AMITABH SRIVASTAVA | 3 FEBRUARY, 2019
Lok Sabha Polls Inspire Bharat TV, Harvest TV?
Journalists debate ethics
What seems to be the mother of all elections, the Lok Sabha 2019 polls, has provoked political parties---through members---to launch mega-million television channels in a media war that will touch new temperatures and intensity over the next weeks and months.
Two channels are already on air. No mean feat given the resources required, in terms of money and manpower. BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar’s company ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd has launched the Hindi version of Republic that they expect to have an even wider reach, and eclipse the current Hindi channels in TRP ratings and viewership by the time the elections approach. And after when the tricky business of government formation takes place, if no political party gets a full majority.
Along with it has been launched Harvest TV, owned by Veecon Media and Broadcasting Pvt Ltd that is financed by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal. This was launched on Republic Day with the slogan “Truth Matters”. And as Sibal himself said, has come after a bit of a struggle over the licensing and then failure to get a Tata Sky slot which seems to have been overcome now.
Interesting that both the channels terming themselves news channels, and entrusted with free and fair news are being funded and run by key political persons. This has sparked off a debate amongst journalists whether political control over the news media is right, what can be the safeguards to check both the political and corporate funders from toying with news. And what impact this will have---as is already visible in the big media--on the truth and integrity and independence of the media.
There has been much debate over the years of control by political individuals and corporates over the media. The need for the ownership and the stakes to be published prominently on the sites has been discussed in various journalistic organisations but little has come of it. The ownership, given the hard political affiliations of business houses and in the above case of the individual MPs, should be made known to the viewers and readers so that there is awareness that the news being telecast could have a slant. Some journalists like the late Kuldip Nayar suggested at media forums that a scroll should run across TV screens to certify the political control. He also wanted all editors to publish their assets to further contribute towards media transparency and accountability
As Chalapathi Rau , one of the doyens of journalism once said "The Hindustan Times always had one Birla for one regime. There was one in the time of Gandhi, another for the Congress and they had another for the Janata Party." So political intervention in media is not unknown but it has not been so blatant and so direct as in recent times where in the states political parties have been openly funding and controlling television channels and newspapers for a while now. Republic and now Harvest are the two big news channels now where all pretense has been dropped, and the face of the political funders is visible at the national level.
"First of all let us be clear that there is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression in this country or rather anywhere in the world" says Pawan Duggal a leading lawyer and an expert on cyber and IT crime.
Article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech from which we derive press freedom also tells us its limitations under the later sections, he says.
Commenting on the developments well known anchor Vinod Dua said,"We know that Sibal is from Congress and Chandrashekhar is from BJP but would it be right to technically to call the Harvest and Republic as party channels? Yes National Herald is a Congress paper and Organiser is a mouth piece of BJP."
"Frankly speaking we all know which channel is toeing which line. The dividing line between the editor and owner has vanished in the last few years in the print media and that is responsible for the state of the media today. I have no hesitation in saying today Indian newspapers are third rate as compared to papers in other countries," Dua said.
Rana Siddiqui a senior journalist says,"It is OK to launch a channel by a political party but not to aim at controlling the media. That would be unethical. There is nothing wrong in propagating the truth or the actual work fine by any party but if it becomes a tool just to shame the opposition this is not journalism. A political party news channel will only be watched by the common man if it accepts criticism and works at bettering itself."
Vishal Thapar a senior journalist and defence specialist commented, "The days of journskists as objective observers is long over. It is inevitable that journalists are politically partisan. So it's ok for Barkha Dutt and Karan Thapar to be in a Congress channel. They are undermining their own credibility as independent journalists."
Kajal Basu commented," As for Barkha Dutt and Karan Thapar (both said to be associated with Harvest news) jumping on the Congress bandwagon , I think they are counting on Rahul's FoE largesse ( which should be forthcoming at least in relation to the current dispensation's chokehold on the media)."
But there are some journalists who absolutely did not want to take sides in this debate on record. They can't be blamed either as they don't want to burn their boats and are still in the market for jobs.
There is another other section of young journalists who see the opportunities provided by new channels, regardless of the politics, as entry points for a career in journalism after which they could switch channels.
Said a young one thrilled at the exposure she is getting on a new TV set up," We should look at these openings in the media like the IPL. These hidden talents brought out by the IPL have provided so many options for the Indian team."