Posts Tagged ‘News of the World’

Why media shouldn’t name Delhi rape victim

7 January 2013

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The British newspaper Sunday People has outed the name of the Delhi gangrape victim, but the Indian media has not fallen for the bait—yet—although it has been trending on Twitter.

Here Rajeev Gowda, chairman of the centre for public policy at the Indian institute of management (IIM), Bangalore, argues why it is best not to name the girl.

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By RAJEEV GOWDA

Should the Delhi rape victim’s name be revealed? At least for the purpose of honouring her (with her parents’ consent) by naming revised anti-rape legislation after her, as Union Minister of State for HRD, Shashi Tharoor has suggested?

The issue is substantially more complicated.

The Indian media has been admirably restrained so far by not revealing the names of the victim or her companion. Instead, she has been given different monikers like Nirbhaya, Damini, Amanat and Jagruti to describe her fighting spirit.

But the media has also twisted Tharoor’s tweets as if he were interested in making public her name, thus causing needless controversy.

A more diligent media would have instead focused on what inspired Tharoor to make this suggestion. His inspiration comes from United States where names are often attached to laws, especially to add a poignant human angle to legislative changes.

But this little media episode demonstrates a key lesson on why it’s better for India to refrain from going down the path of honouring the victim by naming the bill after her.

Naming this victim potentially gives a license to name other rape victims and that can cause incalculable damage to victims and their families in an India where values are in flux and rape-related stigma is cruelly real.

Further, it is quite likely that we will get into political wars over the naming of future bills and parties that thrive on symbolic huffing and puffing rather than concrete content would just divert attention from the actual work that needs to be done and probably hold up parliament over such non-issues.

Various commentators refer to Megan‘s Law, named after a child killed by a released sex offender, as an example of how the USA names laws. In the USA, numerous other laws are named after the legislators who promote them. But in the American context, unlike in India, there is tremendous scope for individual Congresspersons and Senators to initiate and pass legislation.

Megan’s Law itself is part of a set of initiatives involving naming and shaming, which has also been raised in India as a policy option after the recent Delhi tragedy.

The recently deceased News of the World tried to launch a campaign for a Megan’s Law-type bill in the UK. This media campaign resulted in attacks on people who resembled the perpetrators of crimes and also triggered violent vigilante attacks. Such outcomes may satiate the anger and passions of mobs but certainly do not strengthen the rule of law.

In a decade-old book chapter, I had examined the political and media processes that led to the passage of Megan’s Law and similar laws across the USA using the Social Amplification of Risk framework. I emphasized the importance of politics and contrasted the American experience with how the British dealt with the News of the World campaign.

The British were suitably restrained, appropriately so.

Based on those experiences, I would assert that it’s better to retain the anonymity of victims (and possibly perpetrators too) and focus instead on the harder tasks of changing societal attitudes and improving governance to prevent such crimes from ever taking place.

Otherwise, the collateral damage from name-related moves can be substantial. The twisting of Tharoor’s well-intentioned tweets is just a hint of how counterproductive things can get.

Also read: Free, frank, fearless? No, greedy, grubby, gutless

Why Indian media can’t laugh at Murdoch’s plight

18 July 2011

SANJAY JHA writes from Bombay: Rupert Murdoch, the emperor of media leviathan News Corporation, shuttled on a transatlantic flight over a tumultuous week-end that saw a popular British Sunday tabloid bite the dust, never to rise again.

News of the World (NOTW) was founded prior to the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, but closed with a 72-hour notice period in tragic infamy on account of startling revelations about its surreptitious hacking of private mails and messages, in a manner both macabre and sleazy.

For Murdoch, the closure was not a generous act to protect the Holy Grail but a calculated trade-off for acquisition of the more alluring BSkyB.

Greed is a driving ambition, often meeting a ruinous end.

It could happen in India too.

Despite much heart-burning and pious pontification, the Press Council of India report on paid news accumulates dust in dark dungeons, like used files. It does manifest our questionable standards, the media’s inability to smother its own insuperable demons.

While we hyperventilate to the world, our own backyard emits a sordid stench. Paid coverage is stealthy advertising, which legitimizes self-promoting campaigns on unsuspecting readers posing as dispassionate reporting. It is indeed an ethical violation of astronomical proportions, but everyone seems nonchalant, blissfully blasé about it.

