Brazening it out

BY hoot| IN Media Practice | 26/10/2012
No fancy broadcasting laws are needed to penalise bad ethics if there is proof of a criminal offence.
A HOOT comment. Pix: Naveen Jindal
Zee TV and Subhash Chandra, fresh from being extensively feted for Zee’s 20 years, could have done without the sorry episode unfolding on Thursday. But you have to wonder at the judgement of a TV Network which makes a man associated with an earlier very dubious sting the editorial and business head of its news channel.  Sudhir Chaudhary was the CEO at Live India TV when the fake sting against the school teacher, Uma Khurana, was carried. It was alleged that the channel had rigged evidence to suggest that she was running a call girl racket using her students. Because the case was withdrawn by the teacher, the media community at large does not hold that episode against Chaudhary. The Broadcast Editors' Association  which has now dropped him from its primary membership did not hold the Uma Khurana episode against him either when it made him an office bearer of the association.
Mr Chaudhary has gone on the offensive. He fought back when the Broadcast Editors Association acted with alacrity in removing him from the post of treasurer, and alleged that the former editors on the committee that took the decision were peeved with him for other reasons.   And on Thursday, even as the Jindal story broke,  the channel first stepped up its hammering on the coal scam, and then came up with a highly specious arguement. It said it had been negotiating with Jindal and his men over a dummy contract for Rs 100 crore worth of advertising which it wanted Jindal to sign. The idea was to  prove how the company had been trying to bribe them  with advertising so that they would lay off on their coal scam coverage. Why did they not do own sting to prove this? Because we thought a signed contract would be evidence, they said on TV on the 25th October night.
The culpability here is far from clear, and whether doctored or not, the taped footage shown was certainly selective. Mr Jindal has allegations against him in the coal scam, and is a man under pressure.  His  motives in waiting for more than a month before making the recording public, are also unclear. Nevertheless it is an episode which tarnishes the ethics of the channels and the individuals involved.  Is the Zee management planning to ride this out or will it say something? At least promise an enquiry of its own to get at the truth? 
First the Zee-Jindal story was off-limits for TV news channels. But when Mr Naveen Jindal suddenly decided to release part of an allegedly incriminating CD at a press conference it quickly became the story of the day for them. With the mystifying exclusion of Times Now which stuck to Nitin Gadkari for its prime time discussion. It did however start  playing up the story later at night.
The worked-up  indignation bubbling over at Zee News has been an almost comic spectacle  for the rest of us, but a sorry moment for other professionals at the channel who are having to defend this bizarre episode. The  anchor working herself up over the coal scam, is the most visible of these. Does she really believe the channel has been unjustifiably implicated?    After she bought time for them on the 25th October evening, Chaudhary and his colleague at Zee Business Sameer Ahluwalia went on air to hammer away at Jindal, and swear that they would pursue the coal scam with even greater zeal. They defended their own conduct till they were blue in the face but something did not quite wash.
Every time another controversy featuring the media breaks, Mr Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council appears on television to express his un-nuanced views.  Arrest them, sue them, cancel their license, etc. But his Press Council hasn’t done that much during the period that he has been at the helm. Certainly his uncompromising views have not resulted in any widely publicised strictures on paid news in print and other ethical aberrations that persist in the print media. Being a  strident champion of press freedom as he has become, loudly evident in the Aseem Trivedi case, is the easy part.
He says there should be a regulatory authority that can cancel TV licenses when an offence is proven. Indeed, but he should also know that draft  bills on a regulatory authority for broadcasting have never been passed since 1997 because there is no political consensus on the issue.
 If Naveen Jindal's evidence holds in this case, it can be tried as one of extortion. No fancy broadcasting laws are needed if there is is proof of a criminal offence. But if it comes to the crunch the media will come together and call it an assault on press freedom. It has happened before. And if it comes to the test we will also get to know who has more clout in this land: a moneyed ruling party MP at the centre of a scam, or a man who works for Subhash Chandra.
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More