Big Business Of Journalism
India That Is Bharat
After a lifetime of newspapering Satiricus thought he knew all about good news and bad news and news that was like the proverbial curate’s egg, partly good, partly bad. But one lives and learns, even when one is an extinguished member of the media. For instance, a public debate in recent times taught Satiricus there is also something like news on sale. In fact it had come to light not long ago that even in some established newspapers the advertisement manager told the editor what news to print. Oh well, now that journalism is no longer a measly mission but big business, what is wrong with running it on sound business lines? Actually, now that we live in the glorious age of globalisation is it not right and proper that all over the newspaper world the world-famous New York Times motto “All the news that’s fit to print” has been updated to “All the news that’s fit to purchase”? So Satiricus is patriotically happy to see Indian newspapers efficiently adopting this modern method of making money.
Unfortunately, there are still some obtuse, old-fashioned newspaper-readers who like to read news as it happened and not as it is manufactured in the advertisement manger’s office. They still like to read editorial, and not an advertorial. For instance, a few months ago a prominent British newsapaper was publicly rebuked by an industry watchdog body for printing a favourable article about a product alongside an advertisement of it, on the ground that placing the article on the same page as the ad amounted to making the advertisement look like a news article. As if this was not ridiculous enough, what was still more ridiculous was that the paper actually apologised and withdrew the advertisement.
Fortunately, we industrialised Indians are not so foolishly finicky. In fact, while this here business of paid news in Indian newspapers has become the talk of the town as if this is a new phenomenon, actually it is not. For Satiricus recalls that quite a few years ago he had seen an article by a very senior Indian journalist praising the virtues of an American breakfast food newly introduced in India. This provided Satiricus some breakfast food for thought, and he wondered…. For what price was this journalist bought? Well, a British prime minister by name Robert Walpole may well have asked, every man has his price, but what about his value, but for Satiricus the distinction between the two is delightfully diminishing, for these days almost every other day he sees at least two of India’s biggest newspapers making up a full-page ad of some soap or shampoo or what have you to look like the front page with another, real front page inside.
And if soaps and shampoos and syrups need to be advertised, why not politicians? So it made good business sense on the former Maharashtra Chief Minister’s part when it was discovered that he had spent crores on buying laudatory newspaper write-ups about himself. And what a CM in Mumbai can do, a PM in Delhi can do better, no? If the CM spent many crores, the PM can spend many hundred crores. (Of course here Satiricus means the real PM, not the virtual one.)
With Raja, Kalmadi, Nachiketa who et al, Satiricus must admit all the bad news about the UPA government does need to be balanced with some good news and the good news is that this can be managed with a sophisticated device devised in the European country of Romania. For news comes that the Romanian Senate recently passed a law requiring radio and television companies to broadcast one good news story for every bad news story. Satiricus was impressed. He thought, the law may be an ass, but in this case a very perceptive ass, for the erudite psychological justification given by the Romanian government was that reporting of too much bad news had a negative effect on the health and life of the people, and so a law was needed to make the news media broadcast equal measures of good and bad news. Even a council was set up under a chairman to decide if a news was positive or negative, that is, good or bad.
But alas, if the path of true love never runs smooth, nor does that of such a lovely law. For the chairman was himself flummoxed and said, such a half-good and half-bad recipe for all news would be impossible, because “news is news, it is neither positive nor negative, it simply reflects reality”. Well, this may be a ticklish problem in Romania, but not in India. What stumps the government of Romania need not stump the government of India. In Romania news may reflect reality, but we have a virtual PM at the head of our government. So Indian news may be made to reflect virtual reality. Then why bother about the real reality of news that cooks in Kalamadi’s kitchen or Raja’s rasoi?