Ranjona Banerji: Lessons from the Murdoch saga for journalists

05 Jul,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Rupert Murdoch had been heard on tape supporting his journalists under investigation in Britain and raging that the allegations of corruption have been blown out of proportion. News Corp did promise to cooperate with the official investigation after the phone-hacking scandal blew up a couple of years ago, leading to the closure of News of the World. Since then, senior editorial staff members – like Rebekah Brooks – have been jailed and face various charges in the on-going case.

 

On the tapes, Murdoch speaks up for his journalists and feels that the police have been incompetent in the probe. The humility which he showed during his questioning by Members of Parliament is evidently gone, replaced by the arrogance he is known for. He also, intriguingly, elliptically refers to his son Lachlan as his successor, where earlier that mantle appeared to have been handed to James.

 

The Murdoch saga is far from over and even if it now flies under the radar there are implications for media houses and journalists everywhere. Like the Radia tapes revealed in India, there is some behaviour by media houses and journalists which is unacceptable. Even if such behaviour is condoned and ignored – or especially if it is condoned and ignored – serious damage is done to the institution.

 

(For more on Murdoch: http://www.channel4.com/news/murdoch-rupert-tape-police-the-sun-journalists)

In Britain, the Leveson report into press ethics and the judge’s suggestions about a regulatory have hit a stone wall. In India, the Radia tapes have been quickly forgotten. Unfortunately, this reflects very badly on the media itself given that we all pay the price by every transgression by one of ours.

 

Tragically, the chairman of the Press Council of India’s early blustering has been exposed as Shakespearean sound and fury: signifying nothing. The rest of us are happy to carry on as long as that monthly pay cheque comes in.

 

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The story behind the suicide of former journalist Charudatta Deshpande is distressing and frightening. Deshpande, who recently quit as head of Corporate Communications at Tata Steel. Deshpande had been blamed apparently for a story on Tata Steel that appeared in Forbes magazine. He has practically placed under house arrest in Jamshedpur and threatened. He told friends about a “mafia” within Tata Steel.

 

The company also tried to spread the word that Deshpande had died of a heart attack to cover up his suicide, using its PR network. Deshpande’s case has been brought into the public domain and the Mumbai Press Club, for instance, has taken up the matter with the Tatas. K Ramkumar, an executive director with ICICI bank has also gone public on the appalling way Deshpande was treated.

 

Along with all the other problems with such a case, there is cause here perhaps for business journalists to consider how they portray certain companies and add to their public myths. The essence of journalism has to be disbelief. But instead, we fall for some popular line and perpetuate ideas about corporations and their leaders happily ignoring their shortcomings. It’s not only about succumbing to marketing pressure either. Even worse, I think it’s about access and that glorious feeling of rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty. But whatever the reasons, the effects are disastrous.

 

One only hopes that some justice can be found for Charudatta.

 

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One of the joys of being in London is reading the Big Issue, the magazine set up in “1991 to provide homeless and vulnerably housed people with the opportunity to earn a legitimate income”. The magazine costs pounds 2.50 and the vendor gets pounds 1.25 for every copy sold. The reader gets a well-conceived magazine with the required mix of news, features and opinion. Politics, art, culture, cinema, music, popular culture, sport and human interest are all covered.

 

A lesson of some sort here, not to make a big issue of it…

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

 

 

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