Monday June 17, 2019
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Times of Tata ad: Is the foundation of journalism in jeopardy?

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By Prachi Mishra

Media, an integral part of our democracy, a forum of unbiased public debates, has reached at an abysmally low point today. Instead of providing a platform to voice public opinions and concerns, it represents the objectives and interests of the upper-class. Today, the newspapers and news channels work with the sole motive of ‘raising the moolah.’

One recent example of the corporatization of media is a webpage by Economic Times, titled as ‘Times of Tata,’ dedicating an entire page to the Tata Group. The article states:

The archives show profoundly how the Tata created history and how the Times’ publications published it. It has always been thus: the creators of history and its chroniclers have always lived together in a symbiotic and close relationship. The following pages contain just a clutch of reports and stories of the Tata group in the Bennett Coleman publications. Obviously 28 pages are not enough to do justice to the groups’ relationship, that has endured over 150 years.

The webpage illustrates the emergence of Tata as a leading business empire and the step by step coverage of its journey by the Times publication over the years. What could be more unprincipled than a leading newspaper wallowing in the glory of its relation with the esteemed business group and revering it by publishing articles about it? Is there any scarcity of social or political issues in our country, which require more attention that this newspaper, owned by Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd., has divulged into such thoughtless form of journalism?

The Times of Tata

This is an example of the rising trend of paid news in media. Most of the newspapers today publish stories in favor of a particular company to which they are aligned. In a research conducted by Dilip Mandal and R. Anuradha published in Media Ethics, it was found that the board of directors of a number of media companies comprise of representatives of big corporates. It was reported that the board committee of Jagran Publications includes the managing director of Pantaloon Retail, Kishore Biyani, McDonald India’s MD, Vikram Bakshi, and Mirza International’s MD, Rashid Mirza, along with the CEO of media consulting firm Lodestar Universal India, Shashidhar Sinha, and the chairman of the real estate firm JLL Meghraj, Anuj Puri. The board of directors of HT Media, which publishes Hindustan Times and Hindustan, comprises of K. N. Memani, the former chairman of Ernst & Young, and the chairman of ITC Ltd., Y C Deveshwar. Several other media houses also possess big industrialists as their board committee members.

It’s not an unknown fact that all the big corporate companies are in cut-throat competition with each other. Therefore, in order to lobby their own business interests, they use the platform of media. Even if the journalists want to report the truth, their stories are edited beyond recognition ultimately presenting a biased view.

The Indian media has tasted a huge commercial success in the last few years; however, this success has come at a price of the decline in the standard of journalism. This closeness with the corporate sector has caused confusion in the media towards its priorities. Rather than becoming a forum for the public opinion, it caters to the vested interests of the top-notch business companies. The webpage by Economic Times reflects deplorable state of journalism in India to the forefront.

 

  • Mayank jandyal

    Very true. Today almost all news channels & newspapers are biased. The standard of journalism has declined. It’s high time that some strict regulations are made to keep a check on paid news & use of media by corporates for their own selfish interests.

Next Story

Media Coverage During Bangladesh’s Election Disappoints People

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that "few" journalists might have "faced restrictions" in Bangladesh.

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Bangladesh, Media
Activists of the leftist alliance cover their mouths with black cloths as they join in a rally to demand a new election under caretaker government, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

In the wake of Bangladesh’s recent general election, opposition coalition and pro-democracy activists expressed disappointment with alleged episodes of vote manipulation going largely unreported in the local media. But several journalists argue that fear of government reprisals led many media outlets to avoid publishing stories about the alleged wrongdoing.

“The level of vote robbery in the December 30 general election was unprecedented in world history. Ahead of conducting the massively rigged election, the government introduced some black laws, like the Digital Security Act, to shackle the media,” BNP senior joint secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed told VOA.

“In different ways the government issued threats to the domestic media outlets to keep them away from reporting freely and not to let the outside world know of the massive vote manipulation,” he said.

 

Bangladesh, media
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina interacts with journalists in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 31, 2018. VOA

 

A Dhaka-based national TV channel news producer said many media outlets could not exercise their freedom during the election.

“Ahead of the general election, the Election Commission issued new guidelines strictly limiting the coverage-related activities of the journalists during the polling. In a first ever such move, it banned photography, videography or live telecast of the polling-related activities inside voting centers,” said a Dhaka-based national TV channel news producer who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by the government.

‘Chilling message’

“Journalists got a chilling message that if they flouted the guidelines they would face serious retribution from the government. In such a terrifying situation, the rigging-related activities went largely unreported.”

Other journalists who told VOA similar stories did not want to be quoted, saying they feared reprisals from the government.

