Ranjona Banerji: Not too late for TOI to correct practices

30 Oct,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Watching the fury of nature is an awe-inspiring and fascinating experience, thanks to non-stop coverage of Hurricane Sandy by CNN. The storm that has hit the eastern seaboard of the United States is not the first but the sheer scale of water and wind, the potential threat to life and property and the peculiar timing with the US presidential election makes it even more compelling.

 

CNN is very good with weather and takes it very seriously. Plenty of information is provided to the viewer about the meteorological aspects of the weather systems with enough scientific mumbo-jumbo to make you feel like you’re on the sets of The Day After Tomorrow. While the coverage is going on however, CNN does not venture into the whys and the wherefores. It’s more about the what.

 

This is because not all media are infected by the Indian disease of making everything into a discussion. The global warming argument – and it cannot be far away – can be dealt with later. Nor were there any touchy-feely interviews with those suffering the storm, where bemused people are hard-pressed to find the right answers. Undoubtedly all those will come later.
A shout out to all the intrepid reporters, star anchors and citizen journalists on CNN. This is a cruel comparison but one cannot help but compare this coverage to an abiding Indian image in similar situations: NDTV’s star anchor and now very very senior editor Sreenivasan Jain standing under an umbrella at Mumbai’s Milan subway, talking about flooding in breathless tones. As any long-suffering Mumbaikar knows, Milan Subway is so much lower than road level that it will flood if you pour a bucket of water into it.

 

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Battles within the media and with the media seem to be getting tougher and are heading to the courts. Salman Khurshid against Aroon Purie and the TV Today group, Naveen Jindal against Zee News and Zee Business, the Bennett Coleman group against Zee News and Zee Business, Zee hitting back as well… Bennett Coleman has objected to Zee editors being heard on tape telling Jindal that news pages in the Times of India and Economic Times were up for sale.N

 

BCCL CEO Ravi Dhariwal’s defence of Medianet goes thus: “We will make no excuses for Medianet. It is an initiative with a different purpose. It is for our advertorial and promotional supplements. But as far as our newspapers go, there is nothing that is bought or sold. No respectable newspaper will do that.”

 

This is a weak argument since Medianet is at the heart of the current debasement of the media and had been picked up by every other news organisation as a legitimisation of “paid” news. To now argue that some parts of the newspaper are sold to advertisers but masquerade as news for readers is mere semantics. It took Bennett Coleman a very long time to add the line “entertainment promotional feature” to its glamour supplements like Bombay Times and it is still not clear that all readers understand that this means that the news in these papers has been supplied by the so-called newsmakers for a fee and not collected by journalists.

 

As a “responsible newspaper”, perhaps it is not too late for The Times of India to correct its earlier practices. In many ways, Times of India is India’s most complete newspaper and unfortunately, this includes being complete with the good as well as the bad.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own

 

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