Media suing media to silence, but is it serving journalism?
Chitra Subramaniam and Dhanya Rajendran| The News Minute| July 11, 2014| 5.20 pm IST
Not a week has passed in recent months without news of either the Indian media being sued by a corporate house, a politician or by a media house itself. While the first two come with the job, the third is worrisome and can have far reaching consequences for a media that silences itself.
Unable to pursue any story to its logical conclusion and lulled into inertia by breathless corporatization that strikes at the very roots of journalism, the media has now turned on itself seeking to punish those it considers errant, is asking questions, or worse, a disturbance to the slumber. While the media gives itself the right to judge one and all, sometime in a random fashion, it continues to fail to turn that enquiry inwards to see what really happens in news rooms across the country.
This week NDTV sent a legal notice to award winning journalist Sucheta Dalal, Editor, Moneylife for doing a story about alleged financial jugglery including fraud by the television station. This is a high profile case.
Last week, India TV sent out legal notices to all who had reported on the Tanu Sharma sexual harassment case including Newslaundry, upping the ante by asking for several crores in compensation. Last year in an equally high-profile case, Shekhar Gupta, former Editor in Chief of The Indian Express had sent a legal notice to Outlook and Vinod Mehta. In 2011, Times Now sent a 100 crore legal notice to Hoot.org.
These are the known cases, but there are several instances where editors have ridden rough-shod over reporters and editorial staff to kill a story, profile a vested angle or simply run a planted story in full view of the world.
When the AAP party said all journalists are corrupt and in the pockets of business houses, there was not a robust push-back by journalists in solidarity reclaiming their space. In fact, few journalists are able to debate the issue of conflict of interest or media bias, corruption and complicity with a sense of authority that is vested in them as watchdogs of democracy.
When media reports on others, it gets sued for slander and defamation.
Where does the conversation enter news rooms and editorial discussions when the media sues itself for the same reasons? No one is denying the fact that some reports of media on media could be faulty, motivated or factually incorrect. In other words how can we claim to be victims of defamation cases when we are also part of perpetrating it? Not all, but some and very systematically which results in all of getting tarred with the same brush, much like what we say about politicians and businesspeople – they are all corrupt.
It is common knowledge that not many defamation cases in India has ever seen the end of courts, there's never been an indicted editor or journalist and both the Editor's Guild and the Press Council of India, lacking teeth, have served more as a mechanism for or providing guiding principles than instilling discipline and diligence in the media. At their meeting last year, the Editor's Guild, discussing a paper on cross media ownership by the Telecoms Regulatory Authority (TRAI) raised the issue of the "increasing trend of both horizontal and vertical integration in the media, political and corporate ownership of television and newspapers," underscoring the need to ensure the media's diversity and plurality.
Not much has emerged from similar consultations New Delhi's favourite phrase "kuch nahi hoga" (nothing will happen) applies as much to the media as it does to politicians, bureaucrats and corporate houses. As corporate houses start directly and indirectly taking charge of media houses, will the defamations suits increase?
Are these moves made to silence journalists or strengthen the métier? Read our earlier piece here.
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