Ranjona Banerji: One more nail on the coffin of credibility…

05 Jun,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

What a weak and mealy-mouthed statement released by The Editors Guild of India, after the Cobrapost expose on media willingness to print or broadcast anything for money. The name of this august gathering of senior journalists will be the first casualty of media managers going by the ease with which they bypassed the role of the editor in their willingness to accommodate the demands of a “client”.

Journalists may have expected or at least hoped for a strong, bold statement from India’s foremost editors, to protect them from further such transgressions into editorial space by both owners and managers. After all, so much of media space is already up for sale and the rights of the reader or viewer or listener have already been diminished quite drastically.

Regardless of the ethics of sting operations or personal views on them, Cobrapost’s Operation 136 has laid bare the shamelessness of media managers when it comes to news, advertising and politics. It is easy to argue that there is nothing new about all of this. But that is a deflection argument and serves no purpose except for those who want the problem to continue. Or, even worse, the sort of behaviour and greed displayed by custodians of the media finds approval with India’s most influential editors.

If all this sounds harsh and unfair, it is because I believe that the Cobrapost expose has given us an opportunity. To relook at how low we have agreed to fall, to look at dismissively we are regarded, to look at ways in which we and therefore our readers, viewers and listeners are being manipulated. That it should happen with our tacit consent is even more frightening.

To some of us, our main client has always been the people who buy our journal or tune in to our channel. Even when managers say the “advertiser” is the chief client, it is a logical twist. The advertiser wants the reader or the viewer. And if your journal or channel loses credibility, then the advertiser will move elsewhere. There is nothing new in what I have just said. But what is newish is the easy way in which lines have been erased and small protections have been dispensed with.

The Editors Guild statement therefore comes as one more bash at a nail into the coffin of credibility and it is one of the saddest blows. What is the use of saying: “There can be no compromise on maintaining the wall between editorial and advertising. All sponsored and advertorial content must be clearly identified and demarcated”, when everyone knows how blurred those lines have become over the past few years?

How conveniently we have forgotten the tremendous outrage when Times of India began Medianet, when every other journal bristled with anger at this transgression of that “wall between editorial and advertising”. Soon after their outrage died down, just about every other media organisation copied Medianet. Some of those media houses are in this sting and none of them said a simple “No” to the proposition put before them.

Even more hypocritical is how everyone accepted the sting on Cambridge Analytica’s manipulation of illegally obtained data. The company has now shut down as a result of that sting. Is anyone in the media crying for Cambridge Analytica’s rights? Or how the various stings conducted on cricketers to expose match-fixing are now seen as par for the course. And yet a sting which exposes our own weakest points, as journalists, leads us to defend our weakest points?

To me, we have lost a great opportunity to address the worst within us by focusing on the messenger and the method.

Just the exact thing we get angry about at other times…

The Editors Guild of India expresses concern over ‘Cobrapost’ sting, urges media organisations to explain position to…

Editors Guild of India यांनी वर पोस्ट केले 3 जून 2018

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

 

 

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