We have today entered an era where nothing unseemly remains under wraps for long. Corruption scams are being exposed by the day. Without doubt, the brunt of this is being faced by the politicians; most of whom are scurrying around trying to cover their misdeeds. Civil society activists are at the forefront of these attacks; pulling down one and all with their “connecting the dots” kind of evidence. In the middle of all this are the thousands of media outlets that populate India. Without doubt, media outlets have amplified the exposes, bringing them to hundreds of millions of households. They have no doubt played a stellar role. But the question that needs to be asked now is: is media sucy a holy cow that exposes cannot be conducted against corrupt elements within the industry? For if it is not, then the silence over the Jindal sting on Zee News is completely unacceptable.
Yes, you heard it right. The sting was conducted not by Zee on Naveen Jindal’s company Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL), but the other way round. The story goes that Zee News had unearthed dirt on Jindal’s coal block allocations and had threatened to air the story. Apparently, the channel was willing to scuttle the story if Jindal agreed to a Rs 100 crore advertising deal with Zee News (and all along we thought that TRPs determined advertising rates and revenues!). Apparently Jindal refused to pay up and instead managed to trap Zee in the middle of the extortion. Apparently, Jindal’s company recorded the meetings with the Zee News editor, Sudhir Chaudhary. The tapes exist and Jindal has filed a police complaint (see, this is the right thing to do! Not the way our activists accuse politicians…..only on media….without any real follow-ups with the cops or the courts). Apparently, the complaint is against the redoubtable Subhash Chandra, Chairman of Zee Enterprises and his son Punit Goenka, the CEO of Zee Entertainment.
The matter has been investigated by the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) and the editor of Zee News has been suspended from the association. This shows that prima facie, there is evidence of truth in Jindal’s assertion. However, Zee group has backed its editor and has refused to sack him.
The moot question here is not about what happens to this editor. The moot question is why our media – with all its holier-than-thou attitude – is not playing up this huge scam. Everyone knows that media is the 4th estate, the 4th pillar of democracy. If media itself is corrupt or abuses its powers, what kind of damage does it do to the democratic processes? If all media outlets ringfence the errant news channel, and prevent the flow of information to the public at large, then how can this be an ethical practice? As ordinary citizens of this country, we deserve to know which media we can trust and which we cannot. Why is everyone trying to shield Zee? Why not expose it the way TV channels love to expose politicians? Why these double standards? Doesn’t this lead us to ask the question: are the rules different for media?
The fact is that there is as much corruption in media as there is in any other sector in the country. Its sad really that its difficult to find a single place where corruption hasn’t made its presence in India. We have seen accusations being hurled at anti-corruption activists themselves – so much so that they are now being investigated by their own groups. There are enough and more charges against Ramdev – the self professed anti-corruption leader and yoga guru. If now media also behaves like gangbangers, then it’s a sad day indeed.
What I would like is for Zee to be publicly shamed. The sting tapes have apparently been sent by Jindal to various TV channels. These TV channels owe it to their viewers that they play the tapes out. Since not all in media are corrupt, it would help if the ethical channels publicly debated the issue; accepted blame wherever required; and re-committed to stand by the cause of their profession. By hiding the tapes and by scuttling the publicity, media outlets will be guilty of cheating their audiences. It amounts to massive abuse of their powers. This is worse than pronouncing the innocent guilty. It is like pronouncing a guilty innocent. How is it fair that the innocent has to stand media trials, but the guilty owners of media don’t have to in a similar way? This is shocking to say the least.
Not playing the tapes would bring disrepute to media. It would put a question mark on the good work done by hundreds of other media outlets. There are always a few black sheep, a few dirty apples, in every flock or basket. The right way to handle them is not by hiding them. It is by exposing them and throwing them out. The quality of the rest gets established even more strongly. That is the only way out for India’s media industry. They need to expose Zee News’ completely unethical practice. They need to public denounce its conduct.
And what about Mr. Subhash Chandra? He should be the first one to come out and salvage the pride of his otherwise reputable media empire. Subhash Chandra is India’s Rupert Murdoch. Just like Murdoch took the unprecedented step of shutting down “News of the Word” (accused of breaking privacy norms in the UK), so should Subhash Chandra consider shutting Zee News down. This is the only way responsible and ethical business leaders behave. Equally, it would be correct for the Government to order an inquiry into the affair, the way the UK Government did so. And the rest of the media industry must support this inquiry – not call it a witch-hunt or some such thing.
The news is that Press Council of India (PCI) Chief Markandey Katju has asked the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) headed by Retired Justice JS Verma to conduct a thorough investigation into this murky affair. Naveen Jindal has released the tapes to all media outlets. The ball is now in the media’s court. Will it prove to be fair in its commitment to fight corruption or will it play a parochial role here?
The real truth is that there is a strong stench coming from inside media now. If proven true, Zee News will sink the credibility of the entire TV news business. It might even give an opportunity for the Government to impose curbs on media. It is best that the matter is handled maturely by all media players…..the black sheep must be exposed and culled. That is the only way forward….