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State of media in focus at 10th Editors’ Conclave

Speakers lament threats to media, stress on need for independent journalism.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

Editors of different newspapers from India and Asia converged at the 10th Editors’ Conclave organised by the C R Irani Foundation over the weekend. The two-day conclave was held in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) at Vedic Village near Kolkata. The topic for this year was “Issues before the media”.

Delivering the keynote address on Saturday, Mahfuz Anam, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Star, a leading newspaper in Bangladesh, referred to journalism as one of the “noblest of professions” and said the profession was in dire straits.

Mr Ravindra Kumar, editor in- chief and managing director of The Statesman, said that the objective of the event was to provide young aspiring journalists the opportunity to witness the introspection that responsible media undertake from time to time.

Dr Peter Rimmele, resident representative, KAS, New Delhi, said that there are government restrictions imposed on journalists. “It is important to promote independent and free journalism,” he added.

Dr Michael Feiner, Consul- General, German Consulate, Kolkata, said: “KAS completed 50 years in India this year and we celebrated it by welcoming Prof. Norbert Lammert, chairman of KAS, to the city.”

Mr Anam said: “Considering the present situation, it is essential to form a holistic view of the issues that the media is currently confronted with,” adding that the members of the media fraternity should try to look inwards and “collectively adopt self-correction”.Lamenting the current situation in the industry, he said: “Instead of serving and giving voice to the common people, the media have become second-fiddle to the power groups and corporate business interests.”

He said: “Ego-centric, arrogant and self-centred attitude of a few journalists is the reason for the growing estrangement from the people they are supposed to represent.”

Taking up the issue ‘Erosion of values or suspension of disbelief?’ in Saturday’s first session, retired IAS officer Ms. Tuktuk Ghosh voiced her concerns about the state of media in the country and the various problems that plague them.

While mentioning the journalist-politician nexus in an environment where “give and take” relationship is the norm of the day, she said that there is hardly any media house today which is out of the ambit of government restrictions and manipulations. “There are persons within media who would die for a ticket to the Rajya Sabha,” she said, adding that the government is always eager to give bounties to the journalists to keep them happy.

Dr Jasper Wieck of the German Embassy, New Delhi, who mentioned the controversial Rafale deal, said that free media can be built on intellectual capacity and a good social environment. “In India, the media can contribute a lot in education, but in the present situation it is lacking full freedom,” he said.

Mr Sidharth Bhatia, editor of The Wire, stressed on the threats faced by the media describing them as “menacing”. “Journalists are being killed, sacked or pressurised to leave,” he said.

Elaborating on the pressure that journalists face, he said that the government, advertisements and owners of a media house are the ones who apply the same. However, he said, the current crop of journalists has risen to the challenge.

Mr Mukund Padmanabhan, editor of The Hindu, gave his views on the media being controlled by the government and the legal threats that news agencies face. Mr Nick Nugent, former BBC journalist and journalism teacher, said: “The value of accuracy is essential in journalism regardless of what the medium is.”

Mr Raj Kamal Jha, chief editor of The Indian Express, focussed on the threats faced by editors while publishing news, highlighting the fact that it is the individual who gets scared, and not the institution.

“We always get phone calls from government sectors, celebrities, but it is the way that we react to these calls that define the institution,” he said.

Speaking about social media, he said: “Everything coming through Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter is not news.”

The second session, which focussed on “Does the institutional framework need change?” started with Mr Krishnan Srinivasan, former foreign secretary, taking a “generalist” view. Comparing the media to India’s tea industry, he said: “Both are constantly under stress, but are robust enough to endure and survive.”

Mr Anant Nath, editor of Caravan, spoke of the laws and the dramatic jump in curtailing media freedom, citing The Hoot website which mentions the number of shutdowns of news portals.

Mr Krishna Prasad, former editor of Outlook, said that print and television media are on the decline. “I do think there are adequate laws which govern the media, but it’s very sad that the bodies of the press are doing little in supplying unbiased news to the people.”

Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Free Press, said: “One of the most difficult challenges before media is to control new media which is preferable to all. It seems that the age of old media is over.”

Veteran journalist Aditi Roy Ghatak said that 65 per cent of the population depend on agriculture but the coverage of agriculture in the media is negligible.

Mr Kumar said that the state will always try to control its citizens through laws, and that it is for the journalists to decide what position to take in the tussle between the state and the citizens. “The government will always try to encroach upon the media,” he said before posing the question, in what ways can media push its boundaries by strengthening their own institutions and functioning within laws.