Ranjona Banerji: Journalism touches new low with Essar leaks expose

03 Mar,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


As the Indian media was trying to cover the Union Budget in as dramatic and in some cases as unbiased a way as possible, it was being hit by an internal crisis. The Indian Express has published internal correspondence between employees of the industrial giant Essar which reveals that favours were done not just to politicians but also to senior journalists across media houses. The result is that at least two have lost their jobs and others will follow.


So far, Sandeep Bamzai has resigned as editor of Mail Today and Anupama Airy as energy editor of Hindustan Times. The other people named in the leaks from Essar include Meetu Jain of Times Now, Mayur Shekhar Jha of News24, Dev Sharan Tiwari and Shereen Bhan of CNBC.


There are also allegations that Tehelka attempted to spin stories in favour of Essar since Essar was a sponsor of the magazine’s “Think” festivals. Other journalists in Jharkhand seen as “sympathetic” to Essar also got various favours.


Interestingly, most of these favours as seen from press reports seem to consist of offering cars and cab services, hosting parties for journalists and allowing them to use Essar facilities like guesthouses. By any of today’s standards when it comes to freebies, these are small cheese. But judging from the way top journalists have resigned, one suspects that the actual transgressions are much bigger.


Indeed, as anyone in journalism knows, ethical standards when it comes to accepting favours and junkets have practically vanished. It more or less depends on the personal value system of every journalist. For the past 15 years at least, managements have even encouraged journalists to accept particular favours, if it cuts down on their newsgathering costs. In the worst case, the hand-over-fist bartering of editorial space in newspapers by journalists led to Bennett Coleman introducing Medianet, so that the company could take over the sale of news space.


As the fight between Airy of Hindustan Times and her bosses shows, the lines have become very blurred in media houses, over what is acceptable and what is not. At the risk of sounding unbearably self-righteous, when I started working in journalism in the 1980s, nothing was allowed. Colleagues who were caught accepting favours lost their jobs. Within 10 years, all that had changed. Managements encouraged journalists to go on junkets. Business press conferences were all about gifts which were flaunted around offices. Senior editors openly wrote puff pieces about politicians and were rewarded with flats.


Just about every media house which raised its eyebrows when the Times of India started Medianet has since succumbed in one way or another. One very senior journalist who wrote very strong pieces against Medianet was exposed by the Radia tapes. If Medianet is restricted to glamour news, the phenomenon of “paid news” refers to the pages once seen as sacrosanct. Business sold out long ago. At the risk of being dramatic, there is no part of a journal or a broadcast which is not for sale.


The Radia tapes dented the credibility of all of us. The Essar leaks have pushed us to a new depth. Or rather, Indian Express has exposed to the public what we within the profession already knew. Contrarily, I can only hope that this is just the opening of the can of worms. For a profession that is so sanctimonious about corruption in other fields, if we cannot clean our own stables then we deserve all the opprobrium placed on our heads. I can be even more self-righteous and say that if we do not take heed then we are doing not just ourselves but democracy a disservice.


The Indian Express expose: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/essar-leaks-2-journalists-resign-third-put-on-notice/


The Tehelka angle: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-essar-links-take-its-toll-on-media-2064909

The Airy-Hindustan Times fight: http://www.newslaundry.com/2015/02/28/allegations-and-counter-allegations-at-hindustan-times-after-essar-leaks/



After this, are you really interested in the Budget? You haven’t had enough of it? I have!


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3 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Journalism touches new low with Essar leaks expose”

  1. deadlyrocker says:

    Isn’t it a known albeit disguised fact – the BJP literally bought the media -print, tv – the works. What’s new?

  2. ashok759 says:

    One obvious pressure point is these pretentious Conlaves / Summits that media houses organise each year; sometimes wonder how our intellects would develop if these were not held, bringing celebrities together at great cost to the sponsors. Similarly, this annual rating of states, is it possible that Advertorials – horrible word – could influence the outcome ? . Personally, one would be happy to see the media reporting news truthfully and offer its views objectively and then readers / viewers to do a spot of analysis on their own.

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