'Media needs to turn searchlight more on itself'

New Delhi : Did well-known journalists whose conversations with a lobbyist in contact with former communications minister A. Raja commit a breach of journalistic propriety? Issues of propriety and structural reforms in the media were fiercely raised at a seminar Friday with the overwhelming opinion being that the media needs to turn the searchlight more on itself.

Opinions about the recorded conversation of journalists that have appeared in two weeklies and are doing the rounds of the Internet varied at the seminar ‘Editors as Power Brokers’ with panelists terming it “crossing journalistic propriety and lakshman rekha (boundaries),” “indiscretion” or “inappropriateness.”

Organised by the Foundation of Media Professionals, the discussion was followed by some animated questions and answers about the apparent lowering of journalistic standards.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent journalist who is also a member of Press Council of India, said that journalists who interact with the rich and powerful can develop delusions of granduer. “It is a psychological problem… We are at best bit players in the drama…I do not think the media has the power to influence ministerial appointments,” he said.

He said that the taped conversations not only involved journalists but some big corporate names as well and there was need to look at the issue in a wider perspective.

Veteran journalist B.G. Verghese said journalists keep contacting all kinds of people and can tantalise them with information to draw them out. “But there is a ‘lakshman rekha’,” he said.

Pointing out that efforts have always been made to influence journalists, he said in the post-liberalisation boom “managers have taken over from editors.”

Manu Joseph from Open magazine, which first published the contents of tapes, said they decided not to contact the people mentioned as “we understood the kind of pressure that would be on us”.

“Some publications wanted to run (the story) but phone calls came,” he said, adding that “the media blackout of the story (after it appeared in two weeklies) speaks for itself.”

He said journalists were like artists and dignity was the most precious asset of an artist. “Integrity is basic,” he said. Krishna Prasad from Outlook said that his magazines had carried part of the contents of the tapes, but the website had the entire conversations. He said excerpts of conversations were not picked up selectively. “We basically stuck to the 2G story,” he said.

Amit Goel from The Pioneer said that corruption was not a new phenomenon but that did not mean that when evidence came out, no action was taken. “It is sad day that things have come to such a pass that we have to organise a seminar,” he said.

Vivian Fernandes of CNBC TV-18, who moderated the discussion, said that there was not enough criticism of the media by the media. “There is need to put more searchlights,” he said.

Questions were also raised about the powers of editors and democracy of opinion in news organisations and editors becoming the hand-maiden of the owners.

The audience included journalists, journalism students and persons interested in issues concerning the media.

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