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Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Half-baked journalist, myopic observer, pseudo rebel, phony philosopher, wanna-be: adventurer, writer, singer, movie-star.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Journaling as Journalism.

Does the word journalist owe its origin to the word 'journal'?

According to that repository of collective wisdom, the Wikipedia, the word journalism is taken from the French word journal, which in turn comes from the Latin word diurnal or daily.

The Indian television news journalists - all senior and much celebrated hands with tens of years of experience - seem to be doing true justice to their profession, journaling as they are every minute of the Prime minister Narendra Modi's visit to the US of A, not that things were very different during UPA-1 when the government could do no wrong and the communists supporting the coalition were blamed for all the ills affecting the country, and the economy in particular.

I remember a conversation I had with a very senior and a celebrity journalist with a prominent news channel a few years ago. I mocked the carpet-bombing like coverage of the then much-haloed scion of India's first family, Rahul Gandhi, saying that it reminded me of my much younger days when the national broadcaster would serve us visuals of his father, Rajiv Gandhi, every evening in the garb of national news, how the national broadcaster had come to be derided as 'Rajiv Darshan', and how the news channels in general were now in danger of being mocked as 'Rahul Darshan'. Needless to say, the journalist wasn't too pleased. Today, the same news channels have sent tens of celebrity journalists each to cover the Prime Minister's carefully choreographed visit - a non-state one, mind you - to the USA at great expense - they aren't a part of the Prime minister's entourage given the way he seems to delight in keeping the media at an arm's length - even as they battle an uncertain regulatory and economic environment. Life seems to have come a full circle for them. 

Many news organizations in the developed world - yeah, the same capitalist world that we take great pleasure in deriding - claim proud traditions of holding government officials and institutions accountable to the public, even as the critics raise questions about the accountability of the press and its tendency to emphasize negativity and bad news. When I got into the profession I thought we were supposed to be a little anti-establishment by the very nature of our profession. I stand corrected.

Much has been written about how the news business is like any other and how the news channels must peddle what their viewers demand. It is a bit like the argument trotted forth by the Hindi film-makers who would rather make an obnoxious sex comedy like 'No Entry' rather than another 'Mother India' or a 'Gandhi'. The same argument could possibly be put forth in a petition to the Supreme Court, asking it not to press the Department of Telecom to bar pornographic websites cause there is a sizeable number of us who access them on a regular basis - incidents of rape of toddlers and young women by criminals, often right after they have accessed pornographic material as seen in the Nirbhaya gang rape, be damned! 

A visiting American journalist had once told me that hardly any news business makes money in the USA. The news outlets are often subsidised by the parent company's other businesses or funded out of a trust, or paid for by the subscribers. The bond between the news outlet and the audience is a sacrosanct contract that results in the loss of prestige and business, in addition to criminal and financial penalties should it ever be broken. The News of the World scandal across the Atlantic where Rupert Murdoch was hauled over coals and his deputies jailed serves as an apt example of what can happen when this contract is violated. The journalist in question was left a bit stupefied when he learnt of practices like 'Paid News' or of fly-by-night 'Chit funds' operators bankrolling news outlets to serve and help canonise friendly politicians. As I watched CNN last night I realised how much of an international scare the Ebola outbreak is turning out to be with over a million affected already. I don't seem to have seen much about this outbreak, which is now being heralded as the proverbial biblical plague (oh well, news channels will be news channels, no matter where they are!), on our Desi news channels, occupied as they are with debating the merits or otherwise of the Prime minister's visit to the USA at one end and Deepika Padukone's neckline plunging to newer depths at the other - often in quick succession! India, as the perennially under-prepared state, will pay a heavy toll in human life and economic devastation should the epidemic break out of the confines of the dark continent. 

What do you prefer - a media that stoops to hailing the emperor of the day from the ramparts of its own violation, or an independent one that may be a little noisy and overtly, perhaps even overly critical of the other three pillars of democracy?

I shudder to think what you, dear audience, will be put through over the next few days as the coverage of the Prime minister's visit to the USA gathers steam.

As for me, I thank god it's Friday as I look forward to a sumptuous Saturday afternoon feast laid out by a dear friend and colleague, and no news television over the weekend!

This labour-of-love blog post comes to you cause of a Facebook status update by my good friend and guide-of-sorts of now nearly two decades standing, Shantanu Guha Ray, about how the increasingly insular Indians haven't offered any help to the African nations at the very epicentre of the deadly Ebola epidemic yet. Please blame Shantanu dada for any torture you might have put yourself through to read this somewhat tortuous (?) post till the very end. I enjoyed writing this out as I have always fancied myself as a bit of a writer. Now how does that Beatles' song goes....'their son is working for the daily mail...it's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer...but I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer'.

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