FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Media as Middle Man

by FARZANA VERSEY

Mumbai.

The sudden interest in the involvement of some Indian media persons in what appears to be lobbying has posed the question about ethics, but it has a lot more to do with the cult of icons. Readers and viewers tend to blindly believe in taglines about ‘truth’ prevailing and ‘we were the first to go there’ with high-profile columnists and anchors; the audience now feels let down and covertly awkward for having propped up these news-bearers.

There is also anger that the exposure was not covered by news channels and only by some print publications. The media is a tightly-knit incestuous lot in India. They know that if they allow one head to fall, theirs will be next on the chopping block.

The story appeared relatively simple. A lobbyist, Nira Radia, working for industrialist Mukesh Ambani called up journalists and discussed ministerial portfolios. The media people offered to set up meetings with ministers and even revealed what stories could be run. There was loads of money – $40 billion – involved in the 2G-spectrum deals that would benefit the corporate lobby. The question is: did it benefit the journalists and how? The newspapers/channels get ads, the political party gets election funds and the media can carry convenient stories along the election trail with staged ‘objective’ moments. The media is the new fiefdom of the politician and political power – from the front door or the back entrance – is the journalist’s reward.

There have been conjectures that these conversations were to make the lobbyist give away information, a snoopy journalistic tactic. But has it been taken to its logical conclusion? Has there been an expose of a nature that could compromise the government which is culpable in this case? No. The man A. Raja who was a cheat got the same portfolio to cheat again. Are the journalists to blame? The motives and ‘real’ reasons are a non-sequiter when facts stare us in the face.

No one can call acting as conduits between politicians and corporate lobbies as part of journalism, but in the past the arrangement was tacit. Press conferences by business houses that handed out goodies were major draws. Does anyone even know about news reports that are paid for and often written by the PR departments of business houses? Does anyone care that such PR people carry press passes and are members of the press clubs? When captains of industry write guest columns for publications, this is advertising passing off as editorial content.

Journalists have often got prime posts in social organisations or are sent on junkets; many of the hugely respected senior names conduct all their ‘investigations’ over the telephone, which means they are fed information by interested groups. While opinions are by nature subjective, reportage ought to be objective. What is reported and how clearly conveys which side the person is on or has been asked to be on. What about owners of channels who get elected and become MPs?

To push the envelope (no pun intended) further, what about freedom of speech? Does the industrial house not have the freedom to lobby? Does the lobbyist not have the freedom to push her case? Does the journalist not have the freedom to act as a go-between? Great media stalwarts like Arun Shourie have played a role in bringing down politicians and governments. Why did they become heroes and why are today’s newsmakers considered unethical? The reason is that they appear to be co-opted, whereas a Shourie fought against the establishment. It is another matter that the fight could have been dictated by the opposition. This is the crux of the argument.

Sting operations get a whole lot of points by a gullible public that assumes those blurred video clips are done as an act of public good. No one bothers to check out the motives behind these moves. It is high time we made the mainstream media answerable, but the alternatives are not always as above-board as they appear simply because they too depend on the largesse of sponsors, advertising and benefactors.

Political stooges have always existed, only the level of subtlety has altered their persona. You just have to spend some time in any of the intellectual hubs in Delhi and you will see a journalist supping with a politician or a bureaucrat. There are TV channels that have given preference to young recruits merely due to their proximity to and sometimes family connections with such powerful people.

The recent revelations have become such a talking point, ironically, because they have been exposed with much flourish outside the mainstream media in India. Internationally, the Washington Post mentioned ‘paid news’ and reported that The Foundation for Media Professionals plans to host a conference on journalists as power brokers. The organisations’s spokesperson said, “We are actually happy that these practices have come out in the open. It forces us to address the problem. We as journalists sit in judgment of others all the time. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

Journalists are fallible and their standards should be decreed by ethics and not morality and most certainly must not become a ruse for nobility. The self-examination should also raise questions about the media conducting kangaroo courts and making a spectacle of helpless common people.

Prominent anchors and columnists are deified only because their visibility, especially during crises and calamities, immediately imbues them with a halo of legitimacy. This gets further sanctity when a scam uses the name of one individual. This does not, in fact, work as a “lynch mob” but serves to buffer the cult. We live in times of short attention spans and shorter memories. Today’s flawed Twitter hero is tomorrow’s Facebook martyr, for the truth may lie not in what was said in the tapes but what was left unsaid.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com

 

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Binoy Kampmark
Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
David Busch
Bernie’s Blinding Light
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
stclair
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Winslow Myers
Looking for America
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Tony Christini
Death by Taxes (A Satire of Trump and Clinton)
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail