Vice President flays commercialisation of journalism

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New Delhi, Dec 19 (UNI) The reader or viewer is the King--the mantra of modern brand managers in news organisations-- was flayed by Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari and veteran journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Outlook magazine Vinod Mehta here today as they gave vent to their views on the state of journalism.

The occasion was the presentation by Mr Ansari of the International Press Institute (IPI) Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2007 to the magazine, which was received by Mr Mehta.

Mr Ansari cautioned against increasing commercialisation of the journalistic profession in today's market driven economy.

''The days of the great editors who had a decisive say in newspaper policy on public issues are a matter of the past; instead, we have a basket of considerations in which the demands of professional journalism are carefully balanced with the interests of owners and stakeholders of media companies and their cross media interests,'' he said.

He said the phenomenal growth in the media industry, and intense competition in it, induces editors and journalists to look as much at the top line and bottom line growth as at headlines and editorial content.

A recently published study on the state of India's democracy carries an observation by an eminent journalist that 'even editors who support the liberalisation of the Indian economy had become increasingly concerned over the growing control that advertisers wield over news content, said Mr Ansari.

''Today's media organisations are large business entities with thousands of employees and huge financial and other assets. The commercial logic brings in a new set of stakeholders; I refer to the shareholders of these companies. These developments have brought into play a new set of considerations that guide the professional decisions of the press.The interplay of these conflicting demands is evident and subject of public debate,'' he said.

Mr Anasri felt it was high time to ponder who sets the terms of public debate, and whether there was enough media space for the marginalised, the dispossessed and the vulnerable and whether sections of the media had developed stereotypes.

Speaking after receiving the Award, Mr Mehta rubbished the contention of today's media managers that journalism should give what the readers want.

''If some readers or viewers wish to see or read about paedophilia, should we oblige? If some readers or viewers wish to see or read about wife beating, should we oblige?'' he said.

In Mr Mehta's view the brand managers, with honourable exceptions, were congenitally incapable of understanding the nature and purpose of journalism. ''They can never understand that content is much more than what a reader wants. It also has a social dimension,'' he added.

The whole proposition of reader or viewer being the king was absurd and dangerous and there was an urgent need to demolish it, he said.

''A newspaper reader or new viewer is not the King, actually he is a nice hypocrite,'' said the veteran journlaist.

''Editors in India are an endangered species, but only a good and professional editorial team can decide what is news and what is humbug. That is the sum of what I have learnt in 30 years,'' Mr Mehta added.

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