Times for news media to report on each other

16 Nov,2011

By Ranjona Banerji


Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s move to divide the state up into four parts obviously hit the headlines on TV on Tuesday night, competing with tycoon Vijay Mallya and his attempt to save Kingfisher Airlines. Since every political party other than the Bahujan Samaj Party took exception to this plan on some grounds or the other, it had news impact. Also as was eagerly pointed out, this took the shine off just-launched Rahul Gandhi’s UP poll campaign.
Oddly though, Hindustan Times decided that the news did not deserve the front page in Mumbai – although it made it in Delhi – and only scant treatment within. Most other papers decided that this bold move was front page-worthy. Perhaps HT is going with the old belief that Mumbai is not interested in anything that happens in its own backyard. In which case it could have given it a local spin like ‘If UP breaks up, then Maharashtra becomes India’s biggest state’ or something equally parochial.

The fact that most media bodies are taking on the judiciary in the Times Now-PB Sawant defamation case is most heartening. If Rs 100 crore is the penalty for using the wrong photograph, most media houses would have long been bankrupted and had to close down. While using Sawant’s photo instead of PK Samantha’s photo in a judicial bribery case was unfortunate, the channel did apparently correct itself and apologise. There does not seem to have been any malice on the channel’s part here. In which case, Rs 100 crore is excessive.
It would be wise not to get into too many “freedom of the press” arguments here. Clearly, the media is not free to defame, slander or libel anyone. But the media is liable to make mistakes and those mistakes cannot be misinterpreted as being deliberate and malicious.
Largely thanks to the aggressive and sensationalist posture taken by television news channels, the conduct of the media has itself become a topic of conversation in India. While in itself this may not be a bad thing, it is dangerous when it becomes obsessive and every sundry TV guest becomes an “expert”. The media is open to scrutiny but a Katju-like approach is unnecessary and unlikely to be fruitful.

Having said that, how about a contrarian point of view? Is it time that newspapers and channels started reporting on each other? The Guardian took on Murdoch and The News of the World over phone-hacking. The Independent has now exposed the BBC over a set of documentaries about Malaysia. But in India, we are terribly polite about each other. Barring the Hindu – which has taken on its competitors like exposing holes in the Hindustan Times’s Bhopal editions sensational stories about babies having sex change operations – most media outlets spare each other.
Is there room for change or should we give this British method a wide berth and live together with each other’s mistakes in perfect harmony?
It may well be likely that owners and journalists have two different viewpoints here. Owners stick together very closely and as we have seen, the Indian Newspaper Society operates almost as if with a single mind, often to the detriment of journalists and sometimes, journalism.
Any ideas?

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