Friday, January 28, 2011

Need for internal media ombudsman

By Raza Elahi
The recent observation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the good prospect of Indian media is an acknowledgment of great effort on part of Indian media, which has expanded by leaps and bounds over the years. According to a rough estimate, daily readership of newspapers in the country is over 200 million, which is a world record in terms of gross reach. Similarly, the reach of electronic media is envious when compared with other countries.However, some of the recent developments have also raised questions over the role of media -- whether it has been living up to the social responsibilities and promoting the democratic, secular and pluralist values.

The Indian media has undoubtedly deviated from its objectives in the recent past. The trend like ‘paid news’ and the publication of the Niira Radia tapes on corporate-media nexus have made it important that media houses and media persons should make a self-critical assessment.

A few days back Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has also said ‘paid news’ during elections is one of its major challenges. The commission has been forced to intervene in the matter as the media has failed to regulate itself. The Election Commission had issued notices to 86 candidates with regard to ‘paid news’ during the Bihar election last year. Quraishi has conceded that the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ is very difficult to police.

According to the CEC, the problem of ‘paid news’ is best addressed by self-regulation by the media and political parties. But that is not happening.

The election commission is rightly concerned about the undue influence that ‘paid news’ can create on the minds of voters. The voters’ right to correct and unbiased information needs protection. There is a need for an internal news ombudsman in the press and the news channels in the country. The Radia tapes have widely compromised the independence and credibility of the media. The media houses need to put in place a code of practice.

It is also a high time for Editors Guild of India and Press Council of India to take more active role to check the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ and corporate-media nexus.
(The writer can be contacted at

Monday, January 3, 2011

When Tendulkar-centric Indian media surprises Kallis

By Raza Elahi

After South Africa’s convincing win against India in the first Test match at Centurion, Jacques Kallis must be certainly wondering about the strange bunch of television journalists, traveling with the Indian team.

Kallis, who scored a double century in the match, had never thought that he would have to answer some ‘weired queries’ of the Indian media. At a time when he was expecting questions about South Africa’s win or his own first Test double century, Kallis was amused by an Indian journalist who asked why he was not clapping after Sachin Tendulkar reached his historic landmark of 50th Test hundred.

Kallis, however, reminded him that while he was applauding, the television cameras were focused on Tendulkar and the Indian dressing room and he had perhaps stopped clapping by the time they returned their focus to the field. A South African journalist, who was shocked at how largely the Indian media were more interested in the cult of Tendulkar than what had happened on the field, reportedly could not stop himself in questioning an Indian TV reporter, “Did losing the game mean so little to you?”

“It doesn’t matter, our editor is more interested in Sachin’s 50th Test century,” came the response from the Indian TV reporter.
“You mean defeat by an innings, the biggest India have had in South Africa, means nothing?” the South African queried.

“We are interested only in the Sachin story today. Viewers are interested in that, not the team losing,” was the reply.

Taking a potshot at Indian media, columnist Trevor Chesterfield in his recent article has also written, “…there are as many as thirty-six television channels -- jostling for the best story, filing a snippet from the team’s practice, a day’s play or post-match conference -- has a habit of descending into a mad, often frenzied scramble for bytes.

Chesterfield, too, couldn’t digest Tendulkar-centric reporting by Indian media despite the fact that India lost the match by an innings and twenty-five runs when he wrote, “As with any good government propaganda, the Tendulkar century was used as a ploy by the television networks to cover the team’s embarrassing defeat.”

Undoubtedly, Sachin’s 50th Test century was a golden moment of the cricket history but such pity questions like “who clapped or who jumped on the occasion” show the habit of a section of media -- particularly electronic media -- of going overboard over anything.

(The writer can be contacted at