ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Fourth Estate : Keeping Up with the Media

Justice P B Samant, chairman of the Press Council, has been complaining that the council's judgments on erring newspapers are not reported at all and even this complaint is studiously ignored by the media. Once in a while some newspaper may publish some comment on media behaviour, but systematic media criticism is hardly heard of.

There is at least one country in the world where the media can get away with murder: and that is India. Media criticism is hardly heard of. For a long time Mumbai’s best-selling afternoon paper Mid-Day used to carry a Media Watch column; now the Free Press Journal is carrying the same. A journalist old-timer, G S Bhargava writes a column on the media and is published by the Asian Age group of papers as also by Deccan Chronicle and the left-of-centre Mainstream. Bhargava is great but is not harsh. As for the rest of the media, criticism obviously is anathema. Once in a while a newspaper may publish some comment on media behaviour tangentially as when the Free Press Journal (July 9) published a column by Virendra Kapoor in which he reported that some 40-odd Indian journalists had been given an “all-paid, no-expenses-spared conducted tour of Pakistan” and, what was more, were “presented with expensive carpets and other gift items like onyx pen-stands, table lamps and a clutch of finely carved elephants of varying sizes”. The acerbic Kapoor said: “Eventually, the bottom line that informs all such junkets is that most human beings are not namak harams. Having enjoyed the five-star hospitality, the least that the Pakistani hosts expected from their honoured guests was a bit of understanding, a bit of appreciation of the trying times under which the General [Musharraf] was working...”

Journalists accepting all-expenses-paid junkets is nothing new and when 40-odd journalists together get a conducted tour, it cannot be said that they were all collectively “bribed”. And a trip from Delhi to Islamabad could not cost much anyway. But carpets? Should journalists expect – and accept – such gifts? It may be argued that to refuse a gift would be showing discourtesy to the giver – in this case the state of Pakistan. It is not that the journalists concerned wrote gushingly about General Musharraf. They didn’t. In fact, the reporting was pathetically poor. No paper deigned to publish the full text of the news conference given by the chief executive officer. Asian Age gave excerpts but our so-called ‘national’ newspapers hadn’t space for what undoubtedly was a major news event.

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