Performing cartwheels for Mukesh

BY Thakore| IN Opinion | 27/06/2006
It is not the task of a newspaper to bring investment or be a partner in the progress of a state.



Hammer & Tongs



Not since Caesar went east, conquered Pontus and sent the message back to Rome, veni, vidi, vici, has an eastern conquest of similar proportions taken place. Till the other day, that is. At least that is what Ananda Bazar Patrika would have us believe. Mr Mukesh Ambani, said the paper, came, saw and conquered. When one of the highest circulating newspapers in the country decides to indulge in such caesarian allusions, what hope for the reader from its poor cousin. "Crores & roses from Mukesh" was the headline in The Telegraph and to compete sentence to sentence with the allusion, there was the rhetorical question. "Mukesh Ambaini called it a "historical" day. He might have meant historic and why not historical even?" Not to be left behind in reaching for figures of speech, Hindustan Times married synecdoche to alliteration with its banner headline: Big Bucks for B’day Boy. The lead may have confused the readers with an unexpected rapprochement: The Ambanis did not come empty-handed to the birthday party. (To those outside Bengal the birthday refers to the 30th anniversary of the Left Front Government.) And the use of the verb "sink" for the investment may be portentous. But such mistakes must be pardoned. It is a small price to pay for exuberance and enthusiasm that such moments demand.


It is after all a precious moment. The protective arm of the communist chief minister on the shoulder of the capitalist’s son is indeed touching, especially after one recalls the words of the former general secretary of the CM’s party that "In sum, the less than three decades journey of the group [Reliance] has been truly amazing. But this also makes one ponder as to at what cost this meteoric rise was achieved. Dhirubhai’s biographer has given some instances of his unethical acts when he was just an ordinary employee at a petrol pump in Dubai" (People’s Democracy, February 13, 2005).


But does such a visit or investment call for puffery and cheerleading. The announcements were fairly humdrum and expected. A business entity has decided to invest in the state. There may be reason to celebrate or there may not be depending upon where in the political spectrum one’s ideas find home. Calling on ministers and bureaucrats is de rigeur in our political regime where their mildest interference or lack of cooperation can lead to the best ideas going bust. Four thousand crores even as promises go is a tidy amount. But have the media become part of a subsidiary alliance with the governments in power either at the state or the centre?


The task of the media is to report and to be vigilant of any close association between the state and the market. Collusion of those with money and those in power has a deleterious impact on governance. And that is what the media are supposed to be watching over. The reports should have provided details not on the kind of flowers that Mr Ambani presented or how he addressed the chief minister, but on how would land be procured by the company, the employment that the projects would provide, the kind of safe-guards or special protection that the company may or may not have sought, and so on. The media as the fourth estate are not there to be cheerleaders in the march of the state. As an economic entity, the media do benefit when there is economic prosperity leading to more businesses and higher ad and circulation revenues. But there is no place for boosterism.


It is not the task of a newspaper to bring investment or be a partner in the progress of a state. If one chooses to align with the state, then its actions in the name of the people cannot be critiqued. This is the pit-fall that attends any understanding of the press in a democracy as a partner of the state. The media can only be responsible, if at all, to the abstraction of the constitution in a democracy and not to the policies of parties or the positions of politicians. Regional and state pride, and one dare adds, even national pride have to be put to the touchstone of values that are inscribed in the constitution and are part of natural law. What one saw in the reporting of Mr Ambani’s visit is spun of the same cloth as the coverage of sports, battles, and riots where the allegiance to the welfare and pride of the region, community, or country makes one lose any sense of other values at stake in the event or process. It is where patriotism gives way to jingoism.



Aloke Thakore is a media consultant, journalist, and teacher. He is completing a manuscript on newspaper coverage of ethnic violence. He can be reached at

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