Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'Journalistic ethics'!

I had promised in my last post to give a glimpse into the world of journalism, as I have seen it. I could cite a lot of hilarious (or disgraceful) incidents from my own direct experience, but for now let two incidents suffice, things that happened within the last decade in my own town.

Several years ago, some outgoing girls had gathered in their school (very well known hereabouts) to bid farewell to one another. Girls being girls, they had to do something ‘exciting’, so many of them had brought over their old shirts and told one another to write parting messages on them with indelible ink. Naturally they were ‘expressing themselves’ by screaming their heads off, until it attracted the attention of the irate headmistress, who confiscated many of these offending shirts and sent the whole class out of the campus, telling them to go directly home. Next day some of the papers carried the news that a lot of schoolgirls had been stripped by the authorities and sent home d√©shabill√©e!

Then there was this fracas among parents and staff in the school where I had once worked, a few years ago. There was some angry talk, a lot of abuse was bandied about freely, and one or two staffers were pushed around… nothing much really. Many of these boys came to my tuition, and I heard the details from them. What is relevant here is that they had heard some journos prodding them to spill the beans about what was going on in the school, with the following words… tora kichhu bolbi, na amrai baniye baniye likhe debo (are you going to talk, or shall we make it all up ourselves)?

From long personal experience (my family has been in close touch with the media world for more than thirty years now) I know that this is the norm rather than the exception (remember the posto I mentioned in the last post?) So much for lofty ethical standards.  This is the reason that what you get if you google 'News of the World scandal' comes as no surprise, at least to the likes of me. No profession more deserves to be told ‘physician, heal thyself’…I think it was Desmond Doig, a celebrity journo himself, who famously said about Mother Teresa that she never read newspapers, so she knew better than most just what was going on in the world!

[My strategy seems to be paying off. The last post has attracted 500-odd visits within a week. However, I am waiting for more comments here, and the members count topping the 100-mark]

P.S.: If you are a complete stranger and are commenting here for the first time, start with a short self-introduction, specifically mentioning your age. I expect the same good manners on the internet as in the outside world: courtesy is a must, especially if you are someone far junior. That's orthodox Indian tradition, and I am a very orthodox person in these matters. If I am old enough to be your father or teacher, you will use language that is appropriate for your own father or most respected teacher. Otherwise, stay away...


nandini gupta said...

Mr Chatterjee,

From my experience in Journalism, I believe that journalist go above and beyond their call of duty to ensure that news reaches you in the safety of your room. Many of my friends have undergone extreme difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq to make sure that the news reaches the entire world.

The two incidents that you did mention are shocking and sad. This does not make the profession unethical because one would find an outlier in every profession. From reading your other posts, I am sure that you would agree. In your posts you have pointed out the issues with engineers, doctors, teachers and MBAs.

Having gone through your posts, I have the notion that you tend to concentrate on the bottom 20%. For example, in journalism you could have chosen to speak about BBC, Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters. Isn't it expected that a journalist in a small medieval town like Durgapur would produce an article that is sheer nonsense. We should not even consider ethics. If someone is capable, he would rather be a journalist at BBC than some random channel at Durgapur.

In your blog on MBA, you could have chosen to speak about Harvard, Wharton or Chicago GSB. Instead you chose some random schools in India.

I hope you turn your eyes towards great firms and great institutions. I am sure you would find great things to write about them.

Most of your posts are perfect as they are. But I guess that we could now turn to the top 1 percentile instead of the bottom 1 percentile.



PS: At least now you have women commenting on the blog post.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Ms. Gupta,

Thanks for the comment. I stand by every word I said. Period.

Shubho said...

Ms. Gupta,

I do not think you have got the point in Sir's mentioning such journalists. I do not think you know much about the person whose blogpost you have commented on. I would rather suggest that you first try to know the view that the writer has in mind while writing the post. He has never once belittled people who are working in Afghanistan and have risked their lives to bring news about what is happening there. Journalists get killed there - everyone knows. How the Taliban have beheaded journalists is also known, the videos seen.

In pointing out the lack of ethics in journalism, what Sir has tried to let know is, I think, along with the journalists who have given up fear and are going through hard times in Afghanistan, there also exists a group of the ones who are hell bent on polluting news.

And your comment "Isn't it expected that a journalist in a small medieval town like Durgapur would produce an article that is sheer nonsense. We should not even consider ethics. If someone is capable, he would rather be a journalist at BBC than some random channel at Durgapur." is rather ridiculous. Do you not think so, you having some experience in journalism yourself? Are the ethics of journalism different in BBC and Durgapur? Are both not journalism? You have never tried to get the message that Sir is trying to convey. It is so simple. I think the so called journalists in Durgapur who are busy creating some 'sensational' news should receive more education, and more than that, they need to build inside themselves a sense of conscience, not just produce news and let people know the power of the media. It is not a question of Durgapur or Kolkata or Delhi or BBC. It is about proper education, having proper parents and growing up in proper social surroundings.

