I get numerous feeds on the brand of journalism today’s editors are known for. Some even question the role of the editors from furthering public interest to serving private interest.
“Aren’t the business houses the real owners of the media? … … Haven’t some newspaper owners become Members of Parliament?” These questions are prominently put to me, which I find difficult to counter.
It is not a secret that there are businessmen who themselves have become editors? And having become such, they do not bother for anything. Why would they? They too have right to enjoy ‘freedom of expression’! And