Ranjona Banerji: Media sackings have little to do with incompetence

20 Aug,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari has taken a leaf from Markandey Katju’s book. He thinks that journalists should be given some kind of “licence” before they can work. Katju, in his early days as Press Council chairman, had felt that journalists needed some minimum qualification.

 

All this concern about how and why journalists function! Should we be touched? Laugh it off? Or get really worried that the government is trying, in whatever way it can, to inveigle its way into press matters? Freedom of expression has always irked those in power and while they pay lip service to the tenets of the Constitution what they would really like is to control the press. There are obvious ways – like withholding government ads (see how many ads there are in newspapers today, August 20, about Rajiv Gandhi to see what I mean). And there are more subtle ways like these sly little suggestions on how journalists need to be controlled and cordoned.

 

Do we need to have a licence to work? We already have some bizarre system of “accredited” journalists, which allows you some government freebies and perks. Is it strange that most of the names on the list are fixers and operators? Should journalists get freebies and perks from the government? I have a radical view on this: journalists should not even accept awards from the government and that includes all the Padmas. We as a tribe must maintain that distance from authority as well as from our sources. (All right, all right, I can hear the loud and raucous laughter you know. But this is a “high horse” moment.)

 

In fact, there is no need to explain to the government how and why the media works the way it does. There are enough laws in this country to deal with transgressions. The media however needs to constantly assess how and why it works. This laughter is getting too loud. Moving on.

 

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Tiwari however did make one cogent suggestion: that TRAI keep in mind how it impacts the media and business models when it makes its rules – like limited advertisement time. He was referring to massive layoffs at TV18 where more than 500 people are on the hacking list according to various sources. Some have already lost their jobs and as usual, they are people at the bottom of the food chain. I have always thought that sacking CEOs and a couple of senior management honchos would be more effective…

 

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The loss of jobs in the media has only created little whirlpools of gossip and mires of misery. The “media” itself has been silent: as a senior colleague pointed out, contrast this silence to the raucous outcries of injustice when Jet Airways was on a sacking spree. In the past few months, I count over 100 from NDTV, 100 from the Outlook Group and now a supposed 550 from TV18. These are a lot of people made jobless and with dismal prospects because managements get infected very fast by the downsizing bug.

 

What is worse is that the sackings (I refuse to give these actions legitimacy by calling them “downsizing” or even worse, “right-sizing”) have little to do with incompetence. They have to do with bad management which led these companies into unprofitable territory. Told ya, sack the CEOs first.

 

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The Times of India’s edit page carries an intriguing opinion piece by Srijana Mitra Das which suggests that all the general carping about chaos and cacophony on Indian news channels reflects an outdated school of thought. “Shrill TV is not Indian media adopting loud, pushy Americana over polished Britannica – it is ordinary India reshaping its democratic space, demanding answers after 66 patient years, making an OB van the opposite of a red beacon car.”

 

Without getting into the specifics of TV discussions on American, British, Russian, French or German TV, there is one suggestion that I would like to make. Ordinary India might just reflect on the fact that if everyone shouts at the same time, no one can hear the nuggets of wisdom falling from their eager lips. That’s all.

 

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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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Media sackings have little to do with incompetence”

  1. Hoshie Ghaswalla says:

    Ranjona,
    If journalists have to get a licence, here are a few comments / queries:
    1. How do they plan to regulate bloggers and comments / opinions on social media? Will all bloggers and social media members also need a licence?:-)
    2. I guess it will need to be some government body / association issuing the licence. If yes, then they first need to get some basic licensing processes in to place (such as the driving licence) before they venture in to something that will measure more complex parameters such as people’s knowledge, intellect and leanings.
    3. And then why not also have a licensing system for all politicians to check their ability, background and inclinations before they become leaders? 🙂

  2. Hoshie Ghaswalla says:

    Ranjona,
    If journalists have to get a licence, here are a few comments / queries:
    1. How do they plan to regulate bloggers and comments / opinions on social media? Will all bloggers and social media members also need a licence?:-)
    2. I guess it will need to be some government body / association issuing the licence. If yes, then they first need to get some basic licensing processes in to place (such as the driving licence) before they venture in to something that will measure more complex parameters such as people’s knowledge, intellect and leanings.
    3. And then why not also have a licensing system for all politicians to check their ability, background and inclinations before they become leaders? 🙂

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