Anil Thakraney: Law needs to be tougher on journalists

By Anil Thakraney

 

Since I am not a television anchor, I shall refrain from speculating on the Zee versus Jindal case. We have courts to decide who’s the guilty one and who’s the victim, therefore we must leave that task to the judges. I have only one comment to make on this particular issue, and this too I state purely from a journalistic standpoint: If the Zee News journalists were indeed out to entrap the Jindal managers, then common sense suggests sting operation cameras and audio devices would have to be employed. Else, there is no evidence of the ‘expose’.

 

However, I want to make a broader point: It is often said that if the entire nation is corrupted, why must we expect the media to be any different? The media, after all, hasn’t descended from Mars, it’s an offshoot of the same rotten system. This is a logical explanation, therefore one can’t refute it. However, my own view is that BECAUSE the nation is so corrupted, it’s critical that the media, which is the only voice ordinary citizens have, must remain clean. We have to create structures and processes that encourage and reward integrity. If the media turns corrupt, there’s very little hope for the nation.

 

In that context, I have to say I am deeply dismayed by all the scandals involving the media. As long as sponsored ads were being palmed off as editorial entertainment pieces, one didn’t really mind. But then we got hit by the scourge of paid news, and this was really alarming. If editors are doctoring news in exchange for money, then it is pretty shameful. In fact, it’s a criminal act because such media outlets are playing with the nation’s future. Radiagate, to me, was the last straw. Because it told us that senior, much respected journalists were busy betraying the profession. And now comes the Zee/Jindal scandal of epic proportions.

 

So what’s the way out? Well, there is a lot of talk going on about media regulation, either from within or from without, but I am not entirely sure this will help. The news media boom has attracted many businessmen to the party, and some of them treat news as a commodity that needs to be traded for profit. So these worthies aren’t going to be keen on cleaning up the mess. But good luck to those who believe in the idea of regulation.

 

My own belief that fear factor is probably the only thing that will reign in corrupt media practices. Journalists have to be worried about the ramifications of their shady actions. If the court cases are allowed to drag on for decades, this fear isn’t going to happen. The judiciary, in conjunction with the executive, must evolve a process whereby judgments related to trials involving the media are done and dusted inside one year. That alone will put the fear of God in the media. If Britain could deal with Murdoch’s phone hacking scandal so quickly, clearly we can do it too, if the will exists.

 

Net net: The legal process must be swifter on us journalists. Even more so than on hardened criminals. Because criminals are a threat to an individual or to a group of people. We journalists have the power to damage an entire nation’s future.

 

Anil Thakraney is a senior journalist and commentator. He is also Editor-at-Large, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are his own

 

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