B S Raghavan

Black sheep in India’s media

B. S. RAGHAVAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

“Jindal plays CD, claims Zee editors demanded Rs 100 crore” is the boldly displayed four-column headline at the top right hand of the first page of The Hindu of October 20. The amount was said to have been demanded by the TV news channel in the form of advertisements worth Rs 25 crores per year for four years for not airing incriminating stories of involvement in coal block allocations of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. (JSPL) of which Naveen Jindal is the chairman.

Zee denies the allegation, counter-charging JSPL with attempting to muzzle it first with a bribe of Rs 25 crore to one of its editors, and, when that failed, coming up with the advertising deal on its own to stop the TV coverage of JSPL’s part in the coalgate scam.

JSPL purports to show the Zee editors pointing out in the course of negotiating the deal that it was not unusual for media outlets to strike similar deals, mentioning ( ToI) by name as one indulging “in the same business” of resorting to negative coverage to extort money from the affected entities.

One of the Zee editors even alleges, as per The Hindu, that ToI’s Delhi Times and Mumbai Times “are completely paid for, with sponsored interviews and pictures, and Medianet arranging for positive film reviews”. Executives of Bennet,Coleman & Co Ltd, owners of ToI, refused to comment when The Hindu gave them a chance to refute the allegation.

PRECIPITOUS FALL

The media has been glorified in public perception as the Fourth Estate or the fourth pillar of democracy, next only in importance to the three branches of the Government: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.

In India, during the days of the freedom movement and the early years of Independence, the field of journalism, in general, and the media, in particular, comprised editors and publishers who were nearly equal in stature and professional and personal integrity to the heroes of the freedom struggle. Some of freedom heroes were themselves editors of newspapers as well.

I realise that such nostalgic recall of days long past serves absolutely no purpose now, because there has been a precipitous fall in the quality and calibre of both individuals and institutions in all spheres of activity. It is unrealistic to expect in this situation that the media will be an exception and somehow will live up to the exalted standards that it stood for once.

There is, however, one factor which distinguishes the media from the other institutions even today. It appropriates for itself the lofty role of a conscience-keeper, custodian of norms, and guardian of the rights and entitlements of the citizenry, insisting on propriety and integrity in public life and upbraiding, in harsh language, those who do not shape up in these respects.

In other words, every day and every hour of the day, a veritable Niagara of hortatory homilies spew out of its organs preaching values, precepts and tenets of rectitude and righteousness to all and sundry.

It is only right for people to expect that such self-appointed mentors keeping a critical eye on the conduct of everybody else should themselves excel in their sense of accountability and trustworthiness and be exemplars to the other sections of society.

STUNNING EVIDENCE

Unfortunately, the black sheep in India’s media are leading people to believe that its scruples and principles are inversely proportional to its pretensions and claims. Even a lay reader’s eye is often able to spot where its product — whether in the form of a newspaper, journal or TV programme — does not meet the strictest tests of accuracy, fairness and responsibility.

The point about the Niira Radia tapes is not just that they provided stunning evidence of some iconic anchors and columnists being ready and willing to act as political power-brokers and go-betweens; they also laid bare the tendency of the black sheep to emulate the worst types of politicians in aggressively seeking to extricate themselves with specious pleas. In similar circumstances, if some others outside the media were involved, it would have bayed for their blood.

The public-spirited elements in the media know who the black sheep among them are and what they are up to.

They should remember that by not exposing and condemning the black sheep, they are only making willing accomplices and abettors of themselves.

Published on October 28, 2012

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