The Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards that were presented at a ceremony in the Capital on April 13, 2009, also saw an interesting panel discussion on ‘Journalist and Politician: The line is blurring’. The discussion brought together some leading opinion makers and experts who shared their views ranging from the declining morality in the society to the lowering of benchmarks in journalism.
The panel discussion featuring senior journalists and politicians saw the two factions swapping roles as they raised several questions: Does an editor, in the last years of his career, start drifting from the newsroom and begin working towards his/her Rajya Sabha seat? Is the line one of ideology or of convenience? Can a TV channel liberate itself from the tyranny of TRPs? Why is a trainee journalist usually an idealist, and as she moves up, gets increasingly cynical?
The panel included BJP leader Arun Jaitley; Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi; Congress leader Jayanthi Natarajan; Barkha Dutt, Group Editor, NDTV; Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN; Rajat Sharma, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, India TV; Sanjay Gupta, CEO, Dainik Jagran; Shobhana Bhartia, Chairperson and Editorial Director, Hindustan Times; Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, The Express Group; and P Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu.
Natarajan was of the opinion that the lines between journalism and politics were blurring. She said, “Often, journalists now become part of the process. While politics and journalism were inextricably linked, the challenge lay in how we can constantly push the frontiers while self-regulating.”
According to Singhvi, “This is a world of wearing many hats. On a recent show, someone was called a defence expert, but was a member of the defence policy of a particular political party. He further said that the viewer or reader shouldn’t be kept in the dark.
P Sainath felt that the more important issue was of journalism and politics, and the blinkers that a journalist so comfortably wore in a media organisation.
Shobhana Bhartia said, “The media as a whole has its head above the water. But it cannot be forgotten that the Government is the largest spender and advertiser.”
When Gupta asked Sardesai if he was worried about ‘institutionalised fixing’ of stories by the media, Sardesai replied, “Media rarely goes beyond the ‘he said, she said’ kind of journalism. When was the last time an enterprising journalist forced a politician on the backfoot? Given the levels to which some journalists stoop vis-à-vis politicians, we should hang our heads in shame.”
To this, Barkha Dutt said, “It isn’t true that journalists are not trying hard enough or that they don’t have access. The problem is of journalists being seduced by their sources. I have heard many politicians say after an interview, ‘Can you remove that line, please?’ and all of us do it at one time or the other.”
Arun Jaitely noted, “The declining moral standards of the society as a whole were being reflected in the media.” Though he disagreed that the line between politics and journalism was blurring, he said that the role of media was, in fact, changing.
According to Sainath, “The dangers of the conflict between the ‘Fourth Estate and the real estate’ and the blurring of lines between ‘journalism and stenography’ wasn’t the failure of the individual journalist, but a ‘systemic and structural’ failure of the media. In the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the media didn’t challenge experts who had said things could never be better. And then, after you lost all your money, these same experts are trotted out to say how and why you lost your money.”
Sanjay Gupta noted, “Just as there is freedom of speech, there should be freedom of bias. If a newspaper has a bias, it is better to be open about it. Why should a politician tell me what my newspaper should carry?”
While politicians mocked the ‘tyranny of TRPs’, India TV’s Rajat Sharma said, “If you think we enjoy TRPs, we are the victims of TRPs. In the first year of my news channel, I ran stories on rural development and social issues. But that didn’t work and I almost had to sell my property to keep the channel going. The third year I decided to take the middle ground – spend 50 per cent of my time chasing TRPs and the other half on ‘social issues’. The TRPs came to my rescue; I got to keep my property, raise revenue over 100 per cent.”
Ramnath Goenka Awards: Karan Thapar, P Sainath adjudged ‘Journalist of the Year’