The sound of money

BY hoot| IN Media Practice | 07/12/2009
Media establishments have begun to implement dubious editorial practices and the individual no longer has a choice.If journalists young and old are writing copy that could put PR agencies out of business, who among us is going to do something about i
A HOOT editorial, with inputs from MAHESH VIJAPURKAR. Pix: CNN IBN panel on the Shave India Movement.

In just the past week the media has been reverberating with the buzz of commerce. It is extraordinary how charged up the industry becomes when it is enthused by the prospect of making a buck in a bad year. On television and in print there has been a repeat of Gillette's Shave India campaign of an earlier year, with people who look like reporters with mikes going out asking women whether they like clean shaven men better.  A topic of such pressing public interest importance that The Times of India even ran a front page bylined story on the subject, with no hint of irony and no indication that it was a sponsored feature.  


 Just yesterday there was a programme--not ad--again on it on CNN IBN. On an earlier panel discussion on this channel, a guest had actually gestured to suggest that in times of terrorism beards are not such a good idea! The ostensible news point: independent surveys which show that the majority of women prefer clean shaven men.


Competing for attention with this was a series of advertisements in the Economic Times and the Times of India advertising the success of the group's  private treaties campaign. On December 4, 2009 for instance the Mumbai edition of the newspaper put out a half page colour advertisement on the Times Private Treaties  on page 19  titled How to Perform the Great Indian Rope Trick and cited the Pantaloon¿s case of being a leader in retail and how it could "pull it off" because of Pantaloon¿s partnership with Times Private Treaties. The advertisement read: "With the added advantage of being a media house, Times Private Treaties (TPT)went beyond the usual role of an investor" by not straining the partner¿s cash flows. It was because of "the unparalleled advertising muscle of India¿s leading media conglomerate." As Pantaloon "furiously expanded (the) distribution network, Times Private Treaties ensured he was never short on demand." The TPT has "over 200 such case studies" and the TPT has a "better phrase for it. We called it business sense."


How explicit are we going to get? The stress is on the deals being with a media house where the full clout of the media is on offer for your brand. Where else but in the editorial space could that be provided, apart from the advertisements printed in exchange for the stake?  Critics of TPT have voiced the fear in the past that something adverse about a client can be ignored or downplayed, thus undermining the credibility of  the publication and compromising editorial values.


Even without an arrangement such as Private Treaties, reporters have begun to write such obliging copy that their stories have begun to sound like  publicity brochures. Check out the front page story DNA carried on December 6, 2009 on a high rise apartment block being built!


Meanwhile the repercussions of what went on during the Maharashtra elections is still being felt. Candidates bought coverage packages which were offered to them. The copy was written by ad agencies. The same stories about a candidate appeared in different newspapers, in some cases the same copy appeared as a story in some papers, and as an advertisement in others!  Jansatta editor Om Thanvi pointed out at a SAFMA (South Asian Free Media Association) conference in Mumbai last week where news for sale was discussed, having sold the packages, newspaper agents would then come around to the candidates asking if they would like to recharge their packages !! You have to pinch yourself and ask if all this is for real.


The sober learning from Maharashtra is that the corruption is settling into the profession's soul. At the same conference P Sainath, Rural Affairs editor of the Hindu referred to what a senior journalist had written to him to say: When it was individual journalists being corrupted, professionals had a choice. Of going that route, or staying away from it.   Now that media establishments have begun to implement dubious editorial practices themselves the individual no longer has a choice. Wrote the scribe about stories which were written to order:"My byline is on one of those."  How sad is that?


The Election Commissioner in Hyderabad apparently warned media houses this year before a local body election and the practice came down substantially. If the EC in Delhi is more interested in cracking down on graffiti on walls than on subversion of the spending limit for candidates by a greedy media, who is going to do something about it?


After the Hindu exposed how much coverage Chief Minister Ashokrao Chavan got in the state elections for how little declared money, only Mint chose to carry the story forward.


If journalists young and old are writing copy that could put PR agencies out of business, who among us is going to do something about it?


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