Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Once upon a time journalists reported news

That was many years ago. Decades ago. Or perhaps even earlier than that. Then, both sides discovered that journalists, media by virtue of putting out stuff in print - the very scarcity of it can create, sway and even modify opinions.

And it is true. Much of our opinions come from the media we watch. Very little of our opinion is truly independent - unless you have read about it, inquired about it and created your own line of opinion. Which is why we all think secular. We all believed in the Doordarshan news and the news that our papers printed. Which really explains a lot of our 'thought' positions. Unless you truly read beyond that, you will believe in what the herd writes.

Be that as it may, people realized that one could pay to put news in print. And thus it happened - beyond advertisements. We began to see agencies put our news slanted in one way to influence opinions in one way and so on.

Just before a movie released, a news item would talk about an 'affair' between the cast. That raises curiosity and people often went and watched the movie.

Just before a major brand of soft drink was launched in India, there was a lot of badmouthing of sugarcane juice - who they perhaps considered as their major competition.

These are just examples, but there are many such examples. Because of the scarcity, print media and electronic media held sway, because once you had access to that inner circle, you could print anything and get the public to believe anything - including fake revolutions, fake honesty and what not.

Now this has been taken further ahead by newspapers - which are happy to take paid news. They will carry news - because it is paid for or (hold your breath) because they have a stake in your venture which they will pay through 'planted news'. And then lobbyists discovered it - which is why often one finds laudatory articles on companies, missile systems, even cricketers - hoping it will sway opinions of people.

Enron famously declared that it had spent a few crores 'educating' Indians - most of the money went into hands of politicians and perhaps media as well.

The latest scam here is all about the Agusta helicopters where some 16m Euro was spent creating a favorable impression of the helicopters in the India media. Now while we wait for the list to come out - it is to be noted that this is nothing new.

Covers with notes were distributed before elections, in party offices - all so that coverage could be bought.

Along the way journalists also discovered that with their access, they could lobby, they could sway opinion and they became opinion maker instead of reporting the news. We have had famous examples like the Radia scam.

Since then media has proliferated, social media has boomed and the opinion of old media has waned like no other. And media hates it.

Now when the Agusta scam broke out, hardly has a journalist come out in the open that this is a unethical practice.

Accepting money, favors, trips - and then writing about it is unethical. But some think otherwise...
And the last word from Chitra SD - the one who broke the Bofors scam decades ago

Sunday, May 01, 2016

A gust of wind

The Agusta story is up in the air. Wiki here. Long story short: An Italian court has convicted the chopper company chief and many familiar Indian names are in it.

It is no secret that the UPA was corrupt. Many scams are in different stages of investigation. The Coal Scam, the 2G scam, the Airtel-Maxis scam, the National Herald scam and now the Agusta probe.  (I am sure there will be many many more scams that will come to light, but leave that aside for now.)

What is common to each of these scams? None of these scams was accepted by the Congress and they said it was all politically motivated, propaganda and what not. And their political minions in media often toed the line.

The Coal Scam was broken by Hansraj Ahir - a BJP MP. The 2G scam was broken by Gopikrishnan of the Pioneer. Not one of these was broken by the Lutyens cabal of journalists.

But leave that aside for the moment. The NDA government is ensuring that the probe is happening independently - though I am not sure if anything will come out of it. It may only result in mud-slinging a la Bofors or it may result in real convictions.Whether independent probes mean that bureaucrats will take the probes to its logical conclusion  or not is also not clear. Hopefully the government will ensure that these probes are taken to its logical ends - with the arrests of the accused.

Now, here is the situation today.

Most of our so called chattering classes never tire of reminding us that BJP and Congress governments are equal. They never tire of writing oped pieces that tell us this. Why, at the height of UPA corruption they wrote us this: Are Indians endemically corrupt? And this. There were many such pieces/debates and the subliminal kind of harassment that often passes off as intellectual speak. The essence of it was somewhat on these lines:

So what if the 2G license were sold off on the cheap and people made money on the side - that helped keep rates low. (A completely bogus if it were if you see the rates at which subsequent auctions happened)

In military deals, kickbacks are coming - everybody does it. Even if you took out the kickbacks, the cost of the equipment would still the same. (Ditto bogus - in the recent past, India itself has managed to renegotiate many a price)

The coal scam they told us was no scam at all, because the coal was lying there unused.

In the last two years, the NDA government has streamlined procedures, made things transparent and even reduced the level of 'human' 'discretion' that was the euphemism for allowing corruption into deals, pricing etc. They have done this from coal and spectrum auctions to procurement of cement to military equipment.

(The earlier NDA government also completed their tenure without a single scam, for the record.)

And before I forget. Manmohan Singh was honest - they never tire of telling us. Tell me, which honest guy allows the loot under his very nose? In his office? Being arm twisted to change policies to enable money to be siphoned off?

With the Agusta and the National Herala scam, it is fairly proven that corruption is endemic to Congress. Even the famously silent Signora Sonia has come out facing a mike for the first time in many years.  TV channels are reporting on the corruption and asking questions of Signora for the first time ever. There are still a few that distract and divert, but leave them - because the Agusta story has a second chapter - that of money paid to journalists to help in 'positive' coverage. And one of Indias greatest journalists has come out defending it (ahem).

So, why are these worthies not highlighting the effort of the government to keep top down corruption at zero and ensure that it stays that way. Agreed the former is more of a function of ethics at the top - but the latter - to create processes in a place that was always (to use the words of the columnists) corrupt is really something.

Now, why aren't these same worthies writing about Narendra Modis honesty? Or of this governments resolve to eliminate corruption - both at source and also go after past cases without interference? And this is just at the center.