Monday, September 10, 2007

Je Na Sais Quoi...

The title has nothing to do with the post, but then again I'm an old-school journalist who has seen the strange ways of the desk, where headlines involved stringing together adjectives and verbs in really bizarre combinations. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, televisions high and mighty have been debating the ethics (or not) of sting operations in the light of the recent case of the 'non-sting' and they all pretty much whole-heartedly agree in a convoluted manner that sting operations are good, but they should not be mis-used. Not a single one suggests any redressal mechanism or having a set of policies in place to prevent the abuse of the medium.
See, as a commenter on the last post pointed out, we already have the Press Council of India which is there to regulate the functioning of newspapers/magazines and news agencies in India while maintaining their freedom. The PCI Act which was instituted in 1978 in the wake of Sanjay Gandhi's censorship regime during the Emergency is a fairly comprehensive act and has in a way contributed to the development of the media in India. Of course, some believe that the PCI is toothless - heck, according to their website - rather respectable publications such as Outlook Money and Traveller and Businessworld still owe them money - laughably small sums (Rs 600 in the case of Outlook Traveller). But the act does have this provision and I quote...

Power to Censure

14(1) Where, on receipt of a complaint made to it or otherwise, the Council has reason to believe that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, the Council may, after giving the newspaper, or news agency, the editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard, hold an inquiry in such manner as may be provided by regulations made under this Act and, if it is satisfied that it is necessary so to do, it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist, as the case may be :

Provided that the Council may not take cognizance of a complaint if in the opinion of the Chairman, there is no sufficient ground for holding an inquiry.

(2) If the Council is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in public interest so to do, it may require any newspaper to publish therein in such manner as the Council thinks fit, any particulars relating to any inquiry under this section against a newspaper or news agency, an editor or a journalist working therein, including the name of such newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.

(3) Nothing in sub-section (1) sha11 be deemed to empower the Council to hold an inquiry into any matter in respect of which any proceeding is pending in a court of law.

(4) The decision of the Council under sub-section ( I ), or sub-section (2), as the case be, shall be final and shall not be questioned in a court of law.

Now, the fact remains that people would rather turn to the convoluted and abused legal system for redress rather than the PCI - but as sub-section (4) mentions, the decision of the PCI is final. Of course, the PCI cannot either fine or imprison editors, reporters or publishers for malafide intent, which is what happened in this case.
I do believe that if malafide intent is proven, people should be imprisoned, after all if I try to hurt someone physically I can be jailed, why should the same not apply if i try to hurt someone through an article. However, very often, and this is particularly the case today, many journalists are for lack of a better word - dumb. And I mean Editors too, maybe not in places like the Times or NDTV, but at small hack-shops like Live India, you'll be working with a bunch of stupid scumbags, then what? You can't sue someone for being stupid can you? Though, shutting down a channel run by people with an IQ of under 25 might be a good start.
Should the PCI be allowed to fine news organisations, or if malafide intent is proven can the accuser go to court for civil damages? If Uma Khurana proves that 'LiveIndia' ruined her reputation and standing can she take the TV channel to the cleaners? I believe she should. The PCI Act needs some modifications to deal with emerging media trends, because the way we consume news is changing dramatically, and the media should be kept under a leash. Heck, business publications in India are more scared of SEBI than they are of the PCI - so would giving the PCI more teeth and giving it a more meaningful executive committee which includes active journalists and not retired bureaucrats and assorted losers might be a start.
I'll be having a chat with a friend of mine who is a fairly accomplished 'sting' reporter over the week, will keep you posted on the conversation. And as one letter asked - are no-poaching agreements legal? Well, I'ld like some comments on that by email if you guys have anything to say!

Another question - Do you believe the breaking of the Geetanjali Nagpal story by Metro Now (why does the site not work) was a publicity stunt? I don't think so, I believe it is a fantastic tabloid story, the first really good story broken by Metro Now, exposed the fashion fraternity for the hypocrites they are I remember this wonderful quote from a model - "Are you implying that there are drugs in the fashion industry!" - something I am still laughing over. And honestly, picking up someone of the street and helping them to a better life isn't a bad thing, heck if she has a husband and a son, even better. Tabloid journalism? For sure, but this was in my humble opinion good tabloid journalism.

7 comments:

thalassa_mikra said...

K, is it the same as in the US and Europe where models do drugs to keep their weight down (and smoke like chimneys too)?

simran said...

maintaining the facade of perfection is what the fashion industry does best. geetanjali's disheveled hair, bad skin, vacant eyes could easily be staring at us from a glossy mag. and as my designer friend would derisively say: 'oh look, there goes another fashion victim'.

Rajesh Chopra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mumbai Journo said...

A Goan blogger has done the impossible - carried out a sting operation on a local newspaper!

As journalists covering the
June assembly elections in Goa, many of us were aware about the misuse
of editorial space in local papers for advertising various candidates.

Now a blogger, I suspect a journo of Goan origin who used to do sting
operations for national media, has done a sting on the Herald, which
claims to be the number one paper in Goa.

The blogger posing as a
marketing executive negotiated a deal to sell editorial space at a 400
per cent premium over ad rates.

check out the story on:

http://penpricks.blogspot.com/

Shiv Kumar

K said...

Mr Chopra, I just deleted your comments because while I understand your 'hurt' at someone appropriating your name, this is not a forum to release press releases. A comment where you encapsulated your thoughts is OK, but for god's sake... Anyway, a banner link at the top of your page.
And that Piggy Chops page needs serious help!

K said...

Mumbai Journo, before we condemn the paper - I would like to know the finances of the Herald - if the paper is in dire straits - heck, I understand in a weird sort of way why they did what they did. Capitalism rules right? You can't run a paper in an altruistic form unless you're Father A who started the Observer. Anyway, I'm not condoning what they did, but I might know what inspired the move.

Mumbai Journo said...

Oheraldo claims to be Goa's Number One newspaper, though most of us journos think the paper is neck and neck with Navhind Times which also claims the Number One slot.

As far as I know neither of the two papers are ABC certified though they both produce certificates from some chartered accountants in order to obtain government advertising.

Both papers are chock-a-block with ads - around 40 per cent of the 20 or 24 pages they put out every day. And both pay peanuts. Veteran journos earn barely 5000.

The last editor of Herald is on record saying his last pay check was 18000 odd rupees per month (abt two years ago) after more than a decade of service.

And with ToI foisting a one-day old Mumbai edition in Goa, the two papers are having a gala time...