Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Paid-News Syndrome

Updated: May 29, 2010 2:24 pm

Our media attitude towards the deprived, cheated, hence poor population of our country has tremendous scope of improvement. There is no doubt that a very considerable part of media, like politics, is functioning like business concerns and it has little interest in poor. It is a profession, not a mission like it was committed to be during pre- Independence days. The sole aim of the professional media barons appears to be making money through publishing/telecasting/ texting sensational news collected/ managed/coloured/imagined/ manufactured/cooked or manipulated by their correspondents, often paid less salary but enjoying full liberty to compensate through yellow journalism. Most of the hands doing so come from poor backgrounds. With their media credentials they move in high circles with often threatening and sometimes blackmailing assumptions of supremacy. In press conferences they enjoy high teas and good food with dignitaries in five star hotels. Back home when they face the diagonally opposite scenario of abject poverty and the pitiable limitations they get frustrated. Negativity becomes the dominant trend of their being. No progress or positive development in society or government attracts their attention. They become fond of seeing and reporting only losses, damages, failures and lapses and try to become rich by all means, foul or fair. The missionary zeal they nourished and vowed to perpetuate when they were in colleges and universities gets auctioned in media market. They become careerists, and careerism dictates their vanquished conscience to shut up and do what ever asked to do. The worst trend that sneaks into their being is their conviction that nothing can change status quo except piles of currency notes.

            I quote a few instances I came across. Years back, a correspondent of a reputed Delhi based English language newspaper group published a story about some alleged statement

of a prominent leader. It was odd, so I decided to go into depth, and came to know that the leader had not spoken at all on the reported topic. The presentation of the story was so attractive that it could hardly be doubted. I contacted the learned correspondent and wanted to know about the source of the news story. He was all smiles, and confidentially acknowledged to me that the story was cooked by him to oblige editorial policy. His command over English language, passion for details and insinuations, extra ordinarily fertile imagination and the lucidity palpably found in his expressions, both, spoken and written were so great that doubting his reports was not possible always. He was gifted with all such qualities of head and heart that could make him a wonderful novelist, had he been initiated in the field of novel writing. As a journalist he was especially gifted to shape any existing or non existing news to create any desired popular view, and the vice-versa. His professional skill and power of imagination suited his masters who paid him handsomely. His life style and that of his family make him give deaf ear to the voice of his conscience, and obey the call of careerism. He very beautifully explained to me that poverty, like water, can not be done away with. Only change of place and/or form and/or degrees takes place, but it exists and remains a subject of living by the hapless victims and matter of discussion by school teachers, preachers, and the professional politicians, not the media, unless it creates a big news like the one connected with a Dantewada , for strategic use by the media barons.

            A Hindi publication of another big media group attracted my attention, in deed, not always for good reasons. Its news items were burdened with lopsided views encouraging a particular ideological whim, so I decided to point out at least two bizarre news items daily and write daily to the editor of the daily on a post card for many weeks. Heading of the daily write ups was ret ke do kan (two sand particles). To me the newspaper was always like curd. Curd is a substance formed from coagulation of milk. The curd had many sand particles mingled with it. Sand particles meant the irresponsible and bizarre reporting. I quoted only two cases of bizarre reporting under the said heading. The news happening out side the news room was like milk. The sand particles spoiled the taste of curd. My post cards made no difference, and the status quo continued. My views in my brief explanations were simply ignored. So I decided to meet the editor and talk to him about the editorial oddities. The editor was academically a highly qualified, journalistically well equipped and politically a blue eyed man of some. I asked him rather bluntly why his pursuit of Saraswati was always ignored or superseded by his craze for Lakshmi. He ignored my query smilingly, and wanted to keep me occupied with the usual exchange of pleasantries. When the purpose of my meeting was clear to him he pulled my post cards from his in-tray and reshuffling them he responded very coolly, but not un- sarcastically: “Aap mujhe bees karor rupaye de deejiye. Main aap kee saari aadarshvaadi baton par amal karoon gaa.” (Please give me twenty crore rupees, and I shall abide by allof your idealistic talk and do what you want me to do). I was astonished. My unsuppressed bewilderment made his eloquence sharper, and he opened his heart and mouth: I do not serve ideologies. I serve my employer who had invested many crores in opening and running this newspaper. I must take care of my job that gives me and my family regular flow of life . I am now used to good living, good food, and good drinks. I can understand your point of view and I will do accordingly if I own a newspaper. I can have my own newspaper if I have at least twenty crore rupees.” he emphasised. “Jaanaami dharmam na cha me pravruttih, jaanaamyadharmam na cha me nivruttih (I know what is righteousness but I have no inclination to commit to it. I know what is not righteous but I have no aversion for it) he quoted Duryodhana from the Mahabharata, and reminded me of the Geeta’s dictum that those not knowing pravrutti and nivrutti can not be truthful. That was what the editor lectured to me in a friendly manner. I got the message. It was not the case