One more thing: from your comment I feel that you are probably not from Durgapur, maybe you are from Kolkata. Please stop sneering at people from places like Durgapur, or Bankura, or Asansol, or Birbhum, just because you might be staying in a place that enjoys more privileges than other places, because this is not good manners. Judge a man by who he is, not by where he belongs to, or by what his caste, creed or colour is. (There are examples of people from extremely poor families becoming IAS and IPS officers – I do not think you will say they had taken to corrupt means of procuring the ranks just because they were from economically and culturally poor backgrounds). This is also ethics. Sneering at a journalist just because he is from Durgapur does not speak of good ethical sense, especially when a journalist is speaking like this.

And lastly, please do not take offence, because I am sure you have got the guts to accept public criticism since you yourself like to criticize people in public.

Subhadip Dutta (ex-student of Suvro Chatterjee).

Shilpi said...

Hullo Suvro da,

I was musing over both the incidents you narrated here (couldn't help laughing over the first one especially) and have been musing over these and in connection to what you wrote in the previous post. I didn't comment on the previous post but it's quite clear that even the video is fake. That is not a real piece of journalism whatever else it is. The whole thing is an act. That girl is not being molested, and for 1/2 an hour, and not one journalist steps in. As for the first piece of news here: it is utterly ridiculous, and the second one terribly common. That term you’d used in your previous post, “posto” makes sense and I remember what you’d told me very many years ago: that journalists – on an average – are looking to make news and twist news to create a bit of sensationalism, and if nobody shares nothing – well then they have not too many qualms about making up news. And if one does - then one is being silly to think that an average journalist will report the truth.

“Shocking” or “sad” are words that are bandied around a little too frequently. The two pieces you narrate here make for black comedy, and should make your readers think more carefully of what we consume as news. As for great journalists and the world of journalism – it’s only the exceptional journalist who sticks out his or her neck – not the average one. Anybody with an ounce of worldliness or sense would know this bit. And average journalists do not make up the bottom 20 percent. They make up the grand 99%. For one Edward Murrow – people need to find out how many others are spinning trash and creating hype over nothing before talking of the noble world of journalism and journalists.

I was also wondering about big media houses or fancy business schools. I think the matter of famous Business schools is something you covered pricelessly well in your "Monkeys in Armani suits" post. And who are the famous businessmen and entrepreneurs I’m missing from the fancy schools: Bill Gates was a drop-out, Warren Buffett transferred from Wharton after 2 years of doing his undergrad, and went on to do a Master’s in Economics from Columbia, Steve Jobs was a drop out as are the google founders, and these are individuals you’ve mentioned across plenty of your blogposts. Do these individuals fall in the bottom 1 percentile…?

Shilpi said...

And considering all the great men and women that you admire or respect I can’t count too many Harvard pass-outs or Wharton pass-outs or BBC journalists. Let’s see, if I count some names starting with The Buddha, Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Abigail Adams, Edison, Marie Curie, Russell, Einstein, Tagore, Vivekananda, Rani Rashmoni, Netaji, Bibhuti Bhushan Bandhyopadhyay, Arthur Conan Doyle, Churchill, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Satyajit Ray, Ramkinkar Baij, Warren Buffet, the google founders, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Sudha Murty…or the women from the latest little post on your bemused blog…No Business school pass-outs or BBC employees that I can count....

It sort of demonstrates the mental stature of the random reader who is apparently reading your blogs but imagines that these individuals in the very short list above (from all the different and varied great men and women you’ve talked about) count as the bottom 1 percentile or the bottom 20% or can be dismissed as being provincial because they didn’t go to Wharton or Harvard or aren’t working with the BBC. I wonder how many great names the reader can find from Harvard and Wharton or the BBC in comparison to the pathetic stuff that comes out from the same places. And it is rather galling to think that the reader can imagine that because Durgapur is a small place, it can't have a person of exceptional merit or that one mustn’t talk about ethics because Durgapur is a small “medieval" town but that Wharton always produces exceptional businessmen and that BBC always has exceptional journalists. The place confers brilliance on an individual, does it now? I’ve personally felt that people who can’t look beyond big institutional names and think that big names make dumb people clever probably suffer from some severe case of inferiority complex. Fancy institutions churn out mental midgets by the dozen, and anybody who believes otherwise can go and check for real instead of being starry eyed by the name-tag. Sort of reminds me of ugly and mindless and uncouth people who dress in designer clothes or drive around in Mercs and BMWs thinking that the tags bestow something of value to them as individuals.

