Legally certified hacks?

BY hoot| IN Opinion | 13/03/2013
Journalists will be competent and incompetent, rascals and angels, regardless of which institutions they come out of.
A HOOT comment. Pix: Markandey Katju
Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation.
George Bernard Shaw, 1931
Eighty years after that was said  the malaise has become a technologically disseminated epidemic.  It sounds like a description of almost every other satellite news channel on air today.
Shaw’s  quote can be  found on a web resource called Quote Garden. And right at the bottom of a pageful of memorable put-downs about hacks,  is an advertisement. For the BA journalism & communication course at Manipal University.  The juxtaposition sums up deliciously  two basic truths about the current Indian situation. Never has media been more deficient, and never has there  been more journalism education around. Think of all those breathless young and not-so- young  things hollering their excited piece-to-cameras.  We can bet every one of them has come out of either a stand-alone media school or one run by a channel or newspaper.   So what price Markandey Katju’s latest salvo? Will a legally prescribed training requirement  ensure that those who are hired to holler can distinguish between a bicycle accident and the collapse of  civilisation?
Is the poor journalism on offer about the absence of training  or the inadequacy of it?  As is the blunderbuss chairman’s wont, he has qualified himself  subsequently   and  declared  that the Press Council will make it its mission to supervise and regulate journalism education institutions in this country. Good luck to it. 
But the debate he has sparked is worth joining briefly. Should there be a minimum threshold of training and certification to enter the profession? And is it really true that there is not? It was partly  true of the seventies and  eighties that journalists got recruited by people they knew and may have studied things other than journalism. Today the  profession has more highly qualified professionals on its rolls than ever before. Why is Mr Katju labouring a point about the specialised knowledge financial journalists should have? Has he done a study on what the level of education of the  editorial employees of the business press is? While the  PCI chairman is  consistently banal in his pronouncements,  it continues to astound how much legitimacy his utterances are given. Maybe because even a silly controversy is better for the media than none.  Or may be because it has little self-esteem left.
Many of the ills of journalism come from a lack of commitment on the part of those who run the business.  Paid news for instance is decided at the top.  Good  journalism requires qualities of head and heart that transcend technical knowledge. But if s/he has both and the  proprietor is not inclined to foot the bill for dedicated reporting what price Mr Katju’s legal requirement?  
If the financial model of media is ratings based, and popular tastes decide these ratings what price the Columbia journalism school degrees more and more of the current lot of practising journalists have?
Vinod Mehta’s assertion about being a BA fail who hasn’t done too badly has helped lighten the Katju non-arguement.  Journalists are both born and made. They will be competent and incompetent, rascals and angels, regardless of which institutions they come out of. As Abhinandan Sekhri of Newslaundry said memorably on DD News, unlike medicine, the profession Mr Katju cites as an example, it is not just about knowing the difference between the liver and the spleen.   Training alone does not equip a journalist.
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