Vivek Sinha is a Journalist, Film Maker and Author. He has been writing News Commentaries for over a decade. Over the last several years he has written news reports for Hindustan Times, The Times of India, Deccan Chronicle and The Asian Age. "Chip in the Madrasa" is Vivek's first novel. Apart from writing, Vivek is also passionate about Films and Documentaries. He has made several Short-Films and Documentaries. His latest Documentary is on the 2013 Muslim-Hindu riots at Muzaffarnagar.
Hindustan Times wrote an editorial
under the headline “Journalism is different from PR” on June 23, 2017, taking a
high moral ground about objectivity and journalistic freedom about an event
that took place in the Indian Capital.
But I feel the editorial was a
classic case of distortion of facts.
This editorial took a dig at Lok
Sabha Speaker, Ms. Sumitra Mahajan’s speech at the Narad Jayanti awards
organised by RSS-affiliate Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, New Delhi to
felicitate journalists. The editorial scathingly said “varnishing facts helps
no one”, in a reference to the Speaker's request to journalists to rely on
Ms Mahajan's speech is on the You
Tube, editors of Hindustan Times must have a look at it, they should not be
misled about comments made by the Speaker, and they should not twist copy to
suit their needs.
The issue of reporting in India's
maddening newsrooms, whether it is good, bad and ugly, and whether its truthful
or not, is now a subject of major debate among journalists themselves. In
recent cases, top news channels have even booked hoarding space to criticize
rivals who have been extremely vocal.
So, in this very context, one needs
to evaluate what Ms Mahajan said at the event. Ms Mahajan categorically said
that a journalist needs to go beyond superficial byte-collections and touch the
crux of an issue. She took the example of ongoing conflict in Kashmir Valley
and the stone pelters to make her point. In very clear words she said that
merely running around with a mic and collecting bytes will not help one
understand the real reasons of stone pelting in Kashmir Valley.
She explained that journalists need
to connect with the youth’s heart in Kashmir Valley that can possibly be done
through beautiful language to strike a chord with Kashmir’s youth. She referred
to balance in reporting.
It was this “beautiful language” that
HT lapped up in its editorial and attributed it to Ms Mahajan’s sermonizing
journalists to desist from reporting and writing about unpleasant truth.
It would be worthwhile to read what HT wrote.
“By saying that journalists should
try to avoid unpleasant truths, what does Ms. Mahajan mean? Should we varnish
information and dress it up for the public, which incidentally is paying to get
authentic news? Does this mean that we don’t talk about the shortcomings of
government programmes and like good stenographers take down whatever figures
are given to us? And can beautiful language hide difficult truths?.....” says
the HT editorial that went ahead and extrapolated such vitriol to the “mythical
character” Narad Muni. The editorial also included a famous one-liner from
George Orwell who had once said: “Journalism is printing what someone else does
not want printed: everything else is public relations”.
And this is where most of the
journalists, newspapers and news channels falter in India. Facts are suppressed
and quotes taken out of context. Journalists have often been hauled over the
coals for seeking favours, some have lost their jobs. The energy editor of
Hindustan Times was fired for seeking favours from a corporate house, in her
parting letter she opened a virtual Pandora's Box about how she routinely
raised cash from hydrocarbon companies for the daily's annual, signature event.
Worse, top editors have been caught on tape blackmailing corporate captains for
cash and then landed up in jail, all leading to a big question mark on the
credibility of journalists and media houses.
Never has the objectivity of
journalists and news organisations been questioned as it is in present times.
Ms Mahajan, gave another example of how three different newspapers quoted three
different figures about funds allocated for roads in UP, such that one
newspaper said it was Rs 10,000 crore, another mentioned Rs 50,000 crore
whereas the third quoted Rs 1,00,000 crore. Surely, different figures quoted by
different newspapers cannot be mere typos it can either be lazy reporting or a
deliberate design to distort facts to put BJP-led UP government in the dock
over misappropriation of funds. And this is what Ms Mahajan referred to during
Ms Mahajan never attacked
journalists, nor their work. She merely highlighted an issue that has
repeatedly been talked about by many independent editors themselves: The
dangers of Biased news, Paid News.
I had expected the editorial writer
to follow and understand the importance of the speech of Lok Sabha speaker, not
turn it into a subject of ridicule.
In the age of mindless breaking news,
where journalists call their visiting the site of the news Ground Zero
reporting, words of caution are good. For the journalists, and all those in the
I hope at least you, the editor of
the daily, will agree.
Vivek Sinha (former journalist with Hindustan