Where Journalists Don’t Make News

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Photo: Tehelka Archives
Photo: Tehelka Archives

The employees protested against the management for non-payment of salaries and then went for a sit-in in front of the channel director’s cabin, deciding not to let him leave until their demands were met, only for him to be whisked away by the Noida police. They even created a Facebook page ‘Justice for P7 Employees’ and urged the media bigwigs to join their cause. While the P7 News journalists were struggling against the management, the national channels and dailies chose to turn a blind eye to their plight. So much for solidarity to a profession!

If you thought the story of these journalists did not make headlines —not when they were unjustly sacked nor when they protested and sought the solidarity of fellow journalists — only because they worked for not-so-well-known channels, think again. In 2013, the day after India celebrated Independence from the colonial yoke, the Network18 group sacked more than 300 employees in one stroke. Reason: Cost-cutting.

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The pink slips came as a shock to the employees who worked for CNN-IBN and IBN-7, most of them as reporters, camerapersons or technicians. News of the mass sacking spread like wildfire on social media such as Facebook and Twitter but the mainstream media chose silence over solidarity.

That mostly employees who were allegedly not part of a coterie who were picked out for sacking made it seem like more than a straightforward cost-cutting measure. The HR department was given the list of people to be sacked and they went about it in a brazen way. Handed out the termination letters, the HR asked the sacked employees to leave the campus within 10 minutes.

And this is what the then CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted in response to the mass sacking: “Hurt and pain can be lonely. You must grieve in solitude. Gnight.” The then managing editor of IBN-7, Ashutosh, who went on to join the Aam Aadmi Party, had only silence to offer.

The sacked employees decided to oppose the termination and that became the springboard for a protest organised under the banner of a hastily formed ‘Journalist Solidarity Forum’ outside the Network18 offices in Film City.

However, with no big names from the media turning up and not even a TV crew to cover it and let the message go out, this agitation once again proved that the media shies away from reporting on workers’ issues within the sector. It fails to turn the critical eye inwards when it is most required — when those who keep the media afloat, the journalists and other workers, are the victims of exploitation.

Four different timelines, almost similar issues and the same apathy showed by media organisations, why doesn’t the media see news in stories of the plight of its workers — journalists or not — and the resistance they try to put up?

“Almost all the news organisations, especially TV channels, are owned by big corporate houses, realtors or even chitfund operators. The media is a small field, so people at the top in various news channels know each other. Who will report against their own people?” asks veteran journalist JP Shukla.

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Ironically, the same media that keeps silent when journalists suffer, acts in unison when some “outsider” makes a sincere remark against its functioning. In November 2011, the then Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Markandey Katju made a scathing remark. While holding a “poor opinion” about the media in general, he said that the majority of mediapersons had low levels of intellectual ability with absolutely no idea of economy, politics, philosophy or literature. He followed it up with a more serious observation: “The Indian media is not working for the interest of people.”

Katju’s remark met with outrage from most sections of the media. Across language and region, TV channels were unanimous in condemning him. “Katju ne hadein paar kar di (Katju has crossed all limits)” and “Satthiya gayein hain Katju (Katju has gone insane)” were two of the typical headlines that were being run ad nauseam.

This was undoubtedly a classic case where the media sort of took pride in choosing to ignore its own follies. As senior journalist and one of the first bilingual anchors on a private Hindi news channel Sudha Sadanand succinctly puts it, “In the context of TV news, ‘credible media’ is an oxymoron, just as ‘benevolent dictator’, and, interestingly, that is exactly how most editors-in-chief seem to operate in newsrooms. News gathering and its dissemination often works like the insides of a gang land wherein the don issues a supari in the name of a politician/ngo/ actor/film and there is no background information or research available save who can scream the issue down and almost kill it!”

In Katju’s case, the media went hammer and tongs against him, but surprisingly, if social media reactions are any indicator, the audience seemed to agree with Katju. The reactions brought to sharp focus the mythical common man’s poliperception of the media. Viewers and readers have now started questioning the integrity of newspersons. “Katju’s remark came from an awareness of the lack of sincere reporting and, instead of taking offence, the media could have taken a corrective step to work on its weaknesses. But it chose to kill the messenger,” says media critic Sudeep Dutta.

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