Hit by the ‘News of the World’ phone hacking controversy, media mogul Rupert Murdoch said that he was “shocked, appalled and ashamed”. Even as the entire incident has forced the British media to do some soul-searching, the Indian media fraternity has reacted strongly to the scandal.
Already under the scanner following the Niira Radia phone tapping controversy, most in the media fraternity feel the latest development calls for a stronger moral code of conduct for journalists to avoid an NOTW-like situation in India.
exchange4media spoke to some leading editors to gauge their reactions to the entire scandal…
Kumar Ketkar, Editor, Divya Marathi: This controversy has come as a lesson for global media. The technology has not invaded privacy, but it is people who have done this and phone-hacking is one manifestation of disrespecting other’s privacy. Unfortunately in India, privacy is quite undervalued, while in Europe and America, sometimes it is overvalued. So far, Murdoch was tolerated by same American and European media, who are calling him a villain now as the phone-hacking case unfolds. Otherwise he would have carried on. Notoriety of Murdoch was quite identified and visible even before all this controversy, particularly on the Fox channel, where he was able to get his views expressed through the news anchor, which were extremely right wing, bordering on fascism. But at that time nobody cared and many politicians preferred to be in his company and as his friends. Things have changed now not because of any administrative action on him, but because another newspaper has exposed him. Even when The Guardian newspaper attacked him, it was possible for Murdoch to defend him through media by attacking The Guardian in the most vicious manner. But since The Guardian report was backed by actual facts, he could not really do much about it.
Several sting operations done by TV or print media in India have been used for blackmailing. 99 per cent of cases of the so-called sting operations are used for blackmailing. This controversy has taught that media can also be challenged. And media owners who want to follow the Murdoch-model in India have been taught a lesson by this.
Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express: Questions have always been raised over the ways and means adopted by the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media empire in various parts of the world, including in India. Though I believe that journalists should deploy all means possible to extract information which serves the public’s interest, these means should be both legal and ethical. Paying bribes or exploiting a tragedy for the sake of news is unacceptable. If illegally-acquired information is misused to influence policies, it is an unpardonable act. NI's exposure will certainly contain the dangerous and cozy liaison between barons and the establishment.
In India, incidents of state-sponsored phone tapping of conversations between contacts and journalists have taken place. In some cases, even corporate rivalries have led to hacking of telephones. However, the Indian media is unlikely to resort to such unhealthy and illegal methods of collecting information. We have to worry instead about the threats which competitive politics and business pose to the freedom of the press.
NK Singh, Editor, Sadhna News and Secretary, Broadcasters Editors Guild (BEA): For the greater public benefit if journalists, by using electronic gadgets, take out important information, there is nothing wrong in that. The fear is once you embark on this project, there may be some unscrupulous people in media who may use it for other private purposes. In countries like India or for that matter Europe, where corruption is widespread and it is difficult to access information, extra legal means have to be used in the larger public interest. However, beyond a point stealth or sting operations should not be conducted and they should not be used for private gains.
Sachin Kalbag, Editor, Mid Day: The phone hacking controversy in the UK is a watershed event for journalism. The most dangerous part of the scandal was the conspiracy of silence among all those involved, and among those who were aware but chose to keep quiet about it. This included top journalists of News International (and News Corp), its management, policemen, and even politicians. I shudder to think what would have happened if the phone hacking was not exposed by other media houses, starting with The Guardian. There is no doubt that Rupert Murdoch and News Corp are among the most influential media entities anywhere in the world, but then, with great power comes great responsibility.
The biggest impact the controversy could have is that journalists and media houses around the world, especially in democracies, will no longer harbour the illusion that they are untouchable, and that, they, more than anybody else, would have to stick to the highest ethical standards in their professional lives. Of course, this might not happen universally, and there will always be black sheep, but it could ward off at least some of those who would have thought of replicating this model or would do something that makes them cross the line.
Shashi Shekhar, Editor-in-Chief, Hindustan: Journalists cannot use those means which are not allowed by law to go deep into the matter for the story. Journalists’ job is to write and report under the purview of constitution and keeping social responsibilities in mind. Because of the recent Radia tape controversy and involvement of some senior journalist in it, in India, we ourselves are under many suspicions. We need to learn lessons from these controversies otherwise we may also have to face Rebekah Brooks like situation. We need to have stringent code of conduct which has to be followed by journalists and if someone violates it media group themselves should take action on that.