Challenging The Media

Shekhar Gupta says journalists are incompetent & arrogant. Raghav Bahl abhors TRPs. The Editor’s Guild seminar.


The Editor’s Guild of India held a seminar on the Challenges before the Indian Media on Friday, July 6, 2012 at the Indian International Centre in Delhi. The seminar saw prominent media personalities hold forth on the obstacles and trials the media faces.


The session on media regulation began, while some journalists could still be overheard in the audience grumbling to each other about having to wake up for a session at 10 in the morning. The Media Regulation session panel included BJP MP Ravi Shankar Prasad and Law Minister, Salman Khurshid while CNN-IBN Managing Editor Rajdeep Sardesai was the moderator. Prasad said that while today every politician knows they can’t fiddle with the press, the TRP system has led to the“creations of good journalists being denied in the typical Bollywood manner – ye bikega nahin, vigyapan nahin milega (this won’t sell, we won’t get ads)”.

For his part, Khurshid said that paid news has become the new “whipping boy” and while a defamation law must be introduced soon, there should be room for “honest mistakes”. There were also some accidental laughs when Sardesai accidentally referred to Prasad and Khurshid as “both former law ministers”.

The next session was on Threats to Media Freedom. The panelists were The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, N Ravi – former Editor of The Hindu, Raghav Bahl – Controlling Shareholder and Managing Director of Network 18, and Ajay Upadhyay – Consulting Editor of Amar Ujala. The session was moderated by T N Ninan, Chairman – Business Standard.

N Ravi said that the media faces both external and internal threats. While the external threat is the growing intolerance of public office holders, the internal threat is “plain bad journalism”. Given what he was going to say, Gupta would have agreed.

Shekhar Gupta, in full form, did not mince words and informed the journalists present that they were an incompetent, arrogant lot. He went on to say that journalists today have no intellect and their general knowledge wouldn’t enable them to pass even a basic competitive exam.

On the subject of regulation for the media, he ridiculed both the government and the media fraternity saying that the media is afraid of its own freedom and that’s why it is inviting regulation from outside. But, he added, that is not going to happen because the present government is the “weakest and the most non-functional government we have ever had”.

Later he also criticised media persons who went on to take a Rajya Sabha seat or found a place on a government committee.

“The problem is with senior journalists and editors embracing government all the time… accepting Rajya Sabha nominations, government committees, it’s criminal!”, he said.

Raghav Bahl, who spoke before Gupta, felt that the nature of TV news is such that it is a “First Information Report” and the ability of journalists to become experts is still a work in progress. But he too had certain objections with the media approach to information provided by the government.

“While in the Nineties we used to approach government handouts with skepticism it is not so anymore. We seem to be purveying a government-is-god kind of stance, even when the government line is flawed… the CAG report falls squarely in this category”, he said. While Bahl said that most of the mistakes in the media stem from “inexperience and youthful energy”, Gupta disagreed with him and said it is due to “senior and famous editors and anchors”.

On the topic of private treaties, Bahl said,“from our own experience we can tell you that it is extremely bad tax planning. You end up paying 45% of non-cash receipts to the government so when we looked at it we decided not to do it. Someone who is doing it either has too much cash or is a very bad tax planner”.

Although he heads a number of TV channels, Bahl made it clear that he is not a huge fan of TRPs, saying that they are relevant only for entertainment channels. “I couldn’t be a bigger supporter of the fact that the whole TRP system is rotten. TV channels’ finances today are wrecked only because of the completely flawed TRP system… All TV news owners would be squarely in favour of a more broad-based, far more scientific system that we have today”, Bahl said.

The third and final session was on Paid News and was introduced by Mrinal Pande. She recounted an incident which she saw on TV where a CEO of a big publishing house in Delhi said that his Hindi business had performed better than the English one in revenue and he attributed it to the windfall in the form of the UP elections.

The only other speaker was SY Quraishi, former CEC of India, who said that while the media had been the eyes and ears of the Election Commission during elections they had also found many instances of paid news. On the positive role of the media, he recalled an incident when he had got a call from Rajdeep Sardesai at 12:30a.m. one morning, “about a young leader who was making a very venomous hate speech against a community. He asked me whether I had seen the speech. I said that I had not and he said please wait I will repeat it on the channel and sure enough it was very objectionable and we asked for a CD the next morning”.

He revealed that the Election Commission had caught 121 cases of paid news in Bihar elections, and 250 cases when polls were held in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. They had also found that in TN & WB, the news channels owned by political parties disturbed the level playing field. In the last batch of elections in UP and other states, 766 complaints were received in which notices were issued to 581 because a prima-facie case was established. He also said that there were admissions in 253 of the cases. And went on to say, “We have proposed that paid news be made a cognisable, punishable offence… I have often wondered if the fourth pillar of democracy will become the fifth column of democracy”.

We leave you with an Urdu couplet Quraishi quoted which we agree sums up the situation quite well –

Baghban ne aag di jab aashiyane ko mere,

jin pe takiya tha wohi patte hawa dene lage

(When the gardener began burning my abode,

The very leaves on which I rested began to fan the fire.)

Editor’s Guild seminar links, to share:



All our articles are run through a software to avoid the possibility of unattributed work finding its way into Newslaundry.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)

More from Aastha Manocha

Contribute Your Views
  • Carrying Shekhar Gupta’s doggy analogy further…seems like he got bitten by one!! either that or the wily fox is jumping the obviously sinking UPA ship.. as for bahl..Gupta needs to unleash the same dog on him!! Trashing the CAG!! his Ambani bosses must be patting him on the back! Here’s why he’s trashing CAG

    • phoney


  • Chetan

    Gupta is being a hypocrite after running a blatantly partisan newspaper, ruining the reputation of Courage and journalism both to talk about credibility is rich

  • gaurav


  • AB

    The Indian Express was always a good newspaper and it was branded as a anti establishment newspaper but under the Editorship of Mr Shekhar Gupta Express looses it’s credibility day by day. He is the worst editor Express have ever seen. He said that accepting a Rajya Sabha seat is crime (He didn’t say anything about using his position to get a farm house at Sohna, Gurgaon is criminal or not.) but everybody knows his only motto right now is to get a Rajya Sabha seat by hook or by crook.
    But Shekhar Gupta is right that journalists are incompetent and arrogant and the biggest example of this is Mr Gupta himself. I am explaining why.
    From the past 7-8 years The Indian Express is planning a re-launch with a new design, I am working as journalist from past 15 years but don’t know any newspaper that take so long to redesign or re-launch. Usually it takes 2-3 months anywhere else with a competent editor-in-chief.
    I worked with the Express and my few friends still working there so I know that once in every year, Mr Gupta told his Managing editor and Executive editor to launch new design, then it comes to designers. Designers make new design according to the instructions then incorporate changes as told by Mr Gupta and his team then they buy new fonts and pay for it in lakhs. Then they told designers “This design will launch very soon” and then nothing happen. And nobody is courageous enough to ask him what happened (not even the Managing/Executive editor) because of his arrogant attitude.
    He use to write a weekly column ‘National Interest’ on Friday for Saturday’s Express. Express have two editions, The deadlines are 8.30 and 12.30 for the first and second edition respectively and I think he knew about the deadlines as he is the Editor. But it never goes on time on Friday because Mr Gupta is not competent enough to finish his column by 8.30 (while he was helped by edit page editor and managing editor) so usually first edition goes by 10.00 PM every Friday. After the first edition next 3-4 hours goes in corrections as he suggested over the phone from his house and second edition goes by 1.30- 2.00 AM. So we can understand his level of competence.

  • Abhay Gupta

    क्या मीडिया एक माध्यम है शिखर पर पहुँचाने का या स्वयं में एक शिखर जो अपने समस्त भूभाग को एक नजर से देख कर मानव समाज के कल्यान को रेखांकित करने का कार्य करता है