Monday, June 27, 2011
S.P.Singh : Icon of Hindi media
Tribute SP : Legacy of Ethics and courage in the media By Vidya Bhushan Rawat Surendra Pratap Singh or SP as he was popularly known was one of the most iconic journalists of Hindi media at the time when it was opening up to new realities of television journalism. At the time when media particularly the vernacular media and its journalists were openly hobnobbing with the Hindutva lobby in the corporate and enjoyed the patronage, he was sharply different and committed to the profession of journalism. Yes, unlike many other veterans in the Hindi world, who crossed the thin line between journalism and politics, SP was clear about his motive and work. He never pretended to be a mass leader, nor was he a preacher. Those were the days of Indian media when many of the editors had the habit of coming to the front page under their by-line yet these temptations did not attract SP. He was happy with his contents and stood with the ethics of journalism. We all know that the vernacular journalists are habitual of political patronage and feel proud of their linkages. At the time when Hindi newspapers converted themselves to Hindu newspapers and the way they reported the entire Ramjanmbhumi-babari masjid controversy to say the least was shocking. The newspapers baron was playing tricks. Most of them owned both vernacular and English dailies and hence they cleverly allowed ‘freedom’ to their editors. So that was an interesting phase when the owners put different breed of Secularists and Hindutva sympathisers for their Hindi and English News papers. Many brought them in the name of literature. SP was not enamoured by literary figures. The fact is that after the demise of Rajendra Mathur, perhaps the most respected editors of his time, who actually was editor in chief of Navbharat Times when SP was editor, the Times Management brought a veteran Brahmin Vidya Niwas Mishra as the Editor in Chief of the newspaper and that brought a complete down fall of Navbharat Times, a newspaper who every body would subscribe. He knew how the journalists have openly joined hand with political parties and later Rajya Sabha seat was not a far away job but it was not surprising for him. He always mentioned that this has been happening since independence and journalists and writers were always ‘Promoted’ and ‘awarded’ the state for their own purposes. However, in the Ramjanmbhumi-Ayodhya matter even the owners of various newspapers jumped in and became ‘writers and journalists’. Their writing was completely irrational and unethical. They forced their reporters to twist the facts and distort the news. Even the press council reprimanded many of these newspapers. The Hinduisation or brahmanisation of Indian media is a continuation process with SP a victim of it. He stood against it and provided opportunities to budding journalists in his institution. He had faith in the youths and was that way an iconoclast who never believed in big names of the literature to be the best journalists. He always said that one can be a good writer but may not be a great journalist. And it proved when Vidya Niwas Mishra proved to be disastrous for Navbharat Times, which was a great institution before SP left it. SP continued with his writings and many of them appeared in English press also. However, his best days were yet to come. As Doordarshan allowed a half an hour news based programme Aaj Tak to India Today group with SP its head, the meaning of news changed for many of us. It was a sharply different news style than the boring faces of Doordarshan who would only report about the inauguration and death ceremonies of the political leaders and ministers. (Today, doordarshan seems to be better option than our preachy and self conscious anchors of the private channels). Aaj tak became very popular and SP synonymous to it. People would wait every night to here his voice and analysis. The best quality in him was that he was not judgemental and always left to his viewers to decide. As he said many time, his did not do journalism to fulfil any fixed agenda. He was committed to journalism and its ethics. For him, news should be ethical and should not promote mass hysteria. At a time when the entire country witness the ‘drinking of milk’ by Ganesha, SP had the capacity to send his reporter to a very ordinary shoemaker in Delhi and seek his opinion and explain the science behind the Ganesha drinking milk. He never appreciated such acts which were being promoted in the name of news. Upahar cinema tragedy in June, 1997 at Delhi, shook every one of us. We waited that night to listen to him. As he started speaking and narrating the entire sequence and we saw dead bodies, burnt corpus of young old being taken, people in distress, SP’s voice was choked on TV. He became philosophical too how the administration could be so callous that such kind of things can happen in the capital city of the country. The trauma of the cries of people was too much for him to bear. He struggled for life many days and finally succumbed to it on June 27th. SP is not there but his smiling face always remind us that news can not be just for sale or production. News must be ethical. One important point that our friends must learn from his experience is that not everything that brings crowd is great. It can make great news but there must be news behind the news too. Therefore, he not only showed the news of people queuing up to offer Ganesha milk but also exposed it showing how a common Dalit does not believe in all these miracles by showing an interview of a shoemaker. When Delhi was burning against Mandal Commission report, SP stood strong and refused to toe line of his peers in the media who came out openly asking students to come on the street and immolate themselves. Today, when we remember SP for his immense contribution to India media and how he changed the perception of media and how important it is for the budding journalists not to worship their elders but believe in getting into the depth of the news. He started various products right from Ravivar from Kolkata to Aaj Tak in Delhi and converted them into credible brands. People read him and watched his channel out of deep respect for him and credibility that he brought. You can not build credibility on compromise. It is built on ethics. Nobody ask you to have a particular ideology but commitment to truth and values and SP believed in it. Yes, whatever one say, he proved with his hard work that nothing is invincible and age does not matter. At a young age his left behind a credible legacy to us and hope those who worked with him or read him will actually take forward his legacy of commitment and impartiality to the news.