Ranjona Banerji: Our ‘News of the World’ moment?

10 Dec,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Zee-Jindal case is certainly a watershed moment for the Indian media. Subhash Chandra, chairman of Zee, has apparently been questioned for between seven and nine hours by the Delhi police, surely not a common occurrence for high profile owners of media houses.

 

The Zee group, apart from its packaging and entertainment interests, has the Zee news channels and newspaper DNA and rumoured to be in the market for Hindi daily Amar Ujala. During this questioning, Chandra was brought face to face with his jailed editors Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia, both of whom have supposedly told the police that the management knew what they were up to. Chandra’s son Puneet Goenka however left after 20 minutes of questioning. Chandra walked out saying he was ready to sue Naveen Jindal.

 

Most newspapers and news channels in India have not gone further than bland reporting of the case, except perhaps Tehelka, with managing editor Shoma Chaudhury writing an opinion piece calling this our “News of the World” moment: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main54.asp?filename=Op081212Editer_cut.asp

 

Everyone in the media knows that something of the sort that Zee News has been alleged to be up to happens more frequently than the general public might imagine. Usually, however, in the English media at least, the deals are struck by marketing departments and not by editors themselves. The Hindi language media has been much maligned, not least in the documentary Brokering News. But it has to be clear that no one is really innocent.

 

How the Indian media deals with the Zee case will be an indicator of how serious we are about ending the reign of practices like Medianet and paid news and whether journalists are happy just being management puppets. The temptations are many, no question about that but sooner or later, better sense has to prevail. The Indian media has been safe or maybe cocksure in the knowledge that India is a few decades aware from the challenges being faced by the counterparts in the West because of low literacy levels and low economic growth. But a complete loss of credibility will strip away that little security blanket. Do we want it to come to that pass?

 

I cannot see that most media managements will be easy to convince. They have found a way to easy money and may use words like “credibility”, but one suspects that it’s just blah blah to most of them. Journalists will have to fight this one on their own.

 

**

 

It seems that something intriguing is happening in the coverage of the Gujarat elections. Suddenly, both commentators and reports from the ground no longer see a clean sweep for the incumbent Narendra Modi government. Stories about anger over electricity and water, particularly in the Kutch and Saurashtra areas, are now frequent. Well-known and respected commentator Urvish Kothari also questions in rediff.com whether Modi’s Gujarat-centric campaign will really help on the national stage – a transition he certainly aspires to. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-gujarat-election-m-for-modi-is-m-for-mr-moneybag/20121207.htm

 

When it comes to Modi however it is clear that whether the electorate is divided or not, the media certainly is. There are some journalists on social media who work as Modi’s PR people and some who most certainly do not!

 

**

 

A trip to Delhi brings up this observation: Delhi newspapers seem to be paying a lot more attention to city issues these days than they did in the past. Shades of Mumbai journalism rubbing off on our superior worthies in the national capital?

 

All right, I retract my claws… for now.

 

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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