The Press has lost its sheen: Kuldip Nayar

11 Jul,2012


Text and Video by Shruti Pushkarna


Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar memoirs, ‘Beyond the Lines’, are set to be released in the Capital today (July 11). He calls it a ‘political autobiography’ which recounts the political history of not just India, but Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.


Now 89, Mr Nayar has been a close witness to a series of political events that unfolded in his journalistic career. An author and a human rights activist, Mr Nayar has also been a diplomat and Parliamentarian. He was appointed High Commissioner to Great Britain in 1990 and nominated to the Rajya Sabha in August 1997. He was media advisor to the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.


He was also the former editor of the Statesman in Delhi, former Managing Editor of news agency UNI and former correspondent of the London Times. He still writes columns and op-eds for newspapers including The Daily Star, The Sunday Guardian, The News (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan), Dawn (Pakistan).


A great believer in the power of press, Mr Nayar seems aware, and somewhere disappointed, at the emergence of the new ‘sensational’ journalism in the country. He feels that journalists today editorialize more than they report. As opposed to the ‘profession’ it used to be, Mr Nayar feels journalism today has become an ‘industry’, a ‘product’.


In this candid one-on-one with MxMIndia, Mr Nayar shares his memories of journalism in the days gone by and the change he is witnessing today. Although he advocates self-regulation of the media, he believes that all journalists should prescribe to a strict code of ethics.





This book is not based on columns. This is a book from my memory, 95 per cent of it is from memory, and only for about 5 per cent, I might have consulted my columns. It’s my political biography and it’s a current history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.You were among the first journalists to take your columns to the book form. Do you think that the book works better for a journalist?


Have you given up on Indian media or Indian publications altogether?

No, I have not given up entirely, because I still appear as a columnist in so many papers. Only the leading papers don’t publish my columns. I have full confidence in the press but I am disappointed that it has lost the sheen that used to be there in our times.


Has it changed dramatically from the time when you were an active practitioner?

Yes it has. Now it has become a product, then we were a profession, now it’s an industry. That way, independence is much less now. The influence of the owners and the corporate sector is much more than there was.


Any other specific area where you see the change?

Yes, the way of presenting news and the way of writing has changed. I find very few items of hard news now. In our times, we used to see what was happening in the cabinet and we even used to publish the cabinet agenda. Now it’s less inquisitive than before.


In the Samir Jain incident you mentioned in the book, do you think the turning point in the treatment of editors by proprietors was when Girilal Jain has said to have slighted Samir Jain?

That probably is one incident. The real watershed for journalism is the Emergency. That’s when the owners really saw that their pressmen caved in. So the owner thought that if they could cave in under pressure from government, they can also cave under my (owner’s) pressure. So the emergence of the owner started then, earlier the owner was nameless. But now we even see edits by owners and they decide who will write what.


But there are still newspapers which are editorially driven…

Very few.


What’s your view of proprietors as super-editors especially in the regional, non-English media?

That is a problem. Leading regional papers which have circulation in lakhs are owned by the same family, edited also by the same family and it’s being inherited down the generations, therefore it has become personal property. So this is a very serious issue.


You’ve been an active votary of Indo-Pak ties, you are known to conduct candlelight marches to the Wagah border…do you think it’s correct for journalists to get ‘activist-y’?

While I was in active journalism, I had certain views which I expressed, but did not participate in any activity. Now since I am only a columnist, I do take part in human rights violation, Indo-Pak relations and so on, because this is part of my ideology.


You have also been quoted in the past to say that media plays a spoiler in Indo-Pak ties, that it only sensationalizes and most journalists have no sense of history…

I think they (current media) don’t seem to have that sensitivity. I think media on both sides are still in the old age of mistrust, hatred and chauvinism. Things have changed in the region, so now we should be talking of conciliation. People on both the sides are willing to meet but media is a spoiler.


Do you find newspapers having lost out in breaking news journalism vis-a-vis TV and the internet?

Yes, newspapers are now breaking fewer stories, if at all they do, as compared to earlier. Television does much more. In our time, TV did not exist but now I can say that stories are broken by television network, and take the example of 2G scam, all these came from TV.  Newspapers followed up the story later.


What’s your view on self-regulation versus government-controlled regulation of the media? You recently opposed the SC’s move to lay reporting guidelines stating that it will muzzle media. Is self-regulation the way forward?

Yes, and why I say that is because however small regulation there may be, it will be controlled by somebody on the executive council. This question came up during Nehru’s time also, and Nehru said that he would rather have yellow press – sensational press – than controlled press. But I do want journalists to adopt a code of ethics. Editors’ Guild has formulated a code of ethics, Press Council has one, Press Commission had enunciated one. So I think we should have one code of ethics because the new type of journalism which is emerging is, at times, sensational, at times irresponsible and too much of editorializing. News is sacred, it should be conveyed as it is.


What are your views on Paid news?

Paid news is a recent phenomenon. This is the newspaper’s innovation and I think one of the biggest newspapers today initiated it. They are now selling space, not for advertisements, but space where the advertiser’s views will be presented as views from their correspondent. So it is really unfair to the reader who believes that news columns are sacred. You are selling the reader something motivated, some propaganda, through the credibility of your paper.


Coming back to your book, any incident that you forgot to mention in the autobiography that you would like to share?

Yes, there are quite a few…they were certain incidents about Mrs Gandhi’s regime which I should have included in the book. Also when I was in the Rajya Sabha, I had some exchanges with the Vajpayee government, I could have included those as well. Maybe I will do a sequel.


Your message to a young entrant in the media…

He or she should have commitment to certain values, commitment to the Constitution and commitment to the ethos of this country. Democracy, secularism and egalitarianism should be part of him or her while entering the profession.


MxMIndia has partnered with Roli Books on the promotion of the book


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