How about a little ethics from owners & managers?

24 Nov,2011

By Ranjona Banerji


The big news for Friday’s newspapers and Thursday evening’s television will undoubtedly be the assault on Union minister Sharad Pawar in Delhi and whatever happens to Sachin Tendulkar in the match against the West Indies in Mumbai.


But the big news for Thursday was the announcement on Wednesday evening that Cyrus Mistry was to take over from Ratan Tata as chairman of the Tata group in December 2012. Although Mistry – son of Shapoor Pallonji of the giant construction company and a significant shareholder in Tata Sons – was on the shortlist, most of the talk had been of Ratan’s half-brother Noel, who runs Trent.


So plenty of scope for journalistic speculation, projection and detailing from Mistry’s choice of music to his preferred holiday destinations most of which has been fulfilled in the newspapers. The Economic Times also wins the award for Desperate Need for A Pun with the headline ‘Mystery Ends, Mistry Begins’.


Since Ratan Tata will only retire when he turns 75 in December 2012, there is enough time for our largely adulatory business media to tell us everything we never wanted to know about Mistry (or, if you prefer, No-more-a-mystery). Puns, as you can see, are endemic, chronic and largely incurable in journalism.




But the biggest issue for the media is more media-related. The edit page of The Times of India carries a long and extremely well-argued lead article by N Ravi of the Hindu group called ‘Censors at the Gates’. The ludicrously large fine on Times Now for defamation has been dissected and dismissed, the dangers of allowing government regulation of the media has been delineated and the Press Council of India and its new chairman Markandey Katju summarily castigated.

Ravi says, “What is causing consternation among the media now is that to the expected chorus of complaints from parties in power facing media exposure of corruption have now been added the voices of the Vice-President of India Hamid Ansari and former Supreme Court judge and newly appointed chairman of the Press Council of India Markandey Katju. Self-regulation of the broadcast media has failed and there was a need for a state-sponsored body to regulate the media, both asserted at an event held ironically to mark the National Press Day…

“The debate on the media has somehow got tangled with the discussion on putting in place an ombudsman to tackle corruption among ministers and high public officials though they are two entirely different sets of issues.”

Ravi points out that much as the media dishes it out, should be able to take it. But he makes a distinction between being subject to the laws of the land and being subjected to unfair legal conditions or restrictions of any kind by the government.

So far so good. No media person can argue with Ravi. The difference however between being a journalist and owner of a media house emerges at the end of the article when Ravi discusses government trying to stifle the media through its wage board. Regardless of how good a newspaper The Hindu is, let us not forget that the standards of journalism are upheld by journalists and no by owners. Most of the degradation in the media today — paid news, private treaties and other forms of institutionalised corruption – are invented and carried out by owners and managers. The wage board ensures that newspaper owners pay their journalists and other workers. It is hard to understand the moaning and carping of newspaper owners that paying wage board rates will force newspapers to close down. The Times of India, for instance, several years ago switched to the contract system for journalists when the birth of broadcast news created a shortage of journalists and an escalation of salaries. A few that stuck to the permanent employee-wage board system got paid comparative pittances. Some in fact, at the tail end of their careers, found they were earning about the same as trainees.

It is also well-known that many language papers pay their reporters almost nothing and expect them to make a living through helping the owners through various channels of institutionalised blackmail. When I was with The Times of India in Ahmedabad in the early 2000s and Divya Bhaskar was launched, the other Gujarati papers were horrified that Bhaskar paid English-newspaper rates rather than the usual Rs 1000 a month for reporters.

The upshot is that wage board recommendations are minimal and most large English and some language papers pay well above them. The recommendations are tailored to the size of the newspaper – they are not uniform across all of them. I do not know of any industry where employees have to be willing to work happily for peanuts while the owners rake it in. Not surprisingly, the journalists are quite happy with the wage board because it means at least they get paid something. Journalists would be even happier if owners and managers did not dictate news to suit their advertisers, gave up Medianet and stopped the practice of paid news.

So how about a little more media ethics from owners and managers?




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6 responses to “How about a little ethics from owners & managers?”

  1. Ananda_puranik says:

    Couldnt agree more with Ms. Bannerji. Sadly TV anchors seem to either get overawed or overagressive with their coverage

  2. Sachin’s elusive century is one big BORE! He v. strategically waited to make it in Bombay and boom! Am I glad he didn’t!

  3. Reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’

  4. Reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’

  5. Brilliant! Clearly the socio-political situation in India currently, is reminiscent of the prohibition in Chicago. Way to go Ronjana.

  6. Brilliant! Clearly the socio-political situation in India currently, is reminiscent of the prohibition in Chicago. Way to go Ronjana.