Viewing Indian journalism, as seen from the metros?

Viewing Indian journalism, as seen from the metros?

By Frederick Noronha

Its jacket terms it an “exciting collection of original
essays”, and to add weight to the claim this books has some
big names contributing to it. But surely an understanding of
Indian journalism needs to go beyond the metros and big
newspaper editors; for a country the size and diversity of
India, what we see of Indian journalism obviously depends on
where we stand.

That said, this is an interesting publication. Some 26
contributors discuss a range of thems, from media laws
(including the often-neglected in India right to privacy
against media intrusion) to the social role of journalists;
gender, caste and communal issues in journalism; journalistic
practice in war and peace; censorship and repression by the
state; the role of media technology and future trends; sports
journalism; urban reporting; and alternative media such as
community radio.

Editor Nalini Rajan is associate professor at the Asian
College of Journalism in Chennai. She says the book “is not
envisaged strictly as a textbook for a journalism school” but
more as a general collection reflecting trends and visions
within the profession. Her fifteen-page introduction gives a
fair idea of what the book is about.

BRP Bhaskar, formerly with the United News of India and many
Indian English-language newspapers — including the Deccan
Herald, during this reviewer’s longish stint there — takes a
large over-view of the growth of India’s press and the law.
Coming from a veteran, this is clearly an essay worth a close
reading, specially by anyone who has entered journalism in
the last decade or two.

>From the British control of the Indian media, to its takeover
by industrialists, and the lack of any mention of a free
press in the Indian Constitution… these are some of the
issues that get touched on. Then we move over to various laws
passed by the government — the Press (Objectionable Matters)
Act of 1951, the press commission headed by Justice G S
Rajadhyaksha, the attempt at a Daily Newspaper (Price and
Page) Act in 1956, the second press commission under Justice
K K Mathew in 1977, and more.

Bhaskar also looks at the growth of the regional and
‘national’ media in India. As an aside, one could perhaps
ask: do we really have a paper that really reflects the
diversity of the country, or are these just overgrown
editions of Mumbai and Delhi newspapers, pretending to do so?

N Ram, the blunt-speaking editor-owner of The Hindu and, in a
way, the Friedrich Engels of Indian journalism, has a reprint
of an earlier editorial titled here as ‘Defining the
Principles of Ethical Journalism’. He explains what his
family-owned newspaper stands for.

His unequivocally-described “five principles” stand as
inspiration both for its clarity and vision. These are:
truth telling, freedom and independence, the principle of
justice, humaneness, and contributing to the social good. But
how do these play themselves out in the day-to-day operations
of his influential Chennai-headquartered daily? Maybe we’ll
have to ask someone from his staff.

Harivansh is the editor of the editor of the Jharkhand-based
Prabhat Khabar for a decade-and-half, and makes the case that
a commercially-run newspaper can also play a sharp role in
development journalism. He claims his publication has been
doing just this by way of giving people “information on
science, information technology, economics and the
comparitive financial progress of different states”.
Interestingly, his paper has conducted “readers’ courts”,
where readers could interact with journalists, and discuss
ways of improving the product. In days when the
advertisers-rupee-is-all logic tends to predominate, such
perspectives come as a breath of fresh air.

“From the most backward region of Bihar, Ranchi — which is
now the capital of Jharkhand state — the almost defunct
‘Prabhat Khabar’ forged ahead and is today published from
five centres in three states,” Harivansh writes with
percpetible pride. He reminds us that being a journalist in
metros like Mumbai or Kolkata “is very different from being
one in Ranchi”. You bet! His narration of experiences in
turning-around a near-defunct paper have a lot of lessons for
anyone in journalism.

Engineer-turned-journalist, the Mumbai-based Dilip D’Souza
tells the story of what happens to those who dare to dabble
in investigative journalism.

Corruption and crime flourish in our societies because the
media pay too little attention, dig too infrequently and
rarely deep enough, he argues. (That the recent hidden-camera
sting operations have shown it hugely profitable, in
viewership figures too, to expose grand-scale corruption is
an issue which emerged only after this essay was penned.)

Besides, as D’Souza points out, stories are hardly followed
beyond initial reports. Crimes and scandals come at us at a
“fearful rate” too. More importantly, nobody of consequence
— in India’s nearly six decades of Independence — has been
punsihed for their crimes. Crimes themselves prosper despite
being exposed. (Bal Thackeray, named for instigating several
riots, rode to power in riots after 1995. Sukh Ram commands
adulation in his home state. Harshad Mehta, the prime figure
in the stocks scam, was not just never punished but became a
sought-after speaker and columnist in several publications,
as we are reminded.)