“They are facing severe pressure on many fronts, including arbitrary arrests and beating by police, forced disappearances and tough criminal defamation and online security laws that have put many in jail,” said Steven Butler, Asia Program coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“They also endure repeated intimidating advisory phone calls from police, army intelligence and the government. The net result is a siege mentality. So, it’s not surprising they are afraid to report on election irregularities they have witnessed,” Butler added.

Bangladesh, Media
Activists of the leftist alliance join in a rally to demand a new election under caretaker government, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

Vote fraud allegations

After the schedule of the general election was announced by Bangladesh’s election commission in early December, the government reiterated that the election would be free, fair and all-inclusive.

But hours before the polling began on Dec. 30, the opposition alliance alleged that activists of the ruling Awami League (AL) were illegally stuffing ballot boxes at many voting centers across the country in the presence of election and security officials.

On the day of the polling, the alliance also alleged that tens of thousands of its polling agents, intimidated by AL supporters, had been driven away from the voting centers across the country.

After the election commission announced that the Awami League and its allies had overwhelmingly won 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats in the election, the Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF), the main political opposition coalition, rejected the results, saying it was a “massively rigged, farcical” election.

Bangladesh, Media
Bangladeshi President M. Abdul Hamid administers the oath of office to Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 7, 2019. The new government is Hasina’s third in a row and fourth overall. VOA

AL leaders, however, said the charge of rigging was baseless.

“Can they show any evidence of any booth being captured by force or some people casting votes fraudulently? They cannot present any evidence in support of their charge. Yet, they are claiming that votes have been rigged,” senior AL leader Mahbubul Alam Hanif told VOA.

JOF leader Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku said there was far less evidence of vote manipulation in this election largely because many journalists were not allowed to work freely during the polling.

“While rigging was going on at almost all voting centers in the presence of the election and security around, we asked some reporters to go and cover the incidents. But they all said they were too scared to report on those wrongdoings and stayed away from the voting centers,” Tuku told VOA.

Social media activity

Although the mainstream media largely refrained from reporting on the allegations of fraud, social media remained very active. Many users wrote on Facebook about their experiences at the voting centers.

Bangladesh, Media
Activists of the leftist alliance cover their mouths with black cloths as they join in a rally to demand a new election under caretaker government, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

Hundreds of video clips, in which people claimed that they had been stopped by AL activists from casting their votes, circulated across social media. Video clips that claimed to show AL activists casting illegal votes also surfaced on Facebook and Twitter.

Pro-democracy activist Pinaki Bhattacharya said the threat of the Digital Security Act also kept many journalists away from the election.

“Journalists in Bangladesh fear of being framed in multiple cases under the Digital Security Act. So, they are refraining from reporting the truth in many cases as it happened during the December 30 election. This act has robbed the spirit and freedom of journalism in Bangladesh,” Bhattacharya, who is also known as a popular online activist, told VOA.

The Dhaka-based activist, who has been in hiding since August after a military intelligence agency reportedly began hounding him, used his Facebook and Twitter pages to report on alleged malpractice during the election.

The election was not sufficiently documented, with most mainstream media outlets largely staying away from reporting the alleged rigging, Bhattacharya said.

“No independent international election observer group operated during this election. In such a situation, reports in the mainstream media in Bangladesh would have played a key role to document the election. In 95 percent or more voting centers, votes were rigged. But such malpractices have now remained largely undocumented in the absence of proper journalistic reporting,” Bhattacharya said.

Bagladesh, election, media
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

‘Immeasurable’ suppression

Hong Kong-based rights activist Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, said the media “blackout” during the election was “immeasurable and irreparable.”

He said the charge of election fraud “should have been independently investigated by the mainstream media outlets that have extensive networks across the country. It would have helped the world to know how a government is being installed in Bangladesh via a massively rigged election.”

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that “few” journalists might have “faced restrictions” in Bangladesh.

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that “few” journalists might have “faced restrictions” in Bangladesh.

“But, if you generalize the comment like this, that the journalists in Bangladesh are working under some sort of threats or restrictions, that will not be fair because it may have happened to just one, two, three or four journalists,” Chowdhury told VOA.

Also Read: Bangladesh PM Gets Global Support, Will Withstand Calls To Investigate Allegations

If any journalist received a threat from police or a military intelligence agency he should have filed an official complaint within the country, he said.

“[In Bangladesh] there are professional bodies like the Editors’ Council, Press Institute and Press Council. If it is so that they have been restricted, they have been threatened by the intelligence agencies or police, I don’t know whether they have complained to these bodies. I don’t think that there is any complaint received by these bodies. Also, here they can file any case against these [security] agencies in the court,” he said.

He added, “I would not comment on what these reporters and journalists said to people or bodies outside the country [to VOA or CPJ]. At least if we do not receive any complaint from any reporter, we cannot comment on this.” (VOA)