The media’s role is what I expect TEHELKA, as well as other organisations, to play: provide a voice to people who don’t have the opportunity to be heard; a commitment to fairness, if possible, fearlessness; and definitely, most importantly, freedom… freedom from all kinds of pressures. Fairness and freedom are very important. There is, of course, value in sting operations and putting one’s own life on the line, but that does not make it the hallmark of every good journalistic organisation. A good media organisation can still play the role by hanging on to the other two ideals. However, sadly, these tenets are either missing or severely compromised in Indian journalism. And, if these tenets form the idea of TEHELKA, and TEHELKA can uphold them, it should survive and strive to deliver quality journalism.
The media space is ailing because of the lack of independence and the class/caste background of people in the newsroom. It becomes difficult to move away from the shades and tinted glasses that our class/caste backgrounds throw up in seeing problems prevalent in our country. The way to approach this problem is to have a mixed class, caste and gender background in the newsroom. TEHELKA is no exception to this ailment and that needs to be rectified. It will lend a healthy, and possibly a more realistic, worldview. The second is the issue of corporate influence and where to draw the line. Over the years, TEHELKA has given itself a lot more lenience in terms of who it is seen with and where it is seen. For an organisation that puts itself above the rest, you draw a demanding yardstick and it is important to maintain that. This is one of the key areas where TEHELKA has slipped. While one may argue that it has not affected the coverage, it definitely affects people’s perceptions as to the magazine’s integrity and intent. And, it makes the organisation more vulnerable to attacks. What happened with TEHELKA in the past month has to do with individuals and how they reacted. There have been instances where TEHELKA has moved away from its ideals, but there have been many other instances where the journalists at TEHELKA have done an exceptional job. I personally do not expect any organisation or individual to be ideal. The ideal is kept there to constantly move towards it. It depends upon what kind of lessons TEHELKA learns and how it rectifies the mistakes that were made in the past, and whether it goes back and introspects into where it has moved away from its ideals in the history of its existence.
For a magazine with a substantial subscription and identification among readers, TEHELKA created a welcome space for stories that needed to be done. In that it has put the word out on many issues that many other organisations would not allow. TEHELKA has been a space for stories that didn’t see the light of day elsewhere. TEHELKA has unearthed some good stories but its record has been patchy. There have been good stories and there have been good stories that could have been done better. The series on mining, nuclear power and the cover story on the Bhopal gas tragedy by Shoma Chaudhury were some of the best ones that come to my mind. I have a lot of respect for those who work at TEHELKA because there is a lot of good journalism that they are bringing to the table. I don’t know what it is like to work at TEHELKA but it has certainly created a space for young people to write.
Whether TEHELKA will survive or should survive is a different matter. The ideals that TEHELKA professes should survive. I don’t care much for brandnames. I don’t think it should survive just because it has been there before. But if it can learn from past mistakes, then it definitely should. TEHELKA’s ideal of ‘Free, Fair and Fearless’ is an important one to pursue. If TEHELKA is committed to pursue that with renewed vigour, then it should survive. What happened in the past month has nothing to do with journalism. It is a personal, complex issue that cannot tarnish the entire organisation. Bad journalism can. There have been instances where the organisation has moved away from its ideals and that must be introspected upon. If it does so, then I would say TEHELKA should survive.
As told to Nupur Sonar