The prevalent attitude is to either maintain silence or to snigger in a corner. To remain silent is to be complicit.

 Media and defamation We stood on quicksand time to get out or be swallowed
Voices Wednesday, September 09, 2015 - 10:57
For every story that gets told, many do not. Somewhere, not so covert anymore, is a journalist’s worst nightmare – how far can s/he go, will the editorial and management back the piece if it is an investigative one or will the journalist be hung out to dry? Do we as a tribe stand up for our colleagues? Having flirted with all nuances of paparazzi-like reportage while pretending we do not, have we all jumped into a quicksand of our own making? We have all spoken out against defamation that is vindictive, but do we in the media stand as one unit for journalism and its principles? 

Here are three illustrative examples.

1. The Tamil channel Sathiyam TV is officially warned by the ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) for supposedly violating programme codes in two of its shows both aired on December 9, 2014. Sathiyam TV has also received show-cause notices for three other “violations” in May 2015.

2. A whistle-blower writes to the National Stock Exchange (NSE) alleging how its systems are manipulated to favour few companies who make several crores in illegal profits. The letter is copied to the webzine Moneylife that tries to independently verify the letters contents. Unable to do so the webzine writes to the Securities and Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI) asking what action was taken. The NSE is copied in this letter and when no one response came forth, Moneylife publishes the story and the NSE sues it for Rs.100 crores.

3. The Caravan magazine publishes a 14,000-word story on the Ruia family and Essar the group it owns. Entitled “Doing The Needful” it bases itself on leaked emails to state that several influential politicians, bureaucrats and journalists had received gifts. Essar asks The Caravan to apologise, the magazine digs in and has been sued for Rs. 250 crore.

There is turmoil in the media in India - refusing to see is to go headlong into a wall.

The Tamil channel has the bandwidth to defend itself and in the case of The Caravan, the reporter has editorial and management support. That is rare. Over fifty percent of Indian media houses are family owned and when the volume of money touches the political and others power centres, journalism is the first casualty. There is a difference between a story that is in public interest and stories that are of public interest.

Moneylife’s story is in public interest. It is an independent organization and perhaps India’s only one that keeps a hawk-eye on the financial markets from the point of view of small investors. The stonewalling and the lawsuit by the NSE are not in public interest because in addition to investments by banks and financial institutions, it also has shareholder’s money – your money, our money. If manipulation occurs, as alleged, investors have a right to know. The NSE has to do better than send a legal notice.

Moneylife, Caravan and Sathiyam TV are fighting various powers at different levels, but how much have we read about this in the rest of media? One can understand if the lack of reporting is due to a genuine confusion on whether the stories that got into trouble were credible ones.

But, the prevalent attitude is to either maintain silence or to snigger in a corner. To remain silent is to be complicit.

There is turmoil in the media in India - refusing to see it is to walk into a brick wall.  The climb back to credibility will be a long one for us in the media and it will have to be driven by solidarity for those who understand journalism and what it means.There will always be the rotten apples, but people can chose what they watch and read. In the meantime, we in the media have serious repairing to do.


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