More exposed than before?

BY hoot| IN Media Practice | 08/12/2012
The lid is off the can of worms, they've climbed out, and things are unlikely to be the same again. Which can only do the Indian media a world of good.
A HOOT editorial
Has the media become noticeably more unethical of late, or is it that the estate has become far more willing to scrutinise its own fraternity? So that stories which  never used to be done are now being done?  Look at the rumbles of revelation all around. The latest issue of Caravan magazine with two long stories on the Times Group is providing a lot of grist for chatter. But the issue  also examines the financial disaster that news television has become. This weekend there is a cover story in Tehelka on the Indian media’s increasing propensity to self-destruct. And the Indian Express has a man in Chhattisgarh who has by now turned  the spotlight on media shenanigans in the state in at least three major stories.
The lid is off the can of worms, they’ve climbed out, and things are unlikely to be the same again. Which can only do the Indian media a world of good. Covering this burgeoning sector like any other is the best form of self regulation. When there is a lot of media it also means there are some willing to break from the herd and do a media expose which is begging to be done. That is how the Raadia Tapes came out, even as many media houses continued to pretend nothing had happened even after the revelations.
About time. Some of the voices in yesterday’s Indian Express  and Hindu stories on paid news in Chhattisgarh are priceless. The media profession’s ethical moorings have gone for such a toss  that we are now being told that we have to stop being righteous and take new realities into account. Abhay Kishore, the editor of Z24 says that seen in a pragmatic light what is being evolved at the level of the regional media (in his group’s case, need we remind him, also at the level of the national media) is simply new forms of revenue. The state governments have a pragmatic need for positive projection, news channels have a pragmatic need for revenues to sustain journalism. So whats a little give and take between friends? And when nobody else is hurt or affected what’s the hoo-haa about?
Well, depends how you define nobody. A woman in Bastar who was picked up by the police, according to the Indian Express, on suspicion of being a Maoist, had a story spun around her before the police had completed their interrogation or established that she was indeed involved in extremist activity.  And the state government paid some money for that story. If she does not count, a mere citizen after all, then you could argue that   nobody is hurt.
Mr Naveen Jindal, of course, is not a nobody and the give and take in that incident ended badly for the Zee group. When you are a considerable magnate and a not inconsequential ruling party MP you can do without a news channel’s investigative zeal and move to curb it when it gets too pesky.   The sting operation that he did, followed by custodial arrest of the editors of Zee News and Zee Business, has turned public  attention on the scams in the media business which are  waiting to be uncovered. The media itself has taken up the story vigorously, prompting the former editor of DNA Aditya Sinha to write a column about trial by rival media. Now he himself has quit, so the story gets curiouser and curiouser. Looks like the Zee group will continue in the news for some time to come.
Is the increasingly unviable TV news business impacting media ethics? TV news in particular is threatened by a flood of new entrants including politicians, politicial parties, small and big businesses and many others.  As for Chhattisgarh’s paid news, and similar allegations about how the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar subverts scrutiny of his government though state advertising, will this pragmatic new relationship affect the media’s role as a watchdog of government?
Politicians reach their voters through TV. There is mass contact, but it needs to be amplified to save Mr Raman Singh the trouble of holding say, twenty public meetings instead of five. Then he gets more time to run the government. So the deal in Chhattisgarh is that you pay Sahara Samay to do the amplifying on a regular settled basis, so many coverages of public meetings, for such and such a fee, no nonsense about news values deciding what gets amplified.
If that sounds depressing there is an upside. In addition to the media slowly becoming a beat to cover, the setting up of the  News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) is beginning to deliver results. It is receiving complaints and adjudicating them, and then publicising its findings. Citizens have got sharper in their scrutiny of what is being dished out to them, and they now have a forum to take these complaints to.
The most recent orders passed by the NBSA in October are instructive. One of them deals with conflict of interest, which never seems to become enough of an issue in the Indian media. Order No. 14 upheld a complaint against Times Now saying that in its discussions on the Tatra trucks deal in April 2012 the channel has failed to disclose that its defence analyst Maroof Raza, who was invited to such programmes as an expert, was himself a consultant to foreign arms manufacturers, suppliers and dealers.
The complainant said that in cases such as this there ws clear possibility of a conflict of interest between the business interests of the expert and the subject matter on which he was commenting. It was obligatory on part of the channel to disclose the exact business of the expert so that viewers would be able to evaluate correctly the views expressed by him. The NBSA upheld the complaint and directed Times Now to ensure that in future adequate disclosure was made about the business interests, credentials and circumstances of the experts of the experts who appear on their channel.
Order no, 16 dealt with a  complaint regarding a health programme telecast on CNBC TV 18 sponsored by M/s Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company, which conducted a panel discussion on the subject of diabetes. One of  the panellists mentioned a drug by name,  advocating its used as an effective drug for diabetes. The drug was produced by the sponsoring company. The order observed that the moderator of the programme was news channel’s Editor, Technology and Special Projects which was most inappropriate since editors and anchors of news ought not appear in programmes which are in the nature of advertorials.  It said the channel had committed a violation of the NBSA code of ethics.
Order no 17 ticked off Aaj Tak and IBN 7 for telecasting a one-sided story on a family dispute which was of no great public interest.
Decades of omerta on the media industry’s wrong doing is breaking, slowly but surely. With luck the Hoot won’t even need to exist a few years down the line!
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