Sunday, December 02, 2012

Need For A Regulatory Body

By Vidya Bhushan RAWAT

Two Senior editors of Zee News Sudhir Chaudhury and Samir Ahluwalia have been arrested on a complaint filed by Naveen Jindal related to the sting operation conducted by the company in which the two editors were shown demanding 100 crores in the form of advertising from the Jindals in lieu of not broadcasting the story of Jindal’s Coal mining activities.

Now, it is clear that Naveen Jindal is one of the most influential political leaders at the moment with strong links in political parties. Even the opposition ruled states have done little to challenge his hegemony. In the CAG report on Coal Block Allocation, his company too figures. That inquiry must continue and coal block allocation need to be seen in that way; however at the moment Indian media has a serious crisis and that must be addressed before it becomes an incurable disease.

With the advent of commercialism in the media, advertisement became the biggest revenue generation exercise. In fact, in the past, the small and medium newspapers would always try to get advertisements from DAVP. Though still today, DAVP and various Ministries remain the biggest source of revenue, yet now, with the growth of market, media has become a huge industry. As the reach of television channels grew, the idea of making and unmaking of a leader and businessman also grew.

Media changed priorities to satisfy the need of the advertisers. The editorial positions were actually made secondary to marketing, and public relation officers became the de facto editors of the newspapers. The print media became more opinionated and clandestinely it is here that the PR companies are working in their best way. The thin line between news item and opinionated news item is blurred. News are planted and kept aside. The self-censorship in Indian media is an example of how they want to create fictions.

During the elections, news editors and journalists have their favorites and this is the best period for paid news. It is not for nothing that political leaders with huge resources are always in the positive side of the news. There is no doubt that the media takes sides, plants stories, makes villains/heroes and has side tracked its ethics. The advertisement control has resulted in decline of independence of editorial and edit page articles. Today, advertisers are being provided the edit space in the name of ‘columnists’. There is no doubt how newspapers arm twist the government when they have to gain advertisements and favors.

The electronic media in this way has become louder and more biased. When high salaries are to be earned and perks aplenty are at stake, no opinion will remain unbiased. And they are reflected the way news is ‘packaged’ and the anchors dramatize them during their presentation. A careful scrutiny of the electronic media will reflect more damaging undercurrent of absolute control of the corporate over it.

The way anti-corruption campaign was projected and abuses were allowed to be aired live to our bedrooms shows media in poor light of a blackmailer. Many of the channels get angry because the government does not give them advertisements while the ‘largest’ circulated Daily of the country has various other business works which are cleared through power of the media. Every newspaper owner is not just working in the media world but also has different industries and therefore media is used to promote their interests.

It is not that these things were not there in the past but it was not done so openly and atrociously as today. There were senior journalists who supported government policies and particular political parties and became member of parliaments and ministers. Definitely, that was not the healthy trend and the BJP, too, jumped into it and attracted a number of journalists into their think tank and rewarded them in the form of Rajya Sabha tickets and important portfolios on coming to power.

State as well as political patronage was always there with journalists but now the rule of the game has changed after the opening up of this sector and advertisers have replaced politician as the main patrons of the media and hence the new age journalists look down upon the political class and glamorize the ‘corporate’. It is nothing but the change of power equations with in the media which have forced them to look differently.

Media power is recognized by everyone and how they can influence policies. Sangh Parivar understood it and reaped a good harvest. The Congress is the original sinner that has awarded even mediocre reporters with important positions. In fact, the decline of the media is so high that those who could not even write an article properly are media badshahs today as they are known not for their writings and views but for their political-business connection.

Editors therefore become PR directors of their news organizations. Nobody asks a question as to where do they find money in such a short period to start a channel. Such out of proportion power of media makes them believe in their own world. ‘Whatever we create is the news’ and that has acceptability of the people.

Such arguments and thoughts are self-destructive. For those living on margin and with people’s perspective never believe that Indian media has credibility at all as media always serves the interest of power elite, industries and the government. Definitely it is the watch dog of the elite caste empire in India and will definitely cover extra mile to portray those thoughts that suit the caste mindset.

