Monthly Archives: November 2011

Journalism Shamed.

It was spring of 2005 when a suave looking man entered my classroom and started discussing ethics and media law. A lawyer by profession, his task was to impress upon young students, soon to be journalists, the importance of ethics and legalities while dealing with sticky situations.

Years later at another journalism school, my professor asked a question in the class, “If a person was murdered and his family was grieving and your editor told you to go to his house and ask for their reaction, would you do it?” Most of the students said, “Yes.” “What if the family said they didn’t want to speak to the media, would you ring the doorbell again?” Hesitant, some murmured a yes. Most said, “No.” “What if your editor really pressurized you and asked you to try again?” Only one hand rose in the class and a lone voice said, “Yes, I’ll try again.” And thus started a debate on how far will you go to get your story.

A good journalist will go any lengths to get a good story, an editor would say. But it all depends on what is a good story. In my opinion, one needs to weigh if it will do public good, hold organizations or people accountable for wrong doing or if the reason is to sell a commercially viable story.

So when a teenage girl was murdered and her phone was not only hacked by so called journalists, when the voicemail box became full, they even had the audacity to delete some messages, so space could be made for new ones full of anguish. So a juicy story could be filed the next day? So the newspaper would have an exclusive? So that it would sell more?

And no, the newspaper did not just stop here. Authors, actors and politicians were subjected to the same. As The Guardian says:

Journalists hacked phones and people’s email accounts, undertook surveillance at close and long range, sowed suspicion among friends and within families, induced people to become informants, threatened, blackmailed and bullied, especially those who stood up to them, and published rumours and lies to blacken people’s reputations.

Journalism lost that day. An untamed, intangible, malicious beast won instead. A beast in the form of black words on white paper.

Where in the world is it acceptable for journalists to do this just for a juicy tabloid story? And what about the work culture of such an organization which allegedly encouraged journalists to follow such practices. And whose editor and owners sat in the parliament saying they were unaware of these happenings in their backyard.

But the entire chain of events throw up a question – much like the chicken and eggs situation. Do newspapers stoop to such levels because this is what people will read and this sells? Or because the newspapers sell this, so the people will buy it. Who sets the agenda – the demand from the people or the newspaper sales? Have we moved away from a time when news was supposed to be the primary agenda setting entity? The Huffington Post blames the masses as much as it blames those journalists.

However, as the cliché goes, every cloud has a silver lining. The story has unfolded because a journalist broke this story. A newspaper published this. The people read it. A public opinion was formed. A legal recourse is underway. The beast, at last it seems, is going to be tamed. But for how long? There have been whispers that other tabloids have indulged in similar practices with vociferous denials from them. Maybe we should brace for another round of investigations and revelations.

But journalistic enquiry is testament to the fact that the system still works. That journalism might just win at the end of the day. That there is still hope that wrong will be righted and rigorous policies formulated so that journalism will not be shamed again.

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The Race for Africa

Africa is a continent of both  despair and hope. The cradle of the human civilization has seen numerous calamities like famines, struggled with political instability and low social indicators. However, some African countries, rich in human and natural resources are looking at economic growth and the prosperity that comes with it, some growing at 4-5% per year.

And India and China are in a mad scramble to tap into the African reservoir of resources. Both Asian giants, developing rapidly with healthy growth rates and businesses are looking at the continent with a strategic game plan. Governments of both countries are engaging the region diplomatically, giving billions of dollars worth of credit lines, bilateral treaties and generating trade.

China entered the market much before India, focusing on businesses like oil and mining of natural resources and infrastructure development. China has had to face much criticism for poor treatment of African workers and being in the region for only selfish gains. But then which country engages another if there are no returns? The growing whispers about the Chinese have come from western media, with some saying, the media is playing into the region’s insecurity about the growing Chinese influence.

India, which is playing catch-up with China realized that a stronger foreign policy was required, has gone all out to woo its African counterparts. Indian businesses span telecom, agriculture, goods and services, along with natural resources. The Indians have lauded themselves for building capacity of local workers, employing them in decision making positions along with developing infrastructure. However, India has another important reason for focusing onAfrica – a seat at the UN Security Council. The crucially important support of the African Union can tilt the balance in India’s favour.

However, the old imperialist powers along with USA have expressed their unhappiness over the apparent Asian scramble for African resources. Both countries, and China, more so, are been touted as the neo colonizers. I would tend to agree with experts that these old powers have no right to say this when they themselves have “taken resources from the continent without giving anything back”. And India, which shares the burden of colonialism and a complex post colonial identity, cannot do the same to the continent. India’s colonial legacy ensures that it will be sensitive to Africa. It’s political will shows it, along with examples of conducting business.

Whatever may be the reasons for both countries to look for opportunities in the cradle of civilization, it is clear that as Africa becomes more integrated in the global economy and overcomes political instability, a new future beckons it. It should grab this opportunity with both hands, see its people progress. The next thirty years will see a new world order and Africa could play a crucial role in securing an important position there. The present may belong to India and China, the future could very well belong to Africa.

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