Paranjoy Guha Thakurta upgrades book on ethics

30 Apr,2012

 

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Veteran journalist, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta came out with a second expanded edition of his book, ‘Media Ethics: Truth, Fairness and Objectivity’. The revised edition of the book was launched in the capital on April 27 at the India International Centre.

 

The first edition of this book had come out in 2009. When asked, why he decided to bring out a second edition, Mr Thakurta told MxMIndia, “After the book came out three years ago, a lot of people came up with suggestions on how this book could be improved. So this book is about 40 per cent bigger than the earlier edition and there are new chapters…there is an entirely new chapter on corruption in media. There’s also a new chapter on Reality television and some of the existing chapters have been drastically rewritten and revamped.”

 

‘Media Ethics’ discusses key ethical issues in media today, delving into issues like truth, objectivity, sensitivity and privacy. The expanded edition has new chapters on paid news and reality television. It has also has revised chapters on introduction to media ethics, media market, new media and ethics of advertising.

 

Attending the event were senior journalists, academicians and students. The launch was followed by a discussion on media ethics by an eminent panel comprising Chief Election Commissioner, SY Quraishi, and senior journalists, Vinod Mehta and Rajdeep Sardesai.

 

Media has to inform and educate…

Addressing the gathering at the book launch, Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi said, “The title of this book, truth, fairness and objectivity is an acid test of media’s fairness. This book is a virtual encyclopaedia and Paranjoy is a crusader of media ethics.”

 

Mr Quraishi, in his address, also touched upon issues like paid news, opinion polls, hate mails on social media and the whole debate around freedom of expression in the internet age. He said: “Media has a duty to inform and educate the citizens of this country. And, in the context of elections, media has assumed new proportions. There was a revolutionary 30 per cent increase in the voters turn out in UP this year because of the partnership between the CEC and the media.”

 

Talking about freedom of expression, he said, “No one wants to encroach on freedom of expression but there are some things which are illegal. Anonymity of the internet media is disturbing and damaging.” Mr Quraishi concluded by saying that media is like the eyes and ears of the society and we should do everything possible to check malpractices in media.

 

Editors are like ordinary people…

Mr Vinod Mehta, Advisor, Outlook magazine started his address by saying that the custodian of any media organization is its Editor. If the Editor is corrupt, the organization is corrupt. He said: “The biggest myth about media is that editors are like gods, that they are independent, that they make no mistakes and they are on a social mission to tell the truth. While this might largely be true, it is highly exaggerated. Editors are like ordinary people, often most opinionated, and they have a view on everything. So they come with their own baggage. So what you get in media is various shades of opinions where the editor’s point of view is reflected. After this polarization of views, in the end you get something approximating the truth.”

 

Mr Mehta added that one of the greatest assets of media, which is public trust, is declining and the uproar that used to be about the fourth estate has gone down significantly in the last few years.

 

According to Mr Mehta, two reasons for the rise of unethical practices in media are: the reluctance on the part of media persons to admit their mistakes and secondly, intense competition, which has created its own problems. He also said that Editors often assume a larger than life role, thinking that they are setting the national agenda. He said: “We journalists are not players, we have the best ring side seats but we are not players, we can’t get involved in the game.”

 

On self-regulation, Mr Mehta said: “We in the media are always telling the other guy what’s wrong, we never correct ourselves. Self-regulation is always for the other guy. So I believe we need a strict code of conduct.” Mr Mehta also suggested that all Editors like politicians should declare their assets on the Editors’ Guild website.

 

Problem lies in the business model…

Mr Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network confessed: “Media is more powerful than ever before, but it is also less respected than ever before. In this age of quantification we are facing a credibility crisis.” But he added that the viewer has almost a ‘schizophrenic’ attitude towards the media, so the messenger (media) who is expected to play ‘god’ is repeatedly shot at. Mr Sardesai indicated two main threats to the main stream media, internal and external. Talking of the external threat he said: “The business model is the main problem. The declining ethical standards are because of how the business model is, where 95 per cent dependency for revenues is on advertisements. The channels have to pay what is called a carriage fee, which is actually illegal and completely unethical.”

 

Mr Sardesai offered ‘disclosure’ as a solution to paid news. He said: “If it is paid news, then it needs to be said that it is paid news. Disclosure is the only way out, tell the world it is paid news. If an advertiser or a political party is sponsoring a certain programme, then you need to mention outright that the show is sponsored by xyz. But the problem is, in this era of maddening competition and declining revenue, who will set the rules of disclosure?”

 

Speaking of the internal threat, Mr Sardesai said that this is one area where you can’t blame the proprietor. He said: “Who asked us (journalists) to replace sense with sensationalism, to replace news with noise? The moral compass that makes journalism different from any other profession has gone.” Mr Sardesai cited the example of theNorwayissue where a domestic problem within a span of no time took the shape of a diplomatic battle.

 

He also added that what has changed about media today is the fact that the public is turning against media, the public is willing to teach media a lesson. For ethical cleansing to happen, Mr Sardesai concluded, “We have to name and shame the transgressors and the naming and shaming has to happen by someone within the system.”

 

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