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Saturday, 12 February 2011

National Election Watch - Media and Elections

Chair: Srinivasa Jain, NDTV
Panelists: Bhagwan Singh (Deccan Herald), Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, V Eshwar Anand (The Tribune), K B Kothari (Rajasthan Patrika), Mr. Anil Sharma (Amar Ujala)

Mr. Jain: The entire nature of political journalism has changed in the past few years. Media has become a part of the political oligarchy. Media needs to question itself in the light of 'paid news' controversy.

Mr. Paranjoy (Freelancer, Senior Journalist, did a recent story on the mining controversy on Karnataka, Member of press council of India): Certain members of the Fourth Estate have moved to real estate. Media itself has been seen as a very lucrative business. Corruption in media has got institutionalised. The 'so called' leaders in the Media have led the media into the corrupt practices. It all started with the Page 3 phenomenon. Private treaties being signed between media companies and advertising companies. In the run up to the election there is a demand for news. The reader is duped into believing the news which was paid for. Media has lost credibility. Ordinary people believed that journalists could bring changes. Now that confidence is eroding. The corruption in media can be seen as old as hills, reference to the movie Citizen Kane and the subsequent reaction of the American media. But one must not paint the entire Media in black. There are journalists who wrote about the 2G scam and Radia tapes for years. The cleanest to come out of the  Radiia  tapes was in fact Ms.Radiia herself because she was paid to lobby for Mr. Ratan Tata and the like while the role of journalists have come under the scanner. There are good guys and not-so good guys in media. Regulatory mechanisms of the media not effective. PCI is a toothless tiger which cannot even whimper. We need to punish the black sheep in the media.  

Mr. Jain: The National Broadcasting Authority was set-up after the Mumbai attacks 2008 which acts as a self-regulatory body. It has not get into punishing the 'black-sheep'. The NBA is headed by Justice J S Verma. 

Mr. Anil Sharma (Amar Ujala): Good evening. (speaking in Hindi. rough translation given below). Apart from money and muscle power, in Bundelkhand, dacoits influenced the elections. I would like to start with an anecdote. During the panchayat elections, there has been an expenditure of 3-9 lacs for a single candidate when the ceiling for a MLA candidate is 10 lacs. Seats being bought is a regular affair in the area since politics has become a big business. BSP tickets were bought for 60 lacs. What is the source of this money? There is also a sudden increase in the candidate's wealth in most of the cases. There should be a close watch on the candidates from the moment they file their affidavits, to the end of their tenure. There are programmes for endangered species, but not for the extinction of dencent and sincere people. 

Mr. K B Kothari (Rajastan Patrika): Long term projects and campaigns. 3 month long voter awareness campaign conducted. engaging the elected members of panchayat and assembly after the elections. a pre-election dialogue with the public. Rajastan Patrika playing an effective role in the area of elections in the state. The campaigns, though, is not welcomed by all. They feel that this programme has been over-structured. Now using RTI to get information regarding the MLALAD and MPLAD funds from 32 districts. The political parties doesn't particularly like this activism.

Mr. Jain: The paper Rajastan Patrika deserves credit for taking up this pain staking campaign.

Mr. Eshwar Anand (The Tribune):  We are passing through difficult times including all pillars of a democracy. The disruption the Parliament is condemnable. The executive is also equally pathetic in functioning. The recent controversy regarding the appointment of Mr. P J Thomas as the CVC is disappointing. Judiciary is also not devoid of problems. The last resort of the people, the media, is also losing its credibility. The Paid news controversy highlights that the Editor is gradually losing control over the matter being published in the newspaper, since paid news are being handled by the Advertisements and Marketing department of a newspaper. Electronic media is also corruptible. There is a need for stronger regulation. NBA and PCI are like courts of ethics and not courts of law. Self regulation is not enough. A break less, unregulated media is a danger to the society. I commend the CEC Mr. Quraishi for setting up and Election Expenses monitoring committee which had unearthed a few paid news menaces in the recently concluded Bihar Assembly elections. Stringent measures will only help the press to redeem itself.  

Mr. Jain (to Mr. Kothari): Kothari Sab, what is the impact of the campaign initiated by the Rajastan Patrika?

Mr. Kothari: Varied response. Most of the MLAs signed the letter of commitment. We published a rank list of performance of MLAs in the assembly which made Congress unhappy. Yet, the campaign is quite successfull.

Mr. Paranjoy:Rajastan Patrika is a glowing example of a popular newspaper rejecting the paid news.

Mr. Jain: Now we are opening the session for questions.

Question: What is the opinion on the channels owned by political parties?
Eshwar Anand: People are wise enough to understand affiliations/ownership of particular channels. 

Mr. Jain: The scenario in Tamil Nadu is quite disturbing since there are no independent channels in the state. The thumb rule is that the viewer/consumer of news knows that who has what affiliations.

Question: What is your take on journalists being nominated to Rajya Sabha?

Mr. Paranjoy: In a democracy, anyone can be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. There is nothing wrong in getting nominated to the Council of states. 

Question: Advertisments have already been coming in channels and papers even before the elections are announced. What can be done to curb this?

N. Gopalaswamy: The authority of ECI begins only on the day of announcing the elections. There is no ceiling on the political parties' expenses.

Question: The number of scams being exposed these days, doesn't it trivialise the entire corruption being exposed?

Mr. Paranjoy: There cannot be any scam fatigue. 

Mr. Jain: The session ends here. Thank you for listening.



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