This is an update to the post "CEC: Media As Friend & Ally In Elections" of March appended below:
It would be dishonest and unfair to tar the entire community of journalists as corrupt. It is just safe to say that a huge majority of news outlets are corrupt and cannot be called a watchdog anymore. I have personally been witness to newspapers blackmailing business houses with planting fake stories or exposes if they didn’t get their share of ad business as a rival newspaper. In wanting to avoid confrontation or wastage of time most businesses oblige, some do stand up. It is in this light that latest developments of the ‘paid news’ syndrome has to be viewed.
It would also be naïve to imagine that the money trail for ‘paid news’ can be traced. Obviously these transactions aren’t made through cheques. That’s what explains a total election expense of 7/- lakhs within the then limit of 10/- lakhs. This is what P. Sainath writes in The Hindu:
“Mr. Chavan's accounts are a delight. A kind of Gandhian manual on poll austerity. Read them and you know that Bhokar, Nanded is where you want to settle post-retirement. Things are so cheap. Mr. Chavan wrapped up his newspaper advertising within a frugal Rs.5,379. His entire poll campaign cost less than Rs.7 lakh. (The limit for an assembly constituency in Maharashtra that year was Rs.10 lakh). This included two public meetings where he brought down Bollywood megastar Salman Khan as the main attraction, drawing thousands of people. The first meeting cost a piffling Rs.4,440 and the second even less, only Rs.4,300. In both cases the main cost, more than a third of the total, was on the public address system. (But even Steve Jobs could not have got the audio done in Rs.1,500). The pandal top cost just Rs.200, hired sofas cost the same and Mr. Chavan spent no more than Rs.1,000 on setting up the stage”.
The PCI’s paid news report was watered down to around 12 pages, from the original 71, on protests by the worst offenders involved in the syndrome. Each time the issue of accountability is raised with the MSM the endless fountain of screams about “freedom of press” or “self-regulation” flow as a torrent. It is, therefore, amazing that the CEC or any sensible body rely on the media to report violations or instances of paid news. Oh yeah, they will depending on which side of the political spectrum they are on.
Apart from the paid news syndrome, Radiagate has exposed beyond any doubt that MSM is into far greater misdeeds than just paid news. It is actively involved in political power broking, planting stories on the whims of such brokers. It’s not news and analysis anymore. The last Sunday (Oct 9) edition of ‘We the poodles’ on NDTV ran a debate on the Telengana issue. Among others, one of the key elements of the discussion was what “muslims want”! More than politicians it is the media crooks who are constantly immersed in discussions deciding what is secular, what is communal, what is hate-speech and what is justice or miscarriage of it. The media divides society a lot more than politicians do. The media is far more corrupt than the politicians we keep rapping for it. It is hard to imagine how a company like NDTV still operates despite consistent losses over the years. Since the issue, its share price has constantly gone down. I imagine the financial intrigues of many other media outlets would make sorry reading if thoroughly investigated. And that is good reason to bring the media too under the RTI and the Lokpal.
The slant and biased reporting is now becoming more obvious to people at large thanks to social networks. Can’t call them watchdogs anymore, just Poodles would do!
CEC: Media As Friend & Ally In Elections - March 11,2011
What is wrong with other people? Don’t they matter? The people are your biggest eyes and ears if ever you needed a watchdog. Across the world people are now realising that the mainstream media is a self-serving lapdog and is not a watchdog for anyone. Just as an honest politician is hard to find these days, it is just as hard to find honest media outfits or honest journalists. The honest are the rare exceptions. Here’s what Chief Election Commissioner, S.M. Quraishi, is reported to have said:
|....and they can watch over elections?|
From the WSJ: India’s Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi on Tuesday asked the media to play the role of watchdog by reporting any violation of the code of the conduct by political parties or candidates in upcoming state assembly elections. Five states – Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal... “We see the media as our ally and friend in the elections. We will see through your eyes.” Mr. Quraishi said that media reports about malpractice and violations would be treated as formal complaints and would be taken up by the Election Commission. But while giving the media the responsibility of ensuring fair conduct during the polls, the Election Commission has also tried to ensure that the phenomenon of “paid news” – one that escalates during election time – is curbed. It has called for the setting up of “district-level media watch committees” comprising “a senior journalist nominated by the Press Council of India” to monitor any instances where the media charge candidates or parties for favorable coverage or for avoiding unfavorable coverage. So while the media will be watching the elections, it will also be watching itself. The debate around “paid news” caused a furore during the national elections in 2009. The Press Council of India later issued a report on regulating and curbing paid news. The council oversees media practices and strives to improve media standards. The report, made public in August 2010, had also recommended amending the electoral laws to make “paid news a punishable electoral malpractice.” The Election Commission has now also said that candidates or parties found paying for news will be punished and will have to bear the cost of the paid news in their election expenditure. But the phenomenon is one that has been difficult to weed out.
Just as it is unfair to tarnish all politicians with the same brush it is equally unfair to tarnish the entire media as well. There are still many honest journalists and mediapersons. Just who will get to pick the ‘district-level media watch committees’? In case the CEC is unaware or has forgotten, in states like Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala the politicians themselves own the TV channels and much of the print media. The DMK’s TV channel is currently embroiled in links to various scams. So who will be the ‘district-level’ watchdogs? Say, someone like Kashmir interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar? Or a Barkha Dutt? A Prannoy Roy maybe, or even a Vinod Sharma? As for the Press Council’s report on ‘paid news’ one of the authors, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, himself is on record stating that the report was ‘watered-down’. The media today is not ‘independent’ as we knew it. The corporate media should not be treated as the ‘Press’ anymore but just as any other business entity. Therefore, Mr.CEC, this is what you need to do:
1. Appoint a body of people from various walks of life with impeccable credibility and integrity to act as the watchdogs. Avoid including any media person.
2. You can even hire reputed firms who regularly conduct surveys of all kinds (like Nielsen, Gallup for example) to take an ‘audit-like’ approach to keeping a watch on malpractices.
3. Put up a page on your website where people themselves can lodge complaints about mal-practices. Sure, you are likely to have plenty of complaints but your auditors can do the job of scrutinising these.
Recent events have only helped to consolidate the suspicion of the media being a lapdog. Till such time there are serious rules that deliver punishment to erring media entities and persons they cannot be anybody’s watchdog. The Press Councils and the Advertising Councils and Editors’ Guilds are all coffee-shop organisations with neither power nor the willingness to reform themselves. People don’t trust the media Mr.CEC, why should you? With all the resources at your disposal I am sure you can find better watchdogs.