Power and Fear: Indian Corporate’s new media mantra

Gopinath Menon, CEO, Melon Media, Crayons Communications Group writes in his guest column ” New custodians of democracy emerge” in exchange4media.com on possible danger of corporate sector taking over the news industry:

Media houses of the past have slowly changed character and the traits now are very different. Earlier the  purpose was skewed towards a social objective, the freedom struggle, the voice of the down trodden, etc. This has given way to purely commercial and practical objectives. The social outlook of media houses has given way to the green dollars for the last two decades or so.

…..It is not the green dollars here as most media companies are bleeding and will take years before they break even. So what is the reason? The answer lies in the simple question “If you cannot be rich, can you be powerful and feared?”

With RIL investments in Network 18 and The Aditya Birla Group in TV Today, we are seeing a start of a new breed of corporate captains emerging in the fourth estate business. The significant fact to note is that all business investments have come in the news space and not in the entertainment space. So it is clear that it is not fondness for the media space but the news space that generates power and fear. This might change the media character of the written, spoken and seen words forever.

Why do we watch or read news? To be informed and enlightened. It helps us posses a viewpoint that builds our stature and standing within our peer group or society at large. The building block for this is ‘Credibility’ and ‘Truth’. I truly believe that there are no in-betweens when it comes to these traits. So you blindly rely on the information to develop a stance. What happens when this basic input is biased and misleading or planted? Everything collapses and it is tough to believe that their values will be embraced with the same intensity as before. If the same intensity prevails, its fine but is it going to be easy for a top business leader by origin to allow a huge chunk of business loss so that he comes across as principled? It is tough and maybe impractical to let it go and hence, the concern for the fourth estate.

Times have changed. We are on the threshold of a new society being weaved by the captains of industry controlling truth and credibility in the fourth estate. 

Read the full column : ” New custodians of democracy emerge” 

Media bodies are inefficient and unsuccessful journalists

Media bodies: Toothless tigers

Media regulatory organisations, unions and associations have failed to intervene positively to resolve challenges faced by the fourth estate from time to time. Can these ever become effective? Writes  Sanjay Kumar Srivastava in The Sunday Indian:

…..Media in fact is behaving like an unleashed watchdog. Press Council of India, Editor’s Guild of India, News Broadcasters Association, Editor’s Conference, Electronic Media Monitoring Centre – the list of media regulatory bodies is endless. These bodies preach good conduct and unbiased journalism and are responsible to ensure the implementation of such code of conduct. Still there is no control on the content and sanctity of media reports. Journalist unions such as National Union of Journalists, Indian Federation of Working Journalists, Delhi Union of Journalists et al claim to work for the protection of journalists’ rights. However most journalists are no better than unorganised skilled labourers.

…..Pradeep Mathur, a former Editor of The Pioneer and former head of IIMC, says, “Most office bearers and members of such regulatory bodies are inefficient and unsuccessful journalists. PCI is headed by a former judge, who has no experience of the media.” Mathur recalls an incident when he had to appear before a jury of PCI. He was surprised to see that the jury included a gentleman who was initially a teleprinter operator and was eventually promoted to be a reporter. Two other members of the jury had met Mathur for their job interviews years ago. Mathur says, “Even the Editor’s Guild of India is full of journalists who are good only for issuing statements. There is a bunch of pro-promoter editors in the guild and they do everything to make life easier for their bosses. Credibility and transparency of the media is their last priority.”

………….A book titled “Media Monitoring in Asia” published by the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre says that media monitoring in India is not up to the mark. Probably, that’s why Noam Chomsky said in an interview, “Media subdues the public. It’s so in India, certainly.” All these issues can be solved only when sincere efforts are made. The solution will have to come from within the media. Else, media will be reduced from being the Fourth Estate to a mere vendor of content. Hope, someone realises that soon. Read the full article : http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/Toothless-tigers/285/33975/

Attacks on journalists- A.G. Noorani

| Opinion | 

IN many places, bashing media persons seems to have become the order of the day. The chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, has been constrained to write letters to the chief ministers of a good few states warning them of the consequences of failure to protect journalists from physical attacks.

