Credibility is like virginity. It either exists or does not. Unfortunately, some top names in Indian journalism have lost their credibility. In the few cases that are in the public domain, they have been found lobbying for the scam-ridden A. Raja. Transcripts of tapped telephone talks by the income-tax department have revealed the manner in which these journalists were throwing their weight around, trying to get the "right" minister from the "right" party. They behaved like powerbrokers and crossed the Lakshmanrekha between legitimate news gathering and lobbying. It is like the fence eating the crop.
How they will extricate themselves from the mire is difficult to say. The sad part is that they have brought a bad name to the profession. Politicians are jubilant because they can now say, "Physician, heal thyself." The media has the duty to inform the public without fear or favour in a free society. At times this can be an unpleasant job, but it has to be performed because free society is founded on free information. With what face can the profession point a finger at those who are found wanting in integrity?
The mystique of journalism has been decreasing over a period of time. And now media has been reduced to tittle-tattle. Newspapers copy TV channels in sensationalism and the latter, in turn, copy newspapers in pontificating.
True, politicians tend to use us. They have their own interests to serve. But then we play into their hands for the vicarious satisfaction of being close to ministers or party leaders. When we slant the news and accept money or favours for putting across a particular point of view, we are not truthful and fall from professional standards expected in a democratic structure. Why is the press called the Fourth Estate? It is because it is one of the pillars on which the democratic edifice rests.
Has India become a banana republic run by and for opportunists who will stop at nothing to line their own pockets or wield influence?
Where has idealism gone?
Once the profession attracted the best and the brightest. They wanted to combat parochialism, archaic ideas, bullying by powerbrokers and anything that could be construed as threatening to the common man.
Take the newspapers and TV channels of today. They avoid debates on issues. They present a point of view of their own or of vested interests. They deny a voice to those who do not tally with their bias or prejudice. In fact they are undemocratic species talking in the name of democracy. What kind of a country do they want? On what are their sights set?
I feel disappointed when I see the attitude of journalists who know that low integrity is a problem, but prefer to sweep the issue under the carpet. In the telecommunications case, they have been willing partners or fixers.
I know of a senior journalist who has become a member of a government-appointed commission. He is happy to occupy both positions. Technically he may be right, but the question is not legal. It's moral. His name will also come out one of these days as have the names of the others in the transcripts of the tapped chats.