-Melanie P. Kumar
The Moderator, for this session is T.M. Veeraraghav from the “Hindu,” who at some point places a disclaimer that he is here in his personal capacity. This is because of the topic and the presence of forthright Mrinal Pandey and fiery Madhu Trehan, who do not mince words about how much the factor of “paid news,” has taken its toll on Indian journalism, across English and the language newspapers. Tanja Duckers, a journalist, from Germany says that she cannot comment too much about the Indian media, as she has barely been in the country for a week. However, she does make a comment about the full-page ad in the first page of the “Hindu,” which is considered as sacred, editorial space in European newspapers.
Mrinal mentions that the cover price of a newspaper is not sufficient to pay salaries and run a media establishment. But she also says that there is a need to question dynasty in the news business, as much as it is done in politics. She queries, “Has anyone thought of querying at what price the “Eenadu” from Andhra Pradesh, was sold for?”
Veeraraghav says that the Editors’ Guild has written to the PMO about being sidelined but why have they never questioned the aspect of cross-ownership.
Madhu speaks of the advent of “paid news,” and the institutionalisation of corruption. Veeraraghav asks about “Brokering News,” her web channel, on their expose on “paid news.” He also asks her how society would benefit from media-bashing, which is fun but does not achieve anything. Madhu says, “We will bash the media, if it reports immorally” and will continue to focus on the media and other important stories. It is a paid website, which asks for subscriptions from readers, to enable them to report news, independently. The channel is targeted at the young Indian, who she hopes will stay engaged and be willing to pay to get the truth.
Madhu says that after commissioning the “paid news” report, the Press Council of India buried it. But Independent Journalist, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, was not to be outdone and ensured that the findings went up on the Net!
“It is one thing to sell ad space and quite another to sell editorial space,” Madhu insists. There cannot be three newspapers carrying the identical story with three different names!
Mrinal speaks of the peculiar phenomenon of Hindi and other vernacular newspapers carrying translated versions of Western writers, like Thomas Friedman. While one set of readers, who spend their hard-earned money are unhappy, another upwardly-mobile lot bask in the glory of being savvy about their knowledge of Western writers!
All the panellists agree that this is a tricky business and perhaps an alternative to the Press Council might be needed for some kind of regulation.
Tanja Druckers says that the business of infotainment has spread to Europe as well, with a Leftist paper started by Jean Paul Sartre, being sold and forced to move from Paris, whilst their space is used for cultural events.
Still, it is early days to bury honest, well-researched journalism and perhaps with more and more new media site like “News Laundry” and “The Hoot,”one may just have to read truthful journalism, in a different format. For a digital generation, this may be the best thing!