There have been some reports on internal mails from senior editors doing the rounds at The Times of India in the wake of the Deepika Padukone versus Bombay Times controversy. But the one that has been circulated widely is an emotional appeal from Kingshuk Nag, Resident Editor of The Times of India in Hyderabad. The well-worded letter uses the face-off between the entertainment and advertorial supplement of the newspaper, Bombay Times, and the star, to urge journalists of the TOI group to introspect. The incident had been a talking point for days, with BT’s Managing Editor Priya Gupta slamming Padukone for her stand against the controversial images flashed by the newspaper. Besides competitors tearing into the reputation of the newspaper, the rebuttal had even the international media come down heavily on the brand.
Nag, who was earlier RE with TOI Ahmedabad, is known for his no-non sense approach towards journalism and his hard-hitting coverage of the Gujarat riots. He has also written a biography of PM Narendra Modi.
Nag begins by referring to his colleagues as “Editorial colleagues and co- pilgrims” and mentions the subject as “Reclaiming Journalism.”
“Good and evil are however subjective words and evil could mean to denote not only our external enemies but also our internal obstacles. In fact most often than not we are inhibited by obstacles that we place before ourselves and victory is to surmount these impediments to go forward on our path and practice our dharma.”
He speaks of his personal reaction to the incident as a “nightmare.”
“For the last few days I have been disturbed a lot. This followed the by now widely publicized row that Bombay Times has had with Deepika Padukone. Our ‘vagina and tits’ reference in a story carried in the supplement has lot a drawn of adverse reference in even international media. I feel shamed and humiliated by the comments being freely passed about us including in competing publications… For me the worst nightmare would be if someone went to the Supreme Court with a PIL seeking printing of a statutory warning on the masthead of the paper. The warning is that “some of the news carried in this paper is paid for,” he rites with evident anguish, adding, “Somebody could also file a PIL asking for a definition of what a newspaper is.”
Taking a strong view of Media Net’s and Priya Gupta’s growing influence within the organisation, Nag writes:
“…supplements carried along with the TOI main paper have provisions for medianet. These supplements – though they have their own editors and imprint lines – are distributed along with the main paper. Of course, we carry on the masthead a line called advertorial, entertainment promotion feature, as a safeguard. But can a court not go beyond this?
A few months ago- in February end- at our brand editorial meeting in Sri Lanka- the managing editor of Bombay Times (the same person with non-editorial background who has written the vagina and tits story) made a suggestion that on Sundays probably the Bombay Times could on top and the main paper could be wrapped within. I recollect vividly that the suggestion was met with a hushed silence and disbelief, till the CEO dismissed it saying: ‘that’s just an idea (which I read as meaning the idea of the person suggesting).”
Calling jourmalism a “sacred profession,” Nag speaks of how it was a career choice for those who could have easily gone for anything else. “By doing so we forsook many ordinary pleasures of life. For us, there is no Sunday, no Holi, no Diwali. For us there is no watching a movie in a hall in the evening 6-9 show. Thus journalism has become a lifestyle for us and this is something that we wear on our sleeves- very proudly. For us nothing gives us more kick than paper well brought out, a page well designed, a story well written and a picture well displayed. Nothing is more dampening to us that spotting errors and misses in our paper every morning. It spoils our mood. Yet we cannot be described as living in our own world…”
Admitting that times have changed, Nag claims that he has not faced any pressure from advertisers in his 22-year-stint with TOI: “We are all aware that a paper that we sell to our readers for Rs 3 costs us upwards of Rs 20 to produce. The difference is paid by the advertiser. Considering this I can affirm and proudly so that the advertiser has almost no say in the content our paper. This is something that is amazing and unbelievable but so it is. Also over my long years in the TOI – I am now in my 22nd year -I have not been subject to any owner/ senior management pressure on what can be carried in the paper. I have worked in four different centers of TOI: New Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. In some of my job profiles I have faced external intimidation but no internal company pressures. For over 14 of these 21 plus years I have been the editor of an independent edition.”
He writes that, “…a bias against journalists can be discerned. Though this may not be an institutional bias but it sometimes does percolate down the line and is not pleasant to encounter. As an example two years ago just before Diwali, I ran into the director in charge of the Management Assurance Services (MAS), a function which is akin to internal audit. The director who had come visiting Hyderabad told me (in words to that effect) that all journalists were corrupt. When I glared back at him, he said ‘at least in Delhi’ but withdrew because I started at him harder. I wanted to tell him that he had no idea and clue about the complexities of the job of an Editor but thought it a waste of time to educate him.”
Talking about the pros and cons of liberalization and how all change may not always be for the better, Nag writes: “It is not about the worship of Mammon. In fact the worship of Mammon leads nowhere and our recent national history proves this.”
Urging his colleagues to rise above their personal interests to address bigger issues, he writes; “All of us have individual interests. Above them we have the interests of our family, friends and relatives. Above all this is the societal and national interests. What our societal interests are and what our national interests should be – could be a matter of debate. But we cannot forget that there has to be national interest. When a soldier goes to war we expect him to fight for the country and even die in national interest. We will not pardon a soldier who draws his salary but runs away from the battlefield. As journalists we cannot be say that we can run away from the national interest, whatever the compulsion is.”
He ends once again with an emotional appeal: “I write to you because I am extremely troubled and nowhere to turn to. I hope we will be able to work together and reclaim journalism and give back to society what we take for it. This is what we owe to our great nation. This is our dharma.”