Vivid: What's morality got to do with senior journalists in India?

It's time for senior journalists to take a stand on what's ethical & what's not and understand that in their morality levels lay the levels of future journalism, says Annurag Batra of exchange4media

e4m by Annurag Batra
Updated: Dec 23, 2013 9:10 AM
Vivid: What's morality got to do with senior journalists in India?

When we talk of the Indian media, we tend to take lock, stock and numerous stocking barrels. Every time there’s a debate of what’s wrong and what’s absolutely condemnable, the poor journalist who’s been in the profession for merely some years is questioned about his integrity, about whether his very reason for being in the media is tarred – the lure of power without being in power.

But what about the senior editors who profess to be the beacons of morality for the rest of the society, but themselves stand tainted? What about the editor of a magazine that pointed fingers at all that is wrong with governance in the country and then finally joining a much-scam-tainted company’s media arm as its group editor? Whatever his disgruntlement with his previous employers is, the fact remains the senior editor did join a tainted group.

And what about the senior journalist who plagiarises from global news sites for the best-known news magazine in India? Of course, the magazine sacked him, but the fact remains that the senior editor risked years of good work for the sake of just one editorial!

In ‘An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions’, economists Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen highlight the disinterest of the Indian news media, particularly the mainstream English-language publications, whose consumers are largely the privileged and the fortunate, in the nation’s social issues.

“The vigour of the Indian media is not in doubt, but its inadequacies are large when it comes to the reach, coverage and focus of news, opinions, perspectives — and entertainment,” they opine.

As Manu Joseph, in his piece on ‘The Moral Obligation of India's Media’ writes in the New York Times: “Their (Drèze and Sen’s) use of the dash before “and entertainment” is a gentle academic reprimand to editors who consider films and cricket worthy of coverage in a nation where people are starving.”

One may think this to be farfetched and wonder what is the connection between the morality of senior editors and the social issues that they are not interested in? Is it that Indian journalism has been relegated to being just relevant to the reader? Is it that because we, the common reader, see miseries all so close that we don’t want to read about all that early in the morning? Is it that, as Drèze and Sen point out, media is all about middle-class concerns – political corruption and the safety of urban women?

Wish that was the case. For if it was so, Tehelka would not have been bitten by the same vicious bug that it waged its war against! For corruption does not mean only money changing hands, it also means corrupting a system that was meant to be for vested interests.

A senior journalist who refuses to be named – that’s what I was talking about, an environment where even a senior journalist is hesitant to reveal his name – said “Like there are moral values taught in schools, cub reporters or trainee sub-editors should be introduced to this facet at the start of his career. If we are well educated and have lots of knowledge, but do not know about moral values, it’s useless for us in the future. Moral values involve the principals of knowing right from wrong. Learning moral values is more important than just learning notes without understanding -- this is the base of a future.”

“If journalists are taught moral values when they state, they will constitute the Fourth Estate disciplined against taking to malpractices, even as unmentionable as breaking traffic rules. Journalism schools should provide their students with moral teachings facilities and special teachers in order to make them capable and good citizens,” he added.

It’s so abrasive and downright humiliating for any journalist that should write about the ‘Morality of Today’s Media’: “The senior-most journalists from old school of thoughts think present day media scene is corrupt to the core because it is owned by many rich and influential people with political connections and power. They can manipulate and manage any situation with the help of media. Be it political, commercial or social and economic situation, every issue can be managed by sponsored editorials and news. This is an unfolding story about the corrupt media that speaks volumes on the Editorial takes that we keep watching in TV debates and bias news bites. Investigative journalists and corrupt minds working in the media constantly keep claiming high moral positions, however that is simply a myth today. If not all, very few can claim to be clean, with high moral characters and true to their profession. Honesty and professional integrity are rare commodities in journalism today.”

Interesting that Manu Joseph, despite his effecting and piercing writing and lofty ideals, stands accused of doing precious little when fellow journalist and Political Editor Hartosh Singh Bal was drummed out of Open, the magazine that Manu is the Editor of. Bal called a spade a spade, across political parties, and that was his ‘sin’. He unsettled many, inviting a termination. Of senior editors, Bal said to India Inc of the International New York Times: “This is a particularly divisive and important election in this country, and I think the role the media plays is very, very important. I do think that overall there is an attempt to stifle voices which are independent. I have never seen the media so divided within itself, taking sides, being so partisan, even when it is clear where the funding and support is coming from.”

He was speaking of the Assembly elections earlier this year in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Indeed, senior journalists have to mind their morality. Otherwise, why is it that it escapes their eye that the Press Trust of India – the only news agency worth its name in the country – has a ‘rehash desk’, whose only job is to search and create copy from all over the world? Of course, it’s a done thing if the agency gives the actual source its credit. But what is unsettling is that PTI uses the place line too, giving the impression that it has journalists stationed everywhere. For example, if PTI rehashes a copy filed by various media outlets in London, it will perhaps quote this source and that. But the place line? Question is, should PTI use London as the place line when there’s a whole desk rehashing reports from London?

Indeed, lots of questions floating in the air. It’s time for senior journalists to take a stand on what’s ethical and what’s not. They must understand that in their morality levels lay the levels of future journalism – the profession that keeps a check on all that is there to the nation. 

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