When Journalists Switch Goal Posts

Whether we realize it or not, the impact of journalism is one of strongest motivating forces in our society. A journalist has to act and react with unmatched delicacy and complexity. However, he is not just an observer of the events; he is an analyst and an interpreter.

Am I describing someone my readers would love to meet? In the good old days and even today, regardless of the advances in science and technology, journalism is based on four ideals, which often seem utterly unattainable in this dynamic and ruthless world.

The first is a never-ending search for truth.The second is to push ahead to meet the changing times instead of waiting to be overtaken by them.The third is to perform services of some consequence and significance to mankind. The fourth, and by all odds the most important, is to maintain a steadfast independence.

For all his faults, and they are many, he is fated to attempt the impossible – to find, organize, explain, and disseminate the news, ideas and opinions to ever increasing audience.

What makes a journalist? Some say moral values; others, a quality education. Some believe a flaming competitive spirit; others, a sense of style, a flair for the dramatic, a crusading interest in digging out the truth.

James Reston, once a powerful executive editor of  ‘The New York Times’ came to the conclusion – “I am struck by the fact that all of them have one great quality – vitality, drive, aliveness – call it what you will. It occurs to me, therefore, that the most thorough education and finest training in some specialty are of no avail to make a journalist outstanding unless he has the necessary vitality to get on with the job.”

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So what I had discussed so far was an ideal situation where no such technical terminology like “Paid media” and “Brokers” exists; where the man on the screen or holding the pen is not a champion of unworthy, who campaign for the corrupt, nonexistent and non-performers.

I shall not mention any name as the reading public is smart enough and has the hang of situations. However, I remember the day when in mid ’70s, a respected journalist, B.G. Varghese was shown the door soon after his editorial in ‘The Hindustan Times’ about Sikkim. Very recently S. Vardarajan, the senior editor of The Hindu was eased out.

But journalists often suffer megalomania. They begin to feel self-reverential, in their Midas touch and the spin or hyperbole that ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’. They run and subsist with bloated egos. They imagine themselves more important than the ‘owner’ of the publishing house and there comes their Waterloo.

The stupendous power and clout of money falls like a ton of bricks suddenly and the balloon is punctured – a proof of Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong at the worst moment.

Sometimes this ‘great informer’ gets the sack and often the house he was so proud of and thought he had built it brick by brick is sold.

In these days, there is big news swirling around the take-over of Network 18 Media & Investment Ltd, including its subsidiary TV 18 Broadcast Ltd by Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries Ltd, which funded a whooping sum of Rs 4000 crores.

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The first head to roll is rumoured to be Rajdeep Sardesai. Those who can still vividly recall the TV horrors of 2002 Gujarat carnage would resurrect his bold and defiant coverage. Unfortunately, he began to change and switched the goal posts without sound reasons. Sometimes he was defending Robert Vadra and then AAP a few days later.

Lately, he was behaving meek before the powerful media blitzkrieg of NaMo and it was difficult to believe that he was the same intrepid young man who had once exposed the terror and the terrorist like no other. Some viewers began to call him Sar-ka-dard-esai”. Now he will be proceeding on long leave and be for the good. Two senior executives of Network 18, B. Saikumar, CEO, and Ajay Chacko COO had recently resigned. CNN-IBN International affairs editor Subhasini Haider is expected to join ‘The Hindu.’

So, the gist of the story is: It is very tough to be honest and bold; it is tougher to survive if want to live on principles. It is true for a journalist as it is true for the contender of any other field.

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