Shilpi said...

Suvro da, I do do hope that you write more about your experiences from the world of journalism. Maybe some people are unaware of how closely and from what an early age you mixed with the movers and shakers and saw and observed all you did, and back when when you were in your teens. Maybe that might make people a little more cautious before lecturing you or teaching you about journalism and other matters.

…and just as a by the way in connection to your P.S and in mild wondering about the many comments that have been coming in, I wonder why women use the “we” when they mean “I”. Who is this "we" exactly? It sort of creeps me out to see a woman lacking the spine to use an “I” when she’s talking about herself and her feelings about who she considers to be the top or bottom 1 percentile or 20 %, and also because it disgusts me to think that too many women out there might think that I belong to their mega “we” tribe. Yugh.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Hahaha... Shilpi, thanks. By the way, the first man who bought a five-crore rupee ($ 1 million-) Daimler Maybach car in India was basically someone who had made his pile as a gutkhawallah. Nothing against the tribe, but of course it is they who feel this desperate urge to cover up their essential emptiness with fancy labels, whether it be those of schools or employers or gizmos. We can't imagine any man or woman of substance to crow about such things, can we? The only regrettable development is that as this tribe and their progeny begin to swarm all over the planet, they gradually cause the values of all brands they touch to depreciate, so in another fifty years, unless the proprietors of the 'brands' are careful, their products will have become merely targets of jokes...

By the way, you didn't notice what I wrote about the News of the World Scandal. They don't come much bigger than Rupert Murdoch in the media world. So I stand by what I said.. if you look closely, the emperor has no clothes, whether it be in a small town like mine or in the global arena...

abhirup said...

Dear Ms. Gupta,

Since you mentioned BBC as one of the channels that supposedly represent journalism at its most ethical, I would urge you to take a look at the two following links:

If you go through these links carefully (I repeat, CAREFULLY), you shall find out that BBC has often been guilty of coming up with unsubstantiated claims and hoax reports, that it is often blatantly biased in favour of or against a particular side in various political conflicts in various parts of the world, that it has frequently said things that can quite justifiably be called racist, callous and insensitive, and that it has, in fact, discriminated against its own employees on racial and gender-related grounds. And as you can see, even a source as basic as wikipedia can supply you with these facts. A more detailed net search can produce even more unsettling facts about BBC, as well as about the other news channels you hold in such high esteem.

Now, a few other things. Please do not write such inconclusive, vague things as "from my experience in journalism". State, clearly and precisely, what your experiences in journalism are; then we can decide if you deserve to be taken seriously.
Your "friends" reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq do work under considerable risk. But that doesn't automatically make them paragons of honesty and decency. One would need to read their reports and check their credibility to understand whether or not they are accurate and unbiased. I happen to know people who reported from the very dangerous regions in Kashmir and the North-East, and they themselves admitted to me how their superiors would browbeat them into writing reports that offer a skewered view of things. So, let us not get into that "these-brave-journalists-are-reporting-from-war-zones-to-bring-us-the-news-so-let-us-stand-up-and-give-them-a-standing-ovation" rhetoric. That is idiotic, to put it very politely.
Finally, since you do not know Sir, I don't think you should make assumptions about what he chooses to "concentrate" on while writing his blogposts. In this particular case, he has simply pointed out, on the basis of his own experiences as a former journalist, the rampant corruption and unethical practices that the mediapeople in today's world are guilty of. That's all. And as my links prove, such unethical behaviour is not restricted to small news channels in Durgapur but even in the big ones like BBC. You may choose to live in denial, but that won't alter the reality.

Finally, your attempted jibe in the "PS" falls flat for two reasons. First, it's simply not witty/funny/sharp/smart enough. Secondly, there are actually some women who comment regularly on both of Sir's blogs, and write sane, sensible stuff. You would have discovered it had you taken the trouble to read the comments on each blogpost. Yeah, there are fewer women than Sir would like to see participating in the discussions, but that says more about women than it does about Sir and his blogs.

Yours sincerely,
Abhirup Mascharak.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Abhirup, thanks for the links. They should come in useful to people who like to find things out for themselves, but are too lazy to search on their own.

