By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC
Journalism, a noble profession, the Fourth Estate as it is called, is based on honest reporting as its basic premise and accuracy of reporting as its weapon. If this is not adhered to, this profession also becomes another business where only profits matter. Then why is it that there is so much mistrust in and around the world on media reporting ? In spite of such a hostile media, how did Donald Trump get elected? He won emphasising the fact that the public were not swayed by the way the media had gone about their business.
Recently at the Jaipur Literary Festival two middle level functionaries of the RSS were invited. Some discussions took place regarding “the reservation” and one of the RSS functionaries, Vaidya, gave an opinion that reservation should be merit-based and not caste-based as it is now. Was this gentleman the Spokesman of the RSS ? Was he a high- level RSS functionary? Not at all. Immediately, some journalist present there sent out an SOS to all the electronic media and the headline screamed out “RSS denounces reservation.” With elections of five States round the corner, some vested interests were in play and to top it all some of the channels even started to have some expert panel discussions on this subject without even verifying the authenticity of this news. In the recent coverage of the jallikattu, channels were showing old footage of bull torture and quietly removed them after it was pointed out by an expert panel member. Such kind of fake news damages the credibility of channels.
It is a fact that currently pen is mightier than the sword. Senior journalists of national dailies are literal royalties. At Delhi, both private and public sector go out of their way to ensure that these journos are on their right side and report only positive news. The PSU corporates, of course, are not able to give costly gifts which can be doled out by private corporates to ensure that bad news gets filtered out. To give an example, once Zubin Mehta, the famous international music conductor, checked out of The Ashok, Delhi because he found some cockroaches in the room. The next day this news was the headline on the front page of all national dailies causing lot of embarrassment to the hotel and even to the Tourism Ministry. A few days later a dead body was found in a luxury hotel and the news was printed, tucked away in a corner of the fifth page “Dead body found in a luxury hotel at Delhi” without mentioning the name of the hotel ! Private sector PR! Every time a press meeting is called, costly gifts have to be given to ensure that the news is given proper coverage.
Journalists with command over language can destroy or resurrect the image of anything they write about. To give an example, when I was posted at Varanasi one Brij Bharadwaj, a senior correspondent of The Hindustan Times came to stay with us for a week’s time to cover the elections at Varanasi. My Chairman had called me over to ensure that he was taken care of. I had a friend named Bansal whose wife was doing her Master’s in Journalism at BHU. She came to know about the arrival of Bharadwaj and asked me to request him to correct an article on child labour she had penned. Bharadwaj first refused but was persuaded. He went through the article and made plenty of corrections and asked me to read the article. The bias against child labour was very evident. Quietly he took a pen, added some question marks and some small words here and there and asked me to read the corrected article again. Suddenly the article became pro-management !
One look at the electronic channels and the bias becomes very evident. Either it is pro-government or anti-government. The owners decide on the content and the tilt. Even stalwarts like Arnab Goswami was thrown out because he did not toe the line of the Jain Brothers, the owners of the channel. Why was Goswami so popular? The perception was that his investigation was genuine and he was a crusader of sorts. Has anybody succeeded in fitting into his shoes? The answer is “no” though Rajdeep Sardesai is trying hard with his sharp witty one-liners.
Advertisements are the main source of revenue for both electronic and print media and that is why they cannot go all out against the government in power. Both the media and the government require each other and hence there is an invisible Laxmanrekha, which is followed by both. What has queered the pitch nowadays is that paid news is becoming so frequent that the credibility of news is at stake.
Journalism is the Fourth Pillar of our democracy and if this has to survive then honest journalism is required. Newspapers from small towns are insulated from the lure of money to a certain extent and do report honestly without any bias. In a recent survey by Reuters, it has come out that in India at least, the public at large trusted the media more than their own government. The electronic media unlike print media sometimes goes overboard in their reporting with the new concept of “breaking news.” Example, the Sheena Bora murder case. Or the Talwar case, a new concept of media trial has arrived. Very unfair to be pronounced guilty even before the courts have started their trial.
There are still a lot of honest journalists upholding the values of the Fourth Estate. Let us hope and pray that they do not get swayed by the lure of money or honey. For democracy to survive we require an honest and forthright Fourth Estate.