Friday, March 30, 2012

With journalism students at Anna University...

Work and blogging somehow don’t really go together, or do they? I’ve been in and out of town, and then trying to keep pace with the deadlines for the journals I edit, deadlines that keep popping up all the time. Sometimes I wish it was just one paper or magazine that I was editing; putting to bed three can be quite a handful.

Anyway, today I finally decided to take break. And what better than addressing a group of journalism students at the Anna University's Department of Media Sciences. There were of course a few who seemed brighter and more passionate that the rest You find them in any crowd), but in the end the ones who were apparently sleeping when I spoke came up with some pertinent questions. One was about the possibility of starting community newspapers, the other about whether increasing the price of newspapers would ensure a better product from the publisher’s side. After all, newspapers in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, said one student, cost much more than they do in India.

I was reminded of what Ravindra Kumar, editor and managing director of The Statesman told a similar audience in Kolkata a few months ago. Kumar drew a comparison between the evolution of cost, of consumer products and the newspaper. A tube of Colgate toothpaste, for example, cost 12 annas once; today, the same tube costs Rs 25. Cinema ticket prices have soared more than hundred-fold over the years – from Rs 3.50 to anything between Rs 350 and Rs 500. All this, while the newspaper still sells at Rs 2.50 paise or thereabouts. Why is the cost important? “Even to this day, it is the print media which has the maximum number of professional journalists out in the field. Whether in Raipur or Dantewada or Chhattisgarh, the majority of news stories are still broken by print and if they are important they are picked up by television and then they reach a national audience... By effectively trying to analyse its (story’s) implications, print comes back into the story,” he explained.
And then he added: “There is a huge cost involved in collecting information. We try to give you a reasonable approximation of news as we can… and an honest a set of opinions as we can. This must be the challenge before any form of media. Honest news, or objective views, go for it… it doesn’t really matter whether it’s Facebook or Twitter. If the media of your choice gives you all this, there will be a cost involved. And if you want it, you will have to pay for it.”
As I mentioned to the students today, media is at the crossroads – with print under heavy pressure from digital, the like of which has never been experienced before. It is certainly an interesting time to be in journalism, a challenging time if ever there was one. For one, you have to be the Jack of all trades and master of most, a multitask performer, and for another, you have to keep in mind the fundamental principles of journalism that will always remain.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

When accepting a bribe is par for the course

No wonder India ranks in the Top 10 in the matter of corruption. The additional director-general, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Chennai, was arrested yesterday for accepting a bribe of Rs 2 lakh and an iPad. The bribe demanded was initially Rs 10 lakh, then reduced to Rs 8 lakh after some bargaining. Rs 2 lakh was the first installment. All this for not taking action against somebody under the COFEPOSA Act and for not de-freezing a bank account. Here was a top government official, regularly seen on the city pages of newspapers (after a haul), involved in graft. What a shame!

So, what do we do against corruption? Anna Hazare’s shrill voice has almost died down, and Kejriwal and Co seem lost in the wilderness. Do we even have half a chance of battling against corruption? The so-called mini general elections are over. One political party has given way to another. It’s unlikely to make any difference. I was awestruck at the maddening coverage some of the television channels engaged in. Non-stop coverage for 48 and 72 hours! Whatever for? It might have been needed if there was a miracle and total change in the polity, with people with a clean slate being elected. Without a doubt, most of the MLAs elected had some case or the other against them. Yet, TV anchors and reporters were bending over backwards and cringing forwards to please. Talk about low obeisance!

For all the chatter of the Indian electorate being wise etc, the fact is it has done little to demand good governance and elect good people. After 60 years of Independence, it took a Anna Hazare to talk about weeding out corruption. But now his voice has been muffled and the poor man has hardly any energy left. The middle-class, for all its intelligence and prattle, do not bother about casting their vote. The majority who vote belong to the so-called underprivileged, for whom elections is a sort of theatre and voting just a mechanism of choosing one don or the other.

When a high-ranking official in the revenue department is bold enough to demand huge sums as bribe, post-Anna Hazare and 2G Spectrum, it is clear that the rot has run deep. Despite being a democracy, we not really become an enlightened state. And now, with a central government that is tottering yet loathe to leave, incapable of running a country, it’s only a question of time before states gain the upper hand (some have already) and the country returns to the age of the principalities.