Ranjona Banerji: Of Cobrapost sting & rubbish BMM course

15 Mar,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Uttar Pradesh government celebrated its first anniversary with front page jackets for all major newspapers. As far as Mumbai is concerned, was this a little dig at Raj Thackeray and his anti-North Indian campaign do you think? Okay, I’m kidding. But still this need of the Samajwadi Party to reach out to the English newspaper reading public in such a big way is intriguing. Poor iphone/ Apple had to play second fiddle to UP, as The Times of India made it the second jacket. Let us not discuss whether the reader benefits from wading through pages of ads for a newspaper which has no front page…

 

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When you eventually reach the front page, our collective national pride is still upset by the insult handed out to us by the Italian government. The issue of the two marines on trial for murder who are not coming back still rankles. In that is tied up the breach of the Supreme Court’s good faith and the fact that Sonia Gandhi is of Italian origin. Of course, to any sane person there is no connection between those two apposite arguments but when has sanity played a role in our national discourse recently?

 

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As a result, the “mysterious” death of rape and murder accused Ram Singh in Tihar jail no longer fuels or consumes television media’s incessant demand for more scandal and sensation. Confused by its own motivations, the fact that the death appeared to have been a suicide and that the man lacked some basic qualifications to be a national hero, the story has died with a whimper.

 

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The big story though is the sting operation conducted on three large Indian banks by Cobrapost.com, run by irrepressible Aniriddha Bahal, he of the cricket and other stings which made Tehelka famous. Officers of HDFC, ICICI and Axis banks are on tape merrily telling the undercover reporter that they would happily convert his “politician boss’s” black money into white. They also explain how, which is a neat ready reckoner for anyone else so inclined.

 

So far TV and print media have run with the story but it will be interesting to see how far they take it or whether it just becomes more grist to the nightly tamasha mill.

 

There is something disquieting for the regular practice of journalism if the only basis for a story being important is how much drama you can milk out of it. At the risk of being a spoilsport, the drought in Maharashtra certainly needs more attention and kudos to CNN-IBN for focusing on it.

 

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TV news in India has not really yet come to grips with the feature or the news feature – trend stories are almost non-existent and life style stories are limited to Bollywood. Since Bollywood is only forthcoming when it requires a PR exercise, we are still waiting for a coming of age.

 

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Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, has decided that there needs to be a minimum qualification to become a journalist. If indeed the venerable former judge had bothered to speak to any journalists, he might have got some very different feedback. A lot of the problems which bother people about journalists today originate precisely from the fact that most new recruits come from journalism schools, almost all of which are substandard. In the good old days (sigh, nostalgia) when journalism was a vocation and not a career (bad salaries, terrible working conditions and no public adulation) there were many more committed people around. The corporatision of the media has meant that brainless and clueless “Human Resources” departments have taken over recruitment and they do with that they think is the obvious route – rubbish “BMM” and other such courses. I have yet to meet a journalism undergrad who knew or understood anything at all. And because they have no real college education either, their knowledge base – essential for a journalist – is non-existent or stuck at school level.

 

We have lost a lot by succumbing to those courses for our resource base. Some of the best older journalists around came from other professions and some did not even have college degrees but those who were successful had a burning passion for journalism. A nose for news and language skill is all that is required. Neither can be taught.

 

Katju has since decided to apparently take on the journalism schools themselves. Now that makes sense.

 

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