Ranjona Banerji: Falling caliber of editors & the crisis in news media

07 Feb,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Press Club Mumbai held a discussion called, The Elephant in the Room: The Crisis in Journalism Today on Thursday evening. Participants were Kumar Ketkar, editor of Divya Marathi, Siddharth Varadarajan, former editor The Hindu, Hartosh Singh Bal, former political editor of Open magazine, Indrajit Gupta, former editor of Forbes magazine and Uday Shankar, CEO of the Star television network. The discussion was coordinated by Gurbir Singh, president of the Press Club.

 

At the outset, the Mumbai Press Club has to be congratulated for confronting and seeking to address the problems faced by journalists and journalism today and flying down participants from Delhi for this discussion. If we do not discuss these things ourselves, it will become impossible to deal with the credibility and sustenance crisis we face. The bodies that have existed so far – like The Editors’ guild for instance – are quite frankly useless.

 

The discussion started with Siddharth Varadarajan and Hartosh Singh Bal discussing the involvement of owners in the day to day running of publications and the pressures of advertising and management. Both Vardarajan and Bal lost their jobs because of owner interference. Kumar Ketkar questioned why owner, politicians and corporates imagine that journalists are really that powerful! Indrajit Gupta, who also left Forbes after a confrontation with management, pointed out how advertising pressure often does not allow journalists to function properly. Uday Shankar was scathing in the dereliction of duty by editors, pointing out that many had found it easier to go with the owner-flow rather than resist pressure, for their personal profit or advancement.

 

Actually, almost everyone agrees with that. Editors, for the most part, are not what they were. But as veteran journalist Jyoti Punwani pointed out from the audience, the editorial versus management is age-old. The panellists could not agree on any solutions however. Bal for instance wanted a legal framework to protect journalists from owner pressure. Everyone wanted ownership patterns to be more transparent. And that was the crux of the discussion: dealing with management pressures whether it was to do with politics or business interests. How to make money and uphold the principles of journalism was a major issue discussed, including every journalist’s dream: to have a publication or broadcast house where the owners/managers did not interfere. The problems of credibility caused by the revelations of the Radia tapes and the questionable roles of Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi also came up.

 

All in all, it was a lively discussion. The event was web-streamed, which was an excellent way for the Mumbai Press Club to widen the debate’s audience and keep up with the 21st century. Net viewers sent in their questions via SMS.

 

Although no conclusions were reached – the discussion went on for two hours – it is enough that the crisis was talked openly and candidly. Kudos to the Mumbai Press Club and all the participants.

 

**

 

Is it a sign of pride or insecurity that makes the Indian media go overboard whenever any person of Indian origin does anything at all? The ascension of Satya Nadella to the head of Microsoft was treated by some Indian newspapers in particular like Nadella had become President of the United States. Yes, Microsoft is a big and powerful company and yes, Nadella is of Indian origin. But above-the-fold on the front page is overdoing it, surely. In any case, the business pages had been predicting it for days.

 

I suppose all it needs is for American newspapers to run front page stories headlined, “Microsoft founder Bill Gates is an American”. Yeah, I bet you would laugh then.

 

**

 

The battle over the Indian Readership Survey is getting more serious but remains funny. That Hindu Business Line should have more readers in Manipur than Chennai or that Nagpur’s Hitavada should have no readers at all speaks of completely mismanagement if not deliberate fudging of figures. Those with some memory may recall that the National Readership Survey was abandoned in favour of the IRS precisely because of such problems – but of course not quite so daft.

 

**

 

Somebody asked a question at the Mumbai Press Club last night to which I had no answer. Why, she said, is it okay for Swapan Dasgupta and MV Kamath to be openly pro-BJP and rightwing but it is not okay for anyone to be pro-Congress? Indeed. Why?

 

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: Falling caliber of editors & the crisis in news media”

  1. S C Vaid says:

    All men at the dais … ?

  2. Guest says:

    Whether pro Congress or pro BJP, what one really expects is for a journalist to write or say what she genuinely believes in, not as a little drummer girl marching to someone’s agenda. With all the pressures of management and straitened finances of the media as a whole, quite a few are able to do that.

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