‘Any code of conduct effective only if journalists conscientious’

Friday, December 3, 2010

NEW DELHI - With taped conversations of some well-known journalists with a corporate lobbyist having raised questions of ethics, sourcing of news and varied influences on the media, a panel of eminent media persons Friday said that any code of conduct will be effective only if scribes are conscientious as individuals.

Speaking at an interaction on the “Radia tapes and journalistic ethics” at the Press Club of India here, the panelists differed in their opinion on the journalistic breach committed by those journalists on the tape, but said the media must look inwards and put more searchlights on itself.

IBN editor-in-chief and Editors Guild of India president Rajdeep Sardesai said there was “worrying proximity” between corporates, politicians and journalists, but finally it came down to individual morality. “Each individual has to draw a Lakshman rekha (boundary)… it is clear that some journalists crossed the Lakshman rekha,” he said.

Contending the “rot starts at the top”, he said all editors must take a pledge. “Lets have a code of conduct for editors,” he said.

Responding to questions raised by journalists in the gathering, Sardesai said he was willing to disclose his assets and it was for other editors to do so.

“I think they should (declare assets). It should become part of code of conduct,” he said, adding that the “experience has been editors do not bite the bullet”.

On the issue of paid news, he said only a few editors had signed the document sent by the Editors Guild.

He indicated that the issue of code of conduct will be taken up at the annual meeting of the Editors Guild.

Sardesai said the media had done good work in exposing corruption in the past few months and the “trajectory of debate (after the tapes surfaced) was unfortunate”.

He said the two magazines Open and Outlook, which published excerpts from the tapes, should have given the people mentioned “the basic right to reply”.

Outlook editor-in-chief and the Editors Guild’s former president Vinod Mehta said there were no “complex issues” in conversations of journalists with the lobbyist. “I cant understand what is the complex issue. If she is a lobbyist, you have to be aware what she is trying to do. How much of what she is saying is part of her brief. You should listen, but it should not be part of the story you write.”

Noting that he was “quite unhappy” with what has happened, Mehta said he would welcome any further deliberations on the issue.

Senior journalist Mrinal Pande, who is chairperson of Prasar Bharati, said ownership pattern of the media had changed over the last 10 years with editors of several English dailies becoming owners and owners of several Hindi dailies becoming editors. “The lines of propriety have vanished. Media houses are becoming corporate houses,” she said.

Pande said that politicians were owners of TV channels in several states and legal minds should look into the ownership issues.

Senior journalist Kuldip Nayar, who also joined the panel later, said the “contract system (of employing journalists) had brought in all kinds of evils”.

He said journalists having idealism risk their jobs if they do not want to flinch from their positions. When you have to fight (you) may lose job. If the thing all the time is that the job must be safe, then (you are) not an independent journalist, he said.

G Files editor and Press Club of India president T.R. Ramachandran said the tapes episode had affected the trust quotient of journalists. “There have been debates on television if journalism has taken an unpalatable turn,” he said.

Financial Express columnist Sunil Jain said the media should be less sanctimonious as instances had come to light in the past of “journalists trying to be power brokers”.

He also suggested lobbying should be “codified”.

The initial remarks by panellists drew animated questions from the gathering with the interaction spilling beyond the stipulated two hours.

The interaction was organised by the Editors Guild of India along with the Press Association and the Press Club of India. The Indian Womens Press Corps was also associated with the event.

Filed under: Politics

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