THE CITIZEN EDITORIAL MEDIA BAYS FOR BLOOD BUT WHERE IS EDITORIAL FREEDOM, DOES IT EVEN EXIST? Aam Aadmi Party Arvind Kejriwal was not at all wrong when he accused the media, generally speaking, of biased coverage, of media houses being under questionable corporate control, and of corruption but went over the top when he said that if elected his party would order a probe and throw all found guilty into jail. A channel known to be supporting a certain political personality over all others predictably aired clips of Kejriwal’s remarks made at a function in Nagpur. The clip went viral over television with all channels moving in to attack Kejriwal, expressing moral outrage, and gathering the reporters and political leaders from other political parties to launch a virtual assault on Kejriwal and the party. One wonders whether the scribes running these channels realise how obscene their coverage sometimes becomes as young reporters are first trained how to scream into the cameras as what passes for journalism these days. AAP fielded a team of its journalist candidates to counter the screaming reporters and anchors on television, maintaining that paid news was a reality, that several television channels were under corporate and black money control, and that they were being paid to discriminate and support particular leaders. They openly said that the Congress and BJP were flooding the channels with advertisements for their respective leaders and asked them if their news channels had any policy that they would take the same number of advertisements from all political parties, and not a chunk from some. Every fool knows that the media often circumscribes its news, or rather re-invents it, according to the money coming into the owners coffers. And clearly if BJP and Congress, or any other party, brings in the moolah it will also demand a certain quantity and quality of coverage. The AAP team even named the worst defaulters in their view as Zee News, IndiaTV, India News and “for the past few days” Times Now. They said that they would approach the Election Commission with a dossier of clips proving violations and ask for its ruling. The scribes, some of whom had come under instructions to wage a “journalistic (?)” battle at the press conference were told by the AAP leaders , “you run sponsored videos of Narendra Modi but do not ask him one question about the violence in his state, about the (lack of) development in his state…why don’t you show the reality of Gujarat?” The Citizen had asked in an early editorial why the television channels that went on and on about the crowds at the Mumbai railway stations during Kejriwal’s visit did not even bother to report the impact, if any, of his visit to Maharashtra. Not a word appeared in the 24 hour coverage, with most channels focused on decrying his style of functioning. The Citizen while critical of the threat that Kejriwal had quite unnecessarily issued of putting “all of them” in jail without clarifying whether he meant the owners or the journalists, is of the view that the media houses need to be made accountable to the people. It is no secret that questionable money bags have opened media houses, and use the blanket ‘freedom of the press’ to hide the loot, and their own political and business ambitions. As professional journalists we have to ensure that we do not become a cover for dirt, and that we help in exposing the black money that now pays our salaries. In a world where TRP ratings drives television channels into bitter competition for the spoils, it is essential for every single media house during the period of elections, in particular, to: 1. declare the money it makes from political advertisements; 2. give a break up of the advertisements and the money it gets from every political party; 3. give a break up of the time and space that is given by it to the political parties; 4. declare the ownership patterns of the channel or newspaper with names and figures; 5. and agree to run a band declaring its political affiliation, if funded by a political party as many in the states are. The many journalistic bodies that are in existence have failed to make even a decimal of difference on this front. Most have not even tried. This is probably because most of us in these outfits are employees and cannot afford to rock the boat, lest we be shown the door. We have thus become an effective fig leaf for these men with business and money to hide behind, even as they fire us at a moments notice, humiliate us without a thought for the profession that we represent, and kick out hundreds in one go in circumstances that are extremely demeaning. We editors do not talk of the young working journalists who arrive at the office of television channels, and believe me there are more than one, only to find that the proprietors have decided to roll back and have sacked them without even a warning. Security guards outside are told not to allow the journalists into the office, and at the most they come in with security to pick up their little belongings. One knows of editors of big newspapers who have come in to find their office locked and with a sign up saying their service has been dispensed with. And yet we do not say a word about all this, we do not even raise an eyebrow as we mind our own business lest that business house with the money targets us. And here the same journalists and media houses that have never defended their own, set about like a herd on anyone who challenges their owners black money, not even theirs, and dares to raise questions about media functioning today. The Citizen established to speak for editorial freedom, and journalistic norms fortunately has no such restrictions. And while it does not condone Kejriwal’s ‘jail’ remarks it condemns the manner in which the media houses have the editors in charge have allowed money to dictate editorial policy.
Posted on: Sat, 15 Mar 2014 07:00:11 +0000

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