In an age when people can win Nobel Prizes without having done anything mentionable at all, it goes without saying that to the man who knows which way the world is going, all brands and institutions are fast losing their hallowed aura. But then, there are still country bumpkins everywhere, and some people still like 'impressing' them with fancy names, whether it be Harvard or BBC, Louis Vuitton or Gucci... the only problem is that they sometimes try to impress the wrong people! I knew far too much about the BBC already in my early 20s, and about Harvard (any moron can get in provided he has a famous surname or if his dad coughs up a $10 million donation) to be impressed to hear that s/he has studied there or works there. And, as Agatha Christie said, people are basically the same everywhere, which is why old village-bound Miss Marple was always surprising her big-city savvy nephew Raymond and the chief of Scotland Yard Sir Henry Clithering with her frequent flashes of wisdom and perception. Miss Marple wouldn't be impressed by big names, neither should we be.

As I have said before, I have known journalists big and small all my life, and one reason I quit a job with a national daily (when I had to rub shoulders with people from AP, AFP, Reuters and the like, and found them to be as dull, timid, lazy, uninformed and opportunistic as the next man) was that I had to hold my nose too much of the time. I have seen how easily 'famous' journos can be bought (sometimes a saree or a bottle of good whiskey was enough) to cook or 'kill' stories - politicians at least cost much more - and how much the 'news' is subject to editorial manipulation, which in turn is virtually always subservient to the whims and political loyalties or business interests of the man in the corner office. And I have seen how 'serious' journos are about covering leggy pinhead celeb bimbos, simply because they 'sell'. So I cannot respect journalists as a tribe, the odd Ed Murrow notwithstanding. Too many are into it simply because they are not good enough for anything else. One swallow doth not a summer make.

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
From my stint of two years as a journalist, I know how often facts are distorted to give ordinary matters an edge so as to fill up the space. The story angle is always decided and mostly, only those quotes which support the story angle is used for the story. Then, comes 'packaging news', often the lack of solid facts and statistics is covered up by attractive designs. As you have said, this remains the norm rather than exception. And as long as it looks good and sells, even the top bosses aren't bothered. And this is true for both big names and small.
Thanks and with regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Absolutely, Sayantika. Only those who have axes to grind, or suffer from childish ego-identification with the institutions they are employed by will argue otherwise. Indeed, journalists who tread the straight and narrow are far more often than not ridiculed by their own colleagues for being stupid dinosaurs, or upbraided by their bosses for not toeing the convenient and profitable line, and soon sidelined and put out to pasture. It's a very good thing that you quit early.... before you got rotten to the core!

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
Your last line is exactly what a senior colleague told me when he came to know that I was quitting!

With regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Ms. Nandini Gupta (probably a pseudonym - she didn't care to send me a line about who she was) has gone remarkably quiet after reading some of the comments here. She re-surfaced just once only to tell me she has 'found out' what a bad man I am (on the basis of a single inconsequential person's motivated vilification, ignoring completely the fact that literally hundreds of others have openly expressed their respect, gratitude and admiration for me on the Net. Goes to show how much you can trust a journalist, if she represents the tribe - I rest my case). I decided that this sort of creature is best not replied to, and it seems to have cooled off her ardour quickly. But as a little gift for her - and for some other ex students who love to call themselves journalists, though they write little more than fluff - my next post will be about that profession again, and I promise you it won't be kind to them...

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

What Ms. Gupta has done is known as selective fact finding. It is what many people, and especially journalists, often do. First they make up their mind (or are taught to make up their mind by the editor, in the case of the journos) about a person or an issue, and then they go about collecting only those bits of information or talking only to those people which/who corroborate their pre-fixed notions. Ms. Gupta here did the same. She deduced, from your opinion about journalists, that you are a very bad man. Thereafter, she sought out the one person who holds that view, and decided that it's proof enough of your badness. As you have very rightly said, if she represents the typical journalist today, we have all the more reason to scorn them.

Since people like her keep sneakily visiting your blogs daily (what perverse pleasure they find from reading the pieces of a person they supposedly hate, God alone knows), I hereby ask her to reply to what I had written, and in particular, to state her opinion on the contents of the two links I had sent. She will read this comment for sure, but I doubt if she will reply, for she knows fairly well that the accusations levelled against the people of her profession are mostly true. So, all that she can ever do is say to us, "I hate you." We assure you, Ms. Gupta, the feeling is NOT mutual: the likes of you aren't even deserving of hate. I reserve that for worthier baddies. To draw analogies from Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange are to be hated. Crabbe and Goyle are merely to be ignored contemptuously.

Of course, I am not sure Ms. Gupta will get the analogy. Journalists, as far as I have seen, don't read much. Which is yet another reason not to take them very seriously.

Yours sincerely,
Abhirup Mascharak.