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The (dis)grace of being a business journalist.

I chose to write this piece with a sign of care and responsibility for the profession which I chose. This is my first job (in the media industry) and I happen to have had a great learning within a month. But I wonder if this learning would pull me out of the profession.

Anyways, I am willing to wait no more and it’s high time that my boiling blood has to calm down. So, I am willing to take risk.

Gifts received in kind over a period of 1 month (Click on the image to enlarge)

Who says you don’t get perks being a journalist? Think again, within a month of me joining a business daily I have received Rs. 6,560* worth of gifts including lunch hosted at 5 star hotels.

It’s exactly a month since I joined a leading business newspaper and I find myself being a victim to the ‘paid news’. Yes, it so happens in a real corporatized media world. This comes at an off-peak season where there are no Diwali, New Year and quarterly results around. Perhaps, the perks might definitely increase during those periods. So yearly, a business journalist can get over Rs 78,000 as uninformed incentive.

I had no interest in business news but the growing scandals among the large corporate grabbed me in.

Maybe I am as guilty as most for receiving the favor, but it’s the dirty little secret that I want the world to know.

Gone are the days where a journalist went as a scribe to report stories. Now it all comes as a package deal making life easier for the journalists. I thought being a reporter was a field job, but it’s a myth. I work in an air-conditioned environment waiting for PRs to send me invites and do a bit of research or Google to go prepared for the event. Then it so happens that I get to go for an event hosted at 5 star hotels.

Like my other media friends, I too was curios to search what’s inside the bag which they offer to every journalist. It was later I realized, I was curious for the press release which is enclosed in a file inside the beautiful carry case while others were curious for the goodies which was inside.

Initially I thought its ok to receive stationery (notepad, pen and pencil). But as days passed by, I started receiving calendar, coffee mug and parker pens. I thought this might be the corporate culture and still ok. It was followed with 2 GB pendrive, T-shirt and leather wallets in the next few days.

These are not coming from unknown persons. These are given by same PRs who call you for press conferences in the same 5 star hotels but for different clients of theirs.

Of course, the public relations consultants are assigned the job of arranging press conferences for corporate houses and their success are gauged by the attendance they are able to guarantee. This middlemen business of PRs draws attention of freebies for journalist. Not all corporate indulge in such practice. It might generally be acceptable to have lunch or dinner if that is part of a group press event but when clubbed with gifts will definitely lead to a bias or distortion.

Business journalists later produce news which caters to the readers who can pay double the price compared to the price of other newspapers and who probably are sitting in an AC chamber like me and sipping Caffe Mocha or Caffe Latte looking over the stocks of the companies which they have invested in. Surprisingly, the reporter also get ‘thank you’ message/call from PR or the company after the article gets published. They totally ignore to accept the fact that a journalist has just done his job but instead, treat it as though he had rendered a service to them.

Individual journalists can refuse bribes, so could I have, but I couldn’t have revealed this grimy practice if had stopped receiving on day one. As Paranjoy Guha Thakurta says “There are dogs and dogs. Apart from watchdogs and lapdogs, the media also has intelligent guide dogs and sniffer dogs.” So, there are good journalists and bad journalists and we journalists certainly need to be in touch with PR professionals and be objective.

But isn’t it a paid news? Nobody can deny it. The Press Council of India defines ‘Paid news’ as ‘news appearing in the media for cash or kind — appearing as news and not as an advertisement’. Magsaysay Award winner for journalism, P Sainath had said that Media and journalists are different. “Media is business, journalism is not,” he had quoted.

As one of my friend suggested I can give away the T-shirts and stationery as charity. But what about the pendrive and leather wallet? If I give those and call it a charity people will laugh. Isn’t charity meant to be for a person who is in need? Of course pendrive and leather wallet cannot be a need for someone. I would rather return it to the company/PR with a note and vow not to take anymore.

I have nothing against business journalism, but for how long can this continue and where do we go from here? Where is the limit?

“That is how things have always been” cannot be the answer for the young generation journalists. This is something serious and the manner in which many business journalists operate brings disrepute to all journalists. This is not to condone those who accept gifts but remember, with this act begins the process of corruption.

The cliché of journalism is evading, the environment in the newsroom is changing and the mechanics of operating a press is shifting.

Of all the money which the corporate have spent so far, they could have easily donated money for ‘video conferencing’ facility at the Press club, where invites can be sent to most journalists. It’s not late either. They can conduct future press conferences without any hassle and without having to meet in 5 star hotels and giving gifts; they still can convey the information over video conference and take back questions.

…………………………………………………

*Amount in rupees (calculated based on market price)

Corporate buffet lunch (1,100+taxes12.5%) x 4 times = 4,950.

Leather wallet- 600.

2 GB pendrive- 350.

Note pads-100.

Parker pen- 100.

Other stationery- 100.

T shirt- 300.

Coffee mug-60.

Total worth=Rs 6,560

……………………………………………………………………………………

I can’t claim I haven’t produced any news for such corporate but from now on, I decide not to receive any gifts in cash or kind and decide not to have cosy 5 star lunch hosted for the journalists.

“The views expressed herein are the author’s own, and do not reflect the opinions of the newspaper where he works in any way.”

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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Media

 

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