Dileep Padgaonkar once famously stated that The Times Of India editor was the “second most important man in India”. That was not hubris or a silly exaggeration , it was a near-factual assessment. But today no media big gun can make such lofty claims.

Multiple channels and news publishers have made mass distribution of news our new business reality.

Once I waited every Sunday morning to read Khalid Mohamed’s review of a Bollywood blockbuster. Now several experts miserly dole out glittering stars on Friday itself, even as thousands of faceless bloggers become the new film critic.

It’s literally first day, first show.

Media is now truly democratized; so truly there are no king-makers. With Facebook, Twitter and blogs gathering high-speed on the social networking highway, media activism has also assumed formidable power to influence public opinion, so far considered the sacrosanct preserve of an elite club.

India’s subterranean media revolution is underway.

Media organizations must also frequently take core ideological or strategic positions on sensitive issues, it will enhance their quality. That’s what often distinguishes the print media from television. The snarling watchdog needs to be just that; it can’t have a shrill bark, a toothless bite and lazily snooze when Rome burns, reacting only under extreme provocation.

For instance, last year when Shiv Sena became a quasi-sarkar in threatening to black-out Shah Rukh Khan’s My Name is Khan, the conventional protocol of TV channels of giving both sides a voice was rather superfluous , even preposterous.

Even to a naïve outsider, Shiv Sena was indulging in unlawful transgressions exploiting media platform shamelessly to espouse its parochial claptrap. The worst indictment of the media is when it willingly succumbs to made for TV manufactured events.

Whatever happened to professional discretion?

Aren’t leaked reports also obtained often with at least moral illegality with an in-built clause of quid pro quo?

In a country bedeviled by innumerable scams, a deadly diabolical nexus between criminal elements, political leaders and business-builder behemoths, media is critical. But discharging that onerous responsibility is not a child’s play.

Like WikiLeaks, one foresees alternative mediums to emerge to fill the gaping vacuum created by status quo coverage these days . Investigative journalism has become comatose in a commercially dictated news content age. Something is gone missing.

Are we becoming tabloid-like, allowing any bearded spiritual free-agent, violent wife-beater or a just-released bone chopper to capture India’s attention? Can we then be so self-righteous as to take umbrage under “mere reporting”?

Oh, come on! For all the political faux pas of the government, the media should have used its own grey cells to fathom Baba Ramdev’s bona fides. The modern-media is society’s crucial “ influencer”, not a reseller of titillating tales. Media integrity is a non-negotiable instrument. We need to enforce it.

I hear several grumble ; why does the media never do a comprehensive follow-up to serious unresolved issues instead of chasing the next wife-thrashing maverick promoting his televised marriage? Whatever happened to several disproportionate assets cases against powerful CMs?

Who really covertly leaked the Radia tapes, and why?

How is Lalit Modi “ officially absconding” and purchasing large mansions in downtown London without a valid passport? Whatever happened to the Srikrishna report on the Bombay riots?

Narayan Rane had publicly stated that he was aware of powerful people who knew about 26/11 terrorist attacks—really? If so what happened? Despite singular success stories like Jessica Lal, the CWG and 2G scams, Gujarat riots and several successful petitions, paradoxically enough, media itself is losing the perception battle.

Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live! ridiculed media to atrocious levels but to appreciative applause.

In India, where our daily lives resembles a cacophonous collage of absurd and horrendous tales, news television often degenerates into infotainment category. The truth is that good news is boring.

It’s like breathing. It’s predictable, monotonous, rhythmical, but it is also bloody necessary.

Or else we have the kiss of death.

We are too often celebrating India’s unseen imminent demise, our own pornography of grief. It is time we appreciated that even thorns have roses. At least one channel has begun to share a daily dose of cheer.

Competitive journalism is natural marketing warfare, after all, newspapers and TV channels are not in the charity trade. But intent is pivotal. Phone hacking is unambiguously unethical. Bribery pay-offs of police personnel is contemptible. Killing news to protect favoured parties is equally lamentable.

But isn’t paid news also guilty of disingenuous, distorted presentation of facts?

