It may be professionally necessary to keep in touch

I had to stop by Raj Bhavan!" Dharma Vira had taken over West Bengal’s government.The Jawaharlal Nehru University controversy highlights a clear and present danger of the ruling party and its philosophy being treated as the touchstone of national loyalty. A newspaper house or television company has to honestly decide the extent to which it wishes to be aligned with the ruling party. There’s safety as well as self-respect in distance, but not, of course, for those in the media who yearn for illicit gain. The role of "permanent adversary" is only an unthinking mimicry of what some American theorists preach. As the biggest employer in the country, the government is also the biggest source of patronage. As is well-known, he intervened and persuaded Thimayya to stay on. I would also have had to add that while the phenomenon of "paid news" which troubles my friend, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, so much is, indeed, deplorable, private business isn’t the only culprit. But unattached scribes who genuinely sympathise with some Bharatiya Janata Party ideals must surely find themselves in a quandary. Individual journalists have no business being aligned to anyone at all save their professional conscience. But I couldn’t. The sanctimonious speeches about press freedom and big business’ corrupting influence reminded me of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew declaring that press freedom could not be the answer to problems of public probity because "the media itself is corrupted. He was too sure of his own integrity to worry about influence; but he did worry about receiving viceregal confidences he would be expected to keep. Nothing could have been more unlike a later colleague who strolled in late for a Calcutta party loudly announcing, "Sorry to have kept you waiting, but the old man wanted some advice.

The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author. Its resources are vast and varied, and it can and does reward obliging media personnel in subtle ways that are beyond the capacity of even the biggest business house.The relationship is demeaning because it can never be equal." I might have been applauded if having said that, I had lashed out at business houses for debauching the media’s virginal purity. The journalists were undoubtedly flaunting their proximity to power, obviously with the politician’s consent. Kaushik Basu, chief economist of the World Bank, recently reminded politicians that it’s in their interest to cultivate journalists who "are usually better at explaining ideas to the laity".Two issues are involved here, one institutional and the other personal. If there is an alignment, it should be a matter of record.Of course, given Indian conditions, no media institution can ever Shower panel factory be completely independent of government. I am told Jawaharlal Nehru looked for Mahesh Chandra, Statesman’s political correspondent, whenever he was setting out from his house. It seeks tangible reward for services rendered. The magic of familiarity with the great is even more potent here. Those two journalists were no exception. That didn’t prevent Mahesh from scooping everyone in 1959 with the news of General Thimayya’s resignation as Army Chief over differences with him. They should be in the parties they identify with. Paradoxically, outright critics like journalists who are committed Communists or dyed-in-the-wool Congressmen should be able to take that in their stride, although some might argue they shouldn’t be in journalism at all.

It may be professionally necessary to keep in touch with politicians. With the distinction between government and country increasingly blurred, I hope the allegation doesn’t invite a charge of sedition. I recall a senior member of the present Cabinet ambling on the lawns of a hotel during a private reception with two prominent Delhi journalists flanking him on either side like SPG guards.India wasn’t always like this. How can they express their honest support (if it is honest) without readers jumping to the conclusion they are angling for some prize that is in the government’s gift I am reminded again of the late Nikhil Chakravartty, founder-editor of Mainstream, declining a Padma Shri because accepting an official honour and still claiming to be an independent journalist would be like wearing a chastity belt in a brothel. But ours is also a society on the make. The only exception that can arguably be made is for a handful of commentators who write only opinion pieces, and even they should make their position clear and not pretend their brand of partisanship represents the ultimate in objectivity. Nehru couldn’t have been pleased. It would have been difficult to bring up decorations, diplomatic assignments, Rajya Sabha membership, inclusion in delegations going abroad, nomination to boards of directors and editorships since the principal speaker was an outstanding beneficiary of all the gifts authority can shower on an acquiescent journalist. Ian Stephens, a former editor of Statesman, balked at accepting the viceroy’s invitation to a private chat. Tom Wicker of the New York Times wrote that Henry Kissinger could most easily win over an American journalist by calling him by his first name. Recent reports about the Press Trust of India editorship confirm the government is equally guilty. It was conspicuous even in our durbari culture where sycophants and courtiers always surround people of position. But a dignified working partnership isn’t the same as bedding down.Attending a discussion on media freedom at the India International Centre some years ago, I thought it prudent to slip away when heads began to turn in my direction and my views were sought. The alternative isn’t an untenable adversarial hostility but what Ronald Reagan called the "friction of freedom". It is more mercenary than America’s. The problem here is not with pious principles (that everyone mouths) but with what some media magnates and employees do in practice.

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