Reporting in the times of Ramdev
Just like the government sets up GoMs (mostly headed by Pranab Mukherjee), recently a bunch of neither-here-nor -there journos got together to form a Group of Correspondents (GoC).
AJITH PILLAI lets his imagination run
Thursday, Jun 07 23:59:44, 2012
Dipped in Witriol
Just like the government sets up GoMs (mostly headed by Pranab Mukherjee), recently a bunch of neither-here-nor -there journos got together to form a Group of Correspondents (GoC). Their agenda: assess the challenges involved in reporting in the times of anti-corruption crusaders like Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare. The GoC met at a South Delhi pub this Tuesday. And, this is strictly off the record, the venue was chosen at the insistence of a senior journalist from a newspaper which stands for journalism for change who declared that “everyone loves a good draught.” The gentlemen in question, known for his wisecracks, is a man of many parts, including some spare ones, one of which can make small cars hum Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor when idling at traffic signals. Yes, the very tune that is the core melody of Lata Mangeshkar’s song “Itanna Naa Mujse Too Pyar Badhaa ke Main Aik Baadai Awaara” from the hit film Chaiyya. Anyway, that apart, once directions were detailed in an e-mail to all concerned the greatest meeting of minds outside of the Press Club was all set to happen.
So, over several pitchers (of content), many issues were discussed. But before that some of those present wanted to recite poems. A dusky reporter from a Chennai newspaper subjected the audience to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138 which begins “When my love swears that she is made of truth/ I do believe her (though I know she lies)…” Not to be outdone a Bengali journalist recited Tagore’s “Where The Mind Is Without Fear” although he added “and favour” to the original. And to top it all someone tried to sing Akon’s “Wanna Be Your Chammak Challo”. However, he was shouted out and the meeting was called to order. What ensued was a spirited discussion inspired by the fact that the pub manager announced a “buy one get one free” scheme as his contribution to this great media exercise. Here then is the rough draft (!) of what was discussed:
- Rubbing Ramdev and Anna the wrong way is risk prone since the anti-corruption crusaders believe that the nation and all those who oppose them are corrupt. So, as journalists we may also have accusations flung at us. A young eager beaver reporter who covers the home ministry put it nicely in a nutshell: “It is not beyond Team Anna to allege that we have acquired news beyond our known sources in the ministries and political parties. We could also be charged with stashing away (black) news in secret vaults in Switzerland or the Channel Islands.” He recounted how a mason in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra (that’s where Anna Hazarae’s village, Ralegan Siddhi, is located) was almost arrested because he was said to be in possession of bricks. Bricks he indeed had, it was later discovered, made from mother earth to fill some gaps in the wall of his house and not from the yellow metal as alleged by some of Anna’s supporters.
- Another reporter who covers the Ramdev beat pointed out that the yoga guru might even claim that if all the unaccounted news is brought back it would be enough to start 100,000 newspapers and magazines, profits from which could help set up thousands of yoga camps to straighten homosexuals, hospitals to treat the poor to ayurvedic pizzas and bring down petrol prices by 40 per cent by asking people to push their cars.
- Well, to cut a long discussion short, after considering several views on the subject the meeting decided that while reporting on the anti-corruption crusade it is advisable to adopt the ‘muddle’ path. This was endorsed by a senior journalist who follows the PMO, even when it goes for a walk in Lodhi Gardens or ventures to eat Paani Puri at Bengali Market. “Why rub the establishment the wrong way when there are enough mantris in the cabinet doing just that,” he concluded while gulping down his chai (he happens to be a tea-totaller).
- The question of whether the PM is corrupt was addressed at length. One member of the GoC suggested that it could be resolved easily by tossing a coin. His rationale: if in cricket (a national religion), the team that bats first and which has to go out and field is decided by a toss so could the PM’s innocence or guilt. So a five rupee coin was sent soaring into the air (luckily it was halted each time by gravitational forces and brought down) ten times. The result was 50-50. So Dr Manmohan Singh was neither guilty nor was he innocent. Another case of much can be said on both sides.
- However, it was decided that smart lines which mean nothing like “the hand that rocks the cradle won’t sink the boat” (with reference to Sonia’s position on Manmohan Singh as PM vis-à-vis Rahul Gandhi) could be used in think pieces in magazines and op-ed pieces. So also one could ask 25 questions to the PM about various things of national interest, including why he doesn’t pose 25 queries to Sonia Gandhi on why she doesn’t ask 25 questions to Digvijay Singh on why he’s not asked 25 questions to Nitin Gadkari/ Prakash Karat as to why they haven’t drawn a graphic on media organisations which pay poor salaries and simultaneously put 25 questions to editors/owners on this issue and why god has gifted Ramdev with thousands of acres.
- Interestingly, the issue of whether Sonia Gandhi/ L.K. Advani/ Narendra Modi/ Sharad Pawar are guilty of amassing black money was also put to the toss test. While the first three shared Manmohan Singh’s fate, Sharad Pawar came through as not guilty (seven out of ten). Was this because he had endorsed Ramdev’s anti-corruption campaign?
- It was unanimously pointed out that what is taught in journalism school-- when dog bites man it doesn’t make news but when man bites dog it does-- should apply to reportage of events like BJP President Nitin Gadkari touching Baba Ramdev’s feet. If the latter had done the humbling act it surely merited considerable attention. It was emphasized to those who did not get the drift, because of too much draught, that the saffron party’s prez is known for being servile and the ‘fast’ track Baba had floored him with the observation (not his original) that even a balanced diet requires food.
Finally, the meeting was called off after all the beer was topped with a shot of whisky (described by many as the news peg!). But before leaving, the honourable members of the GoC were reminded that journalists must have fun and when news is influenced by the owners, editors and the folks in marketing, it is best to take no position “since one’s position could be in jeopardy.”
(The meeting was sponsored by Champions of Journalism and an organization which calls itself The KINK -- Known Information, New Information -- of Good Times.)
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