The Zee episode has brought in front of the people the naked dance of media. The channel is continuously airing how the government has been trying to gag the media. How it is an infringement on the ‘freedom of expression’ when the editors are discussing a ‘deal’ with the industrial house? It is charged that Naveen Jindal has a vast empire and is not clean and hence Zee must be given the benefit of doubt.

But, there are two different issues involved here. One is the media ethics and other the power of the corporate to trap you. If Jindal is incorrect or corrupted, his dealings should be investigated and taken to a logical conclusion. Media has a duty to report and do it fairly. But if media uses the corruption card to blackmail people then it is a sad day for its credibility. The reality is that in the Zee case the deal could not be stuck and hence got exposed, otherwise things are not that great inside the media world and it needs thorough overhauling to clean it.

Media houses have often opposed any kind of regulation from the government’s side. They feel it is an infringement to their freedom of expression and involves bullying tactics. But the fact is the biggest bully is the media itself and their hunger to fund their fat pay packages. Journalists today are doing multi-tasking. At one end they are reporting for their channel and newspapers, but on the other side they are also considered to be very ‘influential’.

Even a petty stinger is an ‘influential person. Many of the newspapers do not have circulation and definitely will never survive if they do not take illicit money from industries and therefore they become mouthpieces of their masters and carry scandalous reports. It is good that many senior editors have supported Press Council demand for regulation. There is nothing called ‘self-regulation’.

When the people of India can be regulated through various laws, how can media be above it? It is possible if media houses or owner of the media houses do not invest in any other business and there is an advertising policy whether government or private. If there is an advertising policy and advertisements are routed through an official regulator, perhaps this ‘maara-mari’ for funds will not be there.

The Zee editors violated their ethics as they were making a deal. It is clear from the conversation because even if Jindals were seeking ‘killing’ of the story, they should have aired it. But we know how media kills the story and I have myself given many stories but then they are not ‘politically’ useful. Media does not have time to report them. They sit on them and then preach us about TRPs and ‘quality of it’.

It is clear that these editors were working beyond their ethical duty of news-reporting, but I can bet Zee is not alone in doing this. There are host of other channels who cannot run their shows without close cooperation and engagement of political-business-mafias.

The growth of electronic media in the past 10 years is not just because we have become an information-savvy society, but because the corporate have realized that media could be used as a tool to blackmail political class as well as opponents. It is due to this expose that they fear a strong Press Council even when Justice Markandeya katju has clearly mentioned that the Council will have people from print and electronic media, as well as owners of the newspapers, yet none of them is ready for it.

But it is time India learnt a few lessons from the United Kingdom, where the government appointed a commission headed by Lord Justice Brian Leveson on corruption in media after expose of several newspapers on the issue of phone tapping of private individuals. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, ordered the Leveson Inquiry in July, 2011 after the phone tapping scandal broke out and Rupert Murdoch-owned, ‘The News of the World’, was categorically blamed for the interception of voice mail messages left on the cellphone of Milly Dowler, a British teenager who was abducted in 2002 and later found murdered. The report found that the News of the World lacked respect for individual privacy and dignity.

The nearly two thousand page report has categorically charged newspapers in the UK for violating an individual’s right and trivializing the stories. Brian has suggested to the government a national regulator for media so that they do not violate people’s right. He says, “The ball moves back into the politicians’ court.” Referring to what form new and tighter regulations should take, he added, “They must now decide who guards the guardians.”

The Brian report could be an interesting and eye opener to expose the murky world of close links among media, business and politicians, and this reality exist in all parts of the world. In the name of deregulation, the media was actually promoting business interests and creating false information and selective leakages. If the last one year episode of Indian media and its role is investigated, one is sure, many dirty reports will emerge.

In Britain, the prime minister has categorically declined for a national regulation law for media; it is definitely a fact that the British media is far ahead and absolutely much better than our media here which has sharp prejudices and no respect for regulations and laws of the land. Journalists here feel that they are above law and can make and unmake a government. It is time, that the media is regulated and tough laws are made so that not everything is defended in the name of ‘press freedom’.

Freedom of Expression is important tool but like internet the media should also be regulated. Let there be senior journalists, civil society activists, bloggers, lawyers, editors as part of that regulating body so that no one has any feeling of prejudice. It is high time that such a body is created so that the grievances are addressed on time and media does not become PR agency of anyone who helps increase their TRPs or fills their coffers with money.


No comments: