Recently, a debate has surfaced in our media about whether our media is open to bribes in lieu of not saying bad things about someone or something.
Naturally, the Indian intelligentsia (which in the age of social networks is pretty much everyone), is very angry about this. The idealistic view is this – How can our newspeople, the unbiased heroes of objective reportage, the truth-seekers, the guardians of the 4th estate, the keepers of the viewers’ trust, the unbiased finders of national wrongs, ask for a bribe? Now I know that if you happen to work in the Indian media, you might be reading my previous sentence and laughing, probably asking, “Given what I’ve seen, how could they not?”
The tragedy (or comedy, many believe they are essentially the same thing), in our modern, cynical, over-informed national situation is that things like this aren’t really shocking. In fact, in the orgy of newspapers, TV channels and websites which we have, where everyone knows a lot of what we read or what is essentially bought and the news items that aren’t bought are filled with half-naked images of beautiful Bollywood women (a good thing) – the world view to take is perhaps not moral outrage (boring and predictable), but encouragement and compassion. If you’re going to do it, do it well.
Only then, as Woody Allen said of the Holocaust, “the question to ask is – not why did this happen but why doesn’t this happen more often?”
In an age where when you switch on any news and information channel on any night and someone is trying to sell you a university degree or a pendant that will heal sexual inadequacies, or a car or that weekend release’s badly-choreographed sexy dance, anyone saying give us x crores and we will not cover you sounds almost like a Buddhist gesture of healing.
Therefore, I will leave the moralising and righting the wrongs to honourable serious people who have the answers or the courts who judge innocence and Vodafone. Or Arvind Kejriwal who is perhaps furiously working on his next list with names of corrupt media people (which, like all his lists, is just a bunch of scribbled names, similar to what any 2-year-old does with a crayon). For my part, I will try to suggest a few ways in which paid news can be popularised and maybe (someday, one can dream), replace just bland plain unbiased reported news. Also, this whole “unbiased” and “code of ethics” thing senior journalists go on about seems to me a bit overrated (unnecessary), especially in an age when most pages of newspapers are sold to showcase a new handbag or a residential project with a French name, and you’d have to get to page 3 or 4 to figure out if we’re at war or the government has fallen. Maybe it is time to stop whining about why news is sold. So (going back to Woody Allen again), the question to ask perhaps is, how could we sell more?
If you are a young, idealistic journalist, these helpful (be safe, don’t try it at home) tips on how to sell all news, and not just some news (that’s for wimps), should set you off on a bright and blossoming career in our media.
1. Some media houses prefer not to sell the front page of a paper claiming that it is apparently sacred. They sell the glamour pages only with the logic that it’s mostly fluff anyway so instead of reading an honest piece about cinema why not just have the movie star tell you about the film while modeling a watch that pays for the page. That’s fine, but that’s safe.
In my opinion, the front page is the first thing that should be sold because that’s the first thing people see. So when Lebanon say is at war with Israel, let the fools on Twitter break the news (who cares about being first in an age when every fool in every newsworthy spot is tweeting when something happens). You write “Two unnamed countries are at war” till cheques arrive (and clear) from both consulates.
2. Don’t negotiate your bribes in hotel coffee shops. It looks tacky. This is not 1986 anymore. You’re not an event manager launching a two-wheeler. You are an editor with a reputation. If you’re going to blackmail a business house, have the decency to call them to your office. Shut the windows so they get confused and think you’re hitting on them. To help your case, at least show them what a couple of negative stories might look like. Talking about threats is much less powerful than a ready threat on a CD. It might cost a bit to put together a mock story, but in drama, showing is better than telling. Get any out-of-work Bollywood actor to play the industrialist.
3. If you’ve sold air space or column space to someone and you have to say something positive about them because you’ve taken money but you’re out of ideas, just run a photo of them with the caption – “He is a great guy” (or a photo of their headquarters and “they’re awesome”, if you took cash from a company).
Now go forth and prosper.