The Essar leaks case: a case of selective outrage
The going continues to be rough for the community of scribes. Once again, focus is on whether the fourth estate is as corrupt as the political/ corporate class. As the Hindi phrase goes, "patrakaar, neta aur poonjepati, ek hee thalee ke chatte batte "
The reason I feel compelled to write this is, one of the journalists now put on notice by her present employer happened to be a close associate of mine for almost 9 years. Meetu Jain, with Times Now, used to be with CNN IBN during the time this episode played out. To my mind, she was an outstanding journalist who excelled in the art of what’s called
"document hunting". I have chosen not to speak to her even at the time of writing this column, as this isn't about her, but more about the reasons that create an environment where a reporter can easily slip.
First, a brief layout of the story. A " whistleblower " decides to leak some in-house emails from Essar group. A PIL is filed in court and activist lawyers get involved. A minister is accused of having spent a day with his family on a yacht on the French Riveria, politicians across the spectrum accused of seeking jobs for people they knew and a few journalists are found to be asking for free cab rides.
The politician on the Yacht defends himself by saying that the Essar group owners have been his personal friends for several years and hence he doesn’t see any conflict of interest. Other politicians dismiss the story suggesting, public representatives must be seeking jobs for those from their constituencies. The only sphere, in which the “morality stick" has been cracked, is journalism and that’s where my basic objection lies.
If any of the journalists named in #essarleaks ever exchanged information for favour or money, let them face full force of the law of land.
But what is the issue at hand here? Are we debating the interplay of equations between the corporate sector and the media? Are we debating whether journalists are on payrolls of corporates and peddling their agendas?
It’s interesting that this entire debate is taking place at a time when corporate houses have openly bought mainstream media houses and money has entered news networks through complex transactions. The post of the editor in chief, which at one point was supposed to be one that was sacrosanct, has been taken over by corporate players. So when you have an entire media company bought over by a private player, isn’t this entire debate on corporate and media interplay frankly very hypocritical?
From my own experiences, I can say that there are instances where those responsible for marketing in a media network, would in a friendly capacity ask for an introduction with a corporate or a politician. Any senior journalist worth his/her salt who says that that he / she hasn’t helped the marketing guys in some way, isn’t telling you the whole story.
Haven’t we seen mainstream media houses boycotting political parties or trying to bat for particular parties? While earlier, it used to be done with the intelligent spinning of headlines, now as corporate players control newsrooms, its become a more of in your face kind of way.
If we as a fraternity are financial beneficiaries of this greater corporate interplay with the media, how will reporters know where exactly to draw the line? When the CBI raided the premises of top corporates in the coal scam, a media house, which was funded by one of those companies blacked out the story. When the corporate espionage story came out, the affected corporates chose to go slow on that story. So don’t think what you have seen now is where the buck will stop. The rot frankly runs much deeper.
You cannot create a wall between corporate players and headline hunting journalists. And if some corporate employee, even with vested interests, gives out documents to the media, people will fall for them. When the Radia tapes episode came out, it was dismissed as a war between various corporate groups. Is the #essarleak episode also a consequence of a bigger war where journalists have become pawns?
In conclusion, if we are genuinely concerned about media ethics, the first step needs to be an acknowledgement of the real issues and not just making peripheral people scapegoats and not look at the genuine issues.