Mixed Media: Why barbers and bus drivers are more trusted than journalists

A Reader’s Digest survey shows journalists ranked at #30 from among 40 professionals, with only cartoonist RK Laxman in the Top 10, rues Pradyuman Maheshwari analysing the top-level findings.

e4m by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Published: Mar 3, 2010 7:12 AM  | 5 min read
Mixed Media: Why barbers and bus drivers are more trusted than journalists

Chill, this is no Holi joke, and April 1 is still a few days away. I am just done with re-reading the India’s Most Trusted survey of public figures that Reader’s Digest editor Mohan Sivanand shared with me last week. The study is part of the Digest’s cover story for this month.

In Sivanand’s words: “On a personal note, I don’t have cause to rejoice, because journalists ranked 30th among 40 professions... So what if we'd thought our job was a more exalted and philosophical one?” News mediapersons indeed do often believe that they are god’s gift to mankind. Or, well, a section of them do. Many years back, when television news would happen only on government-run Doordarshan, The Times of Indian editor Dileep Padgaonkar said in an interview that his is the second-most important job in the country. After the prime minister, that is.

In the Indian twitterverse, there’s a hashtag called ‘#ArnabforPM’. That’s because in his signature show ‘Newshour’, the Times Now editor-in-chief fashions himself as the man who’s most distressed by the country’s problems esp from Pakistan, China and Australia. #ArnabforPM is tongue-in-cheek of course. Sample this from @venkatananth: “I have a suggestion. Arnab Goswami's Newshour (CD Copy) should henceforth be given as a complimentary dossier to Pakistan”. Hehe.

Arnab and Shekhar Gupta curiously do not figure in 100 public personalities ranked in the Reader’s Digest March 2010 cover feature. I am not sure if his name was supplied to the digital agency that conducted the poll, apparently it wasn’t because the exercise was to rank 100 public personalities and not choose from them. But more on the rankings later.

Having spent a good part of my life as a journalist and given up on cushier climes of other professions, it’s indeed upsetting to find barbers and bus/ train drivers or even plumbers being trusted more than scribes. Well, I have nothing against the barber (#21) – the one I go to in Mumbai gives me a neat cut every single time. Ditto with train and bus drivers (#17) or plumbers (#29). Mercifully, we are better off than real estate agents (#39), taxi drivers (#33) and cops (#37). And lawyers who are at #36 or politicians at #40. Teachers, by the way, are India’s most trusted professionals.

So, could this be the ‘Rann’ effect? Is all of the rah-rah against news television journos causing this problem of perception? While one can take some consolation in the fact that it’s not just Indian journos who aren’t trusted. The Digest notes: “Journalists everywhere took a seat somewhere in the bottom quarter.” Ranked #32 in Australia and #30 in Canada too!

I guess we know what some of the problems are in our country. First, corruption. Small to large-scale. Legit and on the sly. Second, news television often sensationalises (not all of what Amitabh Bachchan says or writes is trash!). Third, journalists – especially those in urban centres -- are often far removed from reality. This list could go on but there’s a fair bit of good that journalists do. Perhaps those who took the online poll do not know about that. Or perhaps they trust their barbers and baawarchis (chefs are at #13) a lot, lot more.

Meanwhile, the Reader’s Digest poll conducted by online research firm The Digital Edge of 761 persons across 30 Indian cities, also determined who are the most trusted in India.

Former president APJ Abdul Kalam is #1 and Ratan Tata is #2 with Mayawati at #100. Among the full-time mediapersons are:

RK Laxman (9), Dr Prannoy Roy (28), Swaminathan Aiyar (37), N Ram (43), Jaideep Bose (46), Prabhu Chawla (54), P Sainath (59), Rajdeep Sardesai (61), Barkha Dutt (65), Tarun Tejpal (85) and Ekta Kapoor (95). As I wrote earlier, no Shekhar Gupta or Arnab Goswami (both visible faces) and no Aroon Purie or Vinod Mehta. If Purie’s name was excluded because he owns the Digest in India, then with the same logic the India Today strongman Prabhu Chawla’s name should’ve also not figured. But it does.

Jaideep Bose’s name at #46 is a bit of a surprise since this isn’t a power list, but rests essentially on perception. For, he’s not as visible to the world as some others in his newspaper. I am intrigued by the fact that while the respondents had their reasons in putting down journalists to #30, they’ve chosen the chief editor of the newspaper that has legitimised paid-for journalism in its Top 50.

There are a few mediapersons among the most trusted: Kiran Bedi, former cop and now more of a television showperson is at #3, Sanjeev Kapoor at #31 (he’s a chef alright, but essentially a TV host and a restaurateur), Jaspal Bhatti at #43 (the funny man who was huge in the Doordarshan days). Writers and columnists Khushwant Singh is #51 and Shobhaa De is #76. Sanctuary magazine editor, columnist and TV regular Bittu Sahgal is #56. Ramchandra Guha, commentator, author and historian, is at #59 while Mr Twitter, Shashi Tharoor is #84.

Journalist-turned-politician Arun Shourie is #79, while Anil Ambani is #77 with brother Mukesh at #74. Sunil Mittal is several times more trusted at #26.

I am personally not convinced about whether an online poll can indeed be said to be a truly representative sample of the country. But, as Sivanand, says they are close to mirroring the mood of the masses pretty accurately.

(The views expressed here are my own. Post your comments below or email or tweet at @pmahesh.)

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