of following gentle dictates of conscience. It was the rude call of market. I took leave of him, and stopped wasting money on post cards.

            In a bid to verify the veracity of a news item released by a Delhi based news agency, when I contacted the originator of the report he very jovially conceded that the practice of cooking news was the compulsion of reporters. Unbearable pressure from the bureau chiefs to bring presentable news for daily bulletins often results in cooking a presentable news. We are paid not only for collecting news, but for our flights of imagination also for necessary treatment of a news . No consumable item, including news, is sold with out due treatment. In absence of a news that does not go in favour of our editorial/ideological/ political policies we have to do some thing with riders like through our reliable sources. No body can question our sources. News, like fish, has to be cooked in hundreds of ways, keeping in view tastes of consumers and sale potential. If synthetic milk, fake gold and pearls, and even fake currency notes can be in vogue, why not news? News with out views is impossible, he argued.

            Obeying the editorial policy of his Delhi-based Hindi newspaper a reporter reported some thing aimed at damaging reputation of a Telugu-speaking leader posted from AP to Delhi. The leader had little knowledge of Hindi. One of the words the leader was reported to have said about another leader the reporter believed to belong to opposite group was takshak (serpent). When contacted to react on his alleged comment the leader gave a hearty laughter, and explained that he had not spoken even a single word against the said leader, or any body else. By the way, what does this word takshak mean? he asked me. Both, the report and the reaction, became a source of amusement for many days for many.

            Ordinarily it is believed that the bureau chiefs or editors cross check all the published news. It is not the case in all respects. While in a remote village I noticed a neta type young man on a motor cycle. patrakara, inscribed on metallic plates fixed on the front and back of a motorcycle made me chat with the man driving it. It transpired that the semi-literate man was originally a farmer-cum-newspaper vendor who, after passing High School examination had started a part time job of supplying news of the rural area to a city based correspondent. What news do you supply? I asked. In villages there are hardly any news. Whenever there is some political rally or some dharna for building bridge on the rivulet and approach roads some news comes up.

            I see many villagers quarrelling with pradhanji (village head) for getting BPL cards .There are complaints about improper distribution of kerosene and sugar. Do these reports not make news?

            These are the usual things in every village, and every one knows about that. Then I have to live in the village. I can not dare to report such usual things in press. He chuckled and took my leave. Obviously, no responsible media person has time for examining the problems faced by villagers. They are pre-occupied with bigger and juicy scandals involving some very rich urbanites.

            The most important fact media barons and their employees ignore is the crucial tug of war between two strong forces. Broadly speaking those forces may be called pro-India and anti-India. The anti-India forces are determined to disintegrate the nation and then distribute its parts among them-selves, or sell them to their foreign masters. The pro-India forces are determined to keep the integrity and sovereignty of their nation in tact by all means. The tug of war, its implications, and the consequences, must get serious attention of the media barons and their employees. Accustomed to think in terms of short term gains they ignore this big problem. They must debunk and aim to neutralise the anti-India forces to avoid any further damage to the sense of pluralism, whether social, communal, financial or democratic. They must save India. Who will live if India does not? Every thing is in the hands of media barons and their editors, bureau chiefs, correspondents and the reporters.

By Balram Misra

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