In the long-run , media houses that practice quintessential consecrated ethical behaviour will survive. Others will flounder.

The editor is media’s conscience-keeper, its guardian angel. They are the ones who must separate the wheat from the chaff, and ensure that the chaff does not get headline attention. But the quarter to quarter pressures of EPS for the publicly listed media companies can result in editorial compromises.

The editors need to be sacrosanct, inaccessible to advertisers and CEO’s business plans, working behind a Chinese wall. Editors should have no employee stock options, and must not be on boards of these companies either; that will eliminate conflict of interest issues.

Instead, they should be compensated by equitable fixed salaries, benefits, bonuses, and given flexibility for research projects, reimbursed higher learning expenses and encouraged to author books and take up teaching assignments.

We need to de-link organizational bottomline numbers with editorial policy.

Editorial independence is a must; they cannot be the brand managers with brains. Also, celebrity editors could do with relative anonymity . Anonymity powers the personal brand. Proximity to suave glib talking industrialists or political power-brokers can be jeopardous as was evident in the Radia tapes.

David Cameron flushes crimson on his selection of the arrested former head of NOTW, Andy Coulson. Tony Blair too is red-faced. And more is still to surface.

Every media company must make public its own independent advisory board with an ombudsman , besides an industry watchdog. Ethical workshops are needed, as young recruits can be susceptible to short-cut methods for quick career windfalls.

Press, public relations , big business and the politicians will have to tread with circumspection as there could be grave overlaps on account of the vested , conflicting interest of each. The unholy nexus is no longer a well-concealed secret. The path is slippery , shaky and serpentine. It is easy to become the news of the world. Very easy.

Good night and good luck!

(Banker turned web entrepreneur, Sanjay Jha is the founder of Cricket Next. This piece originally appeared on the website Hamara Congress)

Image: courtesy Time

The Guardian, Nick Davies and News of the World

8 July 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: Most journalists who succeed in bringing down a minister or a bureaucrat, or a government, wear it as a badge of honour.

How about Nick Davies, who has brought down a 138-year-old newspaper, the News of the World—and its mighty owner Rupert Murdoch—with his searing expose of the phone hacking scandal?

Ironies abound in this story, from an Indian perspective.

For starters, dog eats dog: the former being The Guardian, London, which played the lead role in nibbling away at the heels of News International. Quite unlike Indian newspapers, magazines and TV stations which refuse to go after their peers and competitors, because of a pigheaded belief that dog does not eat dog.

Because, anything goes in the name of “freedom of the press”.

Two, the response of advertisers. Starting with Ford, a number of advertisers pulled out advertising from NOTW—derisively called Screws of the World for its obsessions with matters carnal—after the full scale of the scandal became known. Unlike India, where advertisers are party if not prodders to most of the vilest transgressions in the media.

Because, anything goes in the name of “market forces”.

And three, the response of news consumers—the reading, viewing, surfing public. Murdoch shut down NOTW because the negative reaction from readers and advertisers and MPs got too hot. Unlike India, where the media’s “ethics deficit” is seen as a problem of the media alone, not of the reading public. Or the Republic.

External reading: How The Guardian broke the story

‘Skewed Crude Fuels Pump Slump’

20 June 2008

Despite his vast, wide and well-earned notoriety, Rupert Murdoch continues to maintain—unlike any Indian newspaper publisher, may we add—that he wants to make The Wall Street Journal “the best newspaper in the world.”

Yet, the thought of the owner of ultra-sleazy tabloids The Sun, News of the World, and The New York Post being at the helm of WSJ leaves many wondering if he will turn the business broadsheet into a business tabloid.

David Friend in Vanity Fair thinks up some headlines that a tabloid WSJ might come up with (in the spirit of “Headless Body in Topless Bar”):

LOCAL MOGUL OGLES GOOGLE

HOW NOW DOW COWED?

SKEWED CRUDE FUELS PUMP SLUMP

PHILANTHRO- PISSED!

CITI-CITI GANG BANG
Pix Inside: CitiGroup-Grope

Exclusive: FED HEAD IN BED WITH REDHEAD

TEXAN VIXEN PUTS NYNEX HEX ON EX-EXXON EXEC

Photograph: courtesy Vanity Fair

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