BY MANOJ KEWALRAMANI
“This,” he said with a determined look, before pausing for a moment. “Is news,” he continued, as the screen faded into darkness.
That’s as honest as one can be these days, I thought, with the image of Ryan Seacrest hosting E! News still in my head.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of just how cynical I have become or perhaps it’s just a measure of how the trade has evolved.
Yes it’s a trade; it’s always been one. All it has done is metamorphosed from the practice of a skill to the far more realistic you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours stage.
Nah, that’s a dirty phrase. It just trivializes the effort that goes into sustaining the mystique of morality while manufacturing opinion.
It’s an art; it always was and still is. It’s an art to howl aloud clichés like “your views” “your call” “your channel” “your paper” and pretend to be “your conscience” while still selling you a product that you don’t even know you are consuming.
Truly, it is an art, an art that perhaps those in PR circles would describe as “environment management.” And with the way we live today, the degradation of the environment with each passing day should hardly come as a surprise to us.
“No money, no news,” is how noted journalist P Sainath described the scenario during the Maharashtra elections last year.
Painting a grim picture, he added: “The game has moved from the petty personal corruption of a handful of journalists to the structured extraction of huge sums of money by media outfits.”
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – an iceberg that perhaps began melting publicly when the cash-for-votes scam hit Parliament.
As journo after journo and channel after channel debated the new low that the legislature had sunk to, there was hardly any discussion about the behind the scenes tapes and recordings that seemed to exist but didn’t see the light of day.
Political favour you presume? Well most certainly. But a better answer can perhaps be found in the convoluted books of accounts and the equity structure or even something as simple and transparent as the advertising contracts.
Still not convinced, you’d probably scoff and parrot the old adage of everybody needing to run a business one way or the other. What’s more, being a little stingy with the truth is a bargain that maybe you can live with.
Fair enough, perhaps we can; and perhaps sometimes it’s better for the health of a crumbling edifice, that is our system and our faith in it, to not let the hammer strike it with full force.
But then, that’s acceptable if only the rot had decided to limit itself till where it was. In reality though, the spectrum (pun intended) it covers is far wider and far deeper.
While the Telecom Minister may hang on to his chair, courtesy the limitations of coalition politics or rather the dire need of those who want him there, the real question is how did he, with a murky track-record, get the job in the first place?
By now, of course we are all familiar with the tale. Boys meets girl. Boys hire girl. Girl pushes their agenda through a complex mix of favours and persuasion. A few hiccups later, the Raja is seated on the much-vaunted throne. It’s just poetic justice how the story of the great Telecom battle of 2009 was narrated through taped conversations.
It’s a familiar script, but the devil lies in the minor details. In that story, this may have been a miniscule sub-plot, but in the larger scheme of affairs, it is anything but a small deal when noted journalists get named in confidential reports for lobbying to get the ‘right man’ in the right place.
And that’s just how the system works. You cover not at the behest of public good, freedom, accountability and maintaining a check on the way things are. You cover as per the requirements of your balance sheet, or at least the ones who are keeping it balanced.
That’s what it generally means when the bold “Exclusive” flashes on your screen. There’s a price to be paid for such exclusivity. In our world today, that price is ethics and independence.
The last time I somberly told a journalist friend of mine about this fact, he turned to me cherry-faced, accusing me of pedaling sanctimonious bullshit that doesn’t survive the test of reality.
I didn’t have an answer then, but I do today. Read through the article again and then tell me who it is that’s being real and who it is that bellows holier than thou crap like “trust,” “honesty,” “credibility,” “truth,” 24×7.
(Manoj Kewalramani is a guest writer with Canary Trap. He has worked with top media houses like NDTV before becoming an Independent Blogger and Writer.)