped conversations of political coziness, you would rather shut up and lead your life.
After all, we all know what happened to Shweta Tiwari and Samir Soni on BiGG Boss season four when they took on Dolly Bindra, right? Shweta was stung in the face, Samir was ousted. And as I write this, Dolly Bindra, is back.
Remaining quiet has never been a solution. Mute spectators to a crime are as much guilty as those perpetrating the crime. It’s time you speak up against those, whom you believe are corrupt under the garb of being honest. It is important too. For others, Citizen Journalism, or social media, is a solution. For, wasn’t it a commoner like you and me who exposed the Adarsh scam or the CWG or blew the initial lid off the various scams in recent times?
(Mumbai based Shishir Joshi is Journalist and Mentor and co-founder of JM Foundation for Excellence in Journalism,Mumbai. He can be reached at [email protected])