The Year in News Media

30 Dec,2013


By Ranjona Banerji


It’s Tarun Tejpal, right? I cannot think of a bigger media story of 2013. The outrages before that had been layoffs, ill-treatment by employers, closing down of publications. Network 18 and Outlook group were most talked about on those issues.


We even had a few high-profile sackings. The Hindu suddenly decided that it no longer wanted the services of editor-in-chief Siddharth Vardarajan. This was a bit of a surprise since Vardarajan had been appointed the year before with much drama: highlighting the immense family feud which is the Hindu board, where N Ram had overridden everyone else. Ram had then claimed that the newspaper had to employ professional journalists for the top posts and not keep it all in the family. However, along the way he changed his mind, and some of the siblings joined forces, ousted Vardarajan and took control of the paper again. It should be noted that some family members disagreed with this decision and against Ram’s claiming two votes for himself.


Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of Open magazine, was also “let go”, he said because the owner (Sanjiv Goenka) didn’t like his political leanings. Goenka said he didn’t and never had liked Bal. Manu Joseph said he had protected Bal as long as he could but could not do so any more. Bal said he was going to sue Open because for too long had owners taken journalists for a ride.


Forbes magazine saw the exit of its top editorial staff as well as its CEO, seen by many as part of Network 18’s downsizing drive. The senior staff also said they would take legal action against the group.


Television saw many sackings but few of them were high profile. Hundreds of nameless and faceless video journalists and support staff were not interviewed by top television anchors and who knows if they have exercised the option of a judicial solution.


The stomach-wrenching gangrape of a young photojournalist out on assignment in Mumbai brought the issue of women’s safety in public places back to the front pages. The young woman was accompanied by a male colleague, it was still daylight and although they were in a deserted mill, it was situated in a crowded part of the city. The nation mourned at one more heinous assault and marvelled at the courage of one more woman.


And then there was Tehelka. The story about editor-in-chief and founder Tarun Tejpal and his “alleged” assault on a young reporter who worked for him broke suddenly and each passing day provided new shocking material. The assaults happened in Goa, during the ‘Thinkfest’ which is some sort of a Tehelka subsidiary. The reporter complained to Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury that Tejpal had assaulted her 10 days before and then within days, the Tehelka story was over, nothing was secret or hidden and Tejpal was in judicial custody.


The lessons for the media seem pretty clear. For one, there is no protection for journalists any more, especially from fellow journalists. Public pressure if nothing else will make cover-ups difficult, if the supposed transgression causes enough outrage. For another, the internet has busted everyone and it is in control in its own crazy haphazard way.  The way information spreads (or even misinformation for that matter) and the way the sender can be anonymous, you cannot be surprised that the word given to it is “viral”.


So Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury became “victims” of this new world where little can remain secret. And set a message to the media that while it must highlight everyone else’s misdemeanours, it cannot ignore its own. How effectively we take that into the future remains to be seen… my bets are on more mistakes before better sense hits people on the head.


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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