Investigators also themselves face vicious reprisals, notes
D’Souza. Just take the case of what happened to the Tehelka
after its dramatic pointing out of corruption when the BJP
was at the helm.

Mukund Padmanabhan, associate editor with The Hindu, focuses
on the right to privacy against media intrusion. He has
another take on the Tehelka investigation and says it stands
out “not very well”. He argues: “Even call girls (deployed by
Tehelka) have privacy rights and the contracts to hire them
for sex did not include permission to secretly film them in
the act.”

Valerie Kaye — journalist, TV researcher and producer — has
an unusual story about a two-week contract with the BBC while
filming in Argentina. That just shows the difference between
a media organisation’s image from the outside, and the
reality within. Darryl D’Monte, who could probably be called
the poster boy of Indian environmental journalism, writes on
“the greening of India’s scribes”. His chapter looks at the
growth and erosion of green writing in India.

It is D’Monte’s view — and one you can’t quite disagree with
— that since economic liberalisation of the 1990s, the
Indian media has “been more preoccupied with economic than
environmental issues, and there is no saying whether green
scribes will continue to flourish in future”. D’Monte has an
interesting story about how Anil Agarwal’s report on the
Indian environment came to be, following a visit to Malaysia
and the Consumers Association of Penang.

Indian Express associate editor Pamela Philipose looks at how
women’s activism prompted changes in news coverage in some
cases. V Geetha, an author, looks at gender, identity and the
Tamil “popular” press. One of the generes there is the
telling of female victim tales. “Part-sensational,
part-sincere and possessed of a will to ‘tell the truth’, ‘to
report the unreported’, this mode of writing has come to stay
in the Tamil media,” Geetha writes.

The Hindu sports editor Nirmal Shekar says sports journalism
can be “so different from” journalims. He sees it as “a
hybrid and a maverick, an island that revels in its
isolation, constantly celebrating its independence by
skillfully violating all time-tested norms of sound

Agricultural scientist-turned-journalist Devinder Sharma
finds agriculture to be a “missing dimension” in the media.
He writes bluntly, “Politics is important, but perhaps more
important is the role that the corporate houses play to woo
the political powers in a desperate effort to bring in a
genetically engineered food product or technology.”

Mumbai-based veteran development journalism Kalpana Sharma
has a chapter on urban reporting. She notes: “Cities are a
reporter’s dream. They represent the variety, the excitement,
the drama and the complexity that can yield endless stories.”
As anyone who worked beyond India’s four (or, at best, six)
metros should know, if you don’t work in a big city your copy
could simply be dooomed into non-existance. But then, there
is a challenge writing a good story away from the beaten
track too.

Sharma goes on to the new trends such as ‘celebrity
journalism’ and ‘page 3 journalism’.

This text also contains a number of other interesting papers
— lawyer Lawrence Liang on issues related to the new media
and so-called ‘piracy’; S Anand squarely raising blunt issues
of casteism in the newsroom (a rather insightful piece); M H
Lakdawala on the Urdu-language media; Praveen Swami on the
many flaws of defence reporting in India; Shyam Tekwani on
the risks of “embedded journalism”; Bindu Bhaskar on the
mainstream Indian media after the 1990s; Robert Brown on the
need to be “earnest as well as entertaining”; Robin Jeffrey
on “the public sphere of print journalism”; S Gautham on
alternative spaces in the broadcast media; and KP Jayasankar
and Anjali Monteiro in a almost-flippantly titled take on a
serious issue ‘Censorship ke peeche kya hai?’ about film

Mahalakshami Jayaram writes on News in the Age of Instant
Communications; Stephen S Ross on Teaching Computer-Assisted
Reporting in South India; and Ashish Sen on Community Radio
— Luxury or Necessity? Anjali Kamat also has a text on
‘Youth’ and the Indian media. –Frederick Noronha, December

ABOUT THE BOOK: Practising Journalism: Values, Constraints,
Implications. Nalini Rajan (ed). 2005.Sage Publications India
Pvt Ltd. 81-7829-522-9 and ISBN 0-7619-3379-4. Paperback, pp
358, Rs 450.


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