The 'sting operation' aired by Naveen Jindal on Thursday alleging that the Zee News channel demanded money for not airing stories on the coal scam, has prompted the Editors Guild of India, to demand a probe in the matter and again highlighted the conflict between the content published by a media network and its need for advertisements to survive.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist and co- author of the Press Council of India’s report on ‘paid news’, said that though he had not seen the video released by Jindal, he saw a conflict of interest when the business head of the channel also happened to be its editorial head. “It is a difficult situation when you have a story against a company which is also one of your advertisers. The journalist in you would say that you must air the story, but the businessman will decide against it,” he said.
Thakurta cited two examples of business houses trying to arm twist media conglomerates. The first was an instance when a story against the Ambani family by Sunday magazine (now defunct) which was published by the Anand Bazaar Patrika group. After that story, Reliance stopped giving ads to the magazine. But they reconciled later.
The second and more recent example, he said, was how Times of India ran an anti- Tata group story, which resulted in the company not giving it any advertisements for five years. “TOI could resist it because it is financially strong and had a big clout. Any small media group would have buckled down as it cannot afford to not get ads from the Tatas,” he said.
Meanwhile the President of the Editors Guild, TN Ninan, told Firstpost that the charge of extortion, and the large sum mentioned (in the sting operation), make the matter grave enough to warrant a full and thorough investigation. “It is vitally important that the hands of the media are completely clean even as they go after cases of corruption, such as the coal scandal,” said Ninan.
He added that Zee News should see the investigation as a welcome opportunity to clear its name, and should therefore cooperate fully. “It would be a tragedy of the greatest magnitude if the media were to fall prey to corporate malpractice, and break the bond of trust with readers and viewers.”
Veteran journalist BG Verghese said that the episode was an indication to the callous attitude and arrogance creeping in the lot of journalists. “I have not seen Jindal’s sting. Generally speaking, I can say that media cannot get away with writing anything against ministers, judiciary and corporate houses, if it has not done proper home work. With great power, comes great responsibility. It is arrogant to think that you can write just anything,” he said.
Verghese added that both the Jindals and Zee News had the option to take the other party to court and file a defamation case if they believed that they were in the right, and were victims of an attempt to tarnish their image.
Disclaimer: Firstpost is owned by the Network 18 group which competes with Zee TV.