Journalism in Goa

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Viewing Indian journalism, as seen from the metros?

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 journalism".

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 censorship.

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 2005.

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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