He wrote to the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah referring to allegations of assault on four reporters by the police but drew a rude reply. He received a positive response from the chief minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan. Protests were sent also to the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

The nadir was reached on March 2 in Bangalore. At least 20 media persons and police personnel were injured when they were attacked by, of all persons, lawyers, and that too in the premises of the city’s civil court. They singled out the crew of the electronic media for particular attention. They were assaulted and their expensive cameras and other equipment smashed.

The media’s coverage of the protest staged by lawyers, last January, highlighted the huge traffic gridlock in the nerve centre of the city and the anger voiced by ordinary citizens. The protesters’ lack of any sense of responsibility stood exposed.

This time, on March 2, media personnel, especially from TV, had come in strength to cover the appearance in court of a mining baron G. Janardhan Reddy who faces charges of illegal mining.

Media coverage had contributed a lot to his ouster as minister in the state government. Advocates objected to TV crew and photographers from the print media trying to film Reddy getting out of a car to proceed to court, when all hell broke loose.

The media is not only entitled as of right to cover such events but is bound to do so as a matter of public duty. Photographers, like TV crew, face greater danger. They have to protect expensive cameras as well as their own lives and limbs because a single photograph or TV frame can be more damning than words in cold print.

In the wake of this rash of media attacks, controversy erupted on whether special protective legislation is called for. It is argued by some that an assault on a journalist is no different from an assault on any other citizen. Ergo, no special legislation is called for. The objection is groundless for three good reasons.

First, such a law will itself send out a message to all that the attacks cannot be allowed to persist and will serve as a deterrent to lawbreakers.

Secondly, the Penal Code is studded with provisions which impose greater punishment for offences committed in special circumstances. For example, joining an unlawful assembly while armed with a deadly weapon carries greater punishment than mere membership of an unlawful assembly. There are half a dozen provisions on various kinds of ‘negligent conduct’ affecting public health, each in its own distinctive way. Forgery of court record is treated more seriously than forgery of any other kind.

Which brings us to the last reason which is of a fundamental character. A journalist is attacked because he is discharging a public duty, not for personal reasons. He represents an institution — the Fourth Estate. Constitutions draw a distinction between freedom of speech guaranteed to every citizen and freedom of the press. It is an institutional right available to members of an institution.

There was a time during the Raj, when the Privy Council ruled that the rights of the journalist are no greater than those of any other citizen. So, did the US Supreme Court at one time. But it shifted its position gradually. In 1978 it ruled that “the concept of equal access must be accorded more flexibility in order to accommodate the practical distinctions between the press and the general public. When on assignment, a journalist does not tour a jail simply for his own edification. He is there to gather information to be passed on to others, and his mission is protected by the constitution for very specific reasons”.

In 1980 the principle was extended in yet more explicit terms to reporting of court proceedings. In olden times the public learnt of the proceedings by personal attendance or word of mouth from those who were present in court.

“People now acquire it chiefly through the print and electronic media. In a sense, this validates the media claim of functioning as surrogates for the public. While media representatives enjoy the same right of access as the public, they often are provided special seating and priority of entry so that they may report what people in attendance have seen and heard.”

Once the fundamental principle of the media as surrogates for the public is accepted, objections to special legislation, to protect members of the Fourth Estate and deter attacks on them, fall to the ground.

One such law was moved in the Karnataka Assembly in 1988 but the government fell before it could be enacted as Clause 4 of the bill read thus: “Whoever is a member of an unlawful assembly or voluntarily causes hurt, or wrongfully restrains or confines or commits criminal intimidation or threatens to commit any of the said offences with the intention of preventing any journalist or worker in a newspaper or journal from performing his duties or discharging his functions as such or preventing the publication, circulation or distribution of the said newspaper or journal shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to six years or with fine which may extend to Rs20,000 or with both.” The media must take the lead and promote suitable legislation.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.