Ranjona Banerji: Anyone not seen journos at press confs not scrambling for gifts?

14 Nov,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


So here’s an intriguing story. Some journalists in Odisha are up in arms because they found Rs 200 in cash in envelopes handed to them at a press conference held by Parliamentary Standing Committee for Urban Development, headed by MP for Puri, Pinaki Mishra of the Biju Janata Dal. About a dozen journalists, apparently appalled at being bribed, have filed a First Information Report against Mishra and BJD MLA Maheshwar Mohanty for trying to bribe the media to get “favourable coverage”.


Now the first instinct would be to applaud such honest behaviour and such moral outrage, surely? How often do journalists take such a stand and go so far as to file FIRs against politicians? Indeed.


Then reality sinks in, if you didn’t start laughing outright. Because if you read the rest of the story, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Urban Development held a press conference in Bhubaneshwar and handed out envelopes with Rs 300 in them, nobody protested and nobody returned the money. Even in Puri, of the 53 journalists present, 15 returned the money and the rest took it. The organisers claimed the money was not a bribe but a conveyance allowance.


Hands up any of you who have been to press conferences and not seen journalists scrambling to get the “gift” or fighting with the organisers that the “gift” was not enough? Through the 1990s, after liberalisation, these gifts, especially in the business world, included cash in thousands, shares, discount vouchers, suit lengths, white goods – and all this at press conferences only. We’re not even talking about gifts that were delivered home. There used to be jokes at the time about business journalists who got family members married based on the “gifts” they received!


The fact is that too many in our tribe can be corrupt and “press conference” journalists have a high level of expectation. Organisers do feel that they will be discriminated against if they do not offer freebies. We have done this to them by our high demands and not the other way around.


Another cynical thought springs to mind: were some journalists in Puri upset because Rs 200 is an insultingly small amount? Like handing out crumbs with the clear implication that the organisers see journalists as mendicants, happy with anything put into the begging bowl? It must be remembered that even roadside and traffic light beggars have high standards in today’s India and will return loose change if it is an insultingly low amount.


And then there are those journalists at the upper end of the food chain: The ones who help with Cabinet positions and lobby for industrialists. They don’t go to press conferences but for all I know won’t even say no to Rs 200 in an envelope because even that is better than no money. Media managements are involved in or indeed have spearheaded “paid news” but there journalists who concur and those who run their own rackets.


Therefore, much as I admire these Puri journalists who have taken umbrage at what appears to be a bribery attempt, I cannot forget all the terrible things I know and the worse stories that I have heard about colleagues and peers. We have been our own worst enemies and we have been again with all those journalists who did walk away Rs 200 or Rs 300 richer in Puri and Bhubaneshwar, completely nullifying the impact of the protestors.


This is our shameful ongoing story.





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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Anyone not seen journos at press confs not scrambling for gifts?”

  1. Guest says:

    Many years ago, I read a James Hadley Chase novel in which a character says a woman can get laid for fifty dollars, or she can get laid for diamonds. By any standards, $ 3.25 is too small a figure to sell one’s virtue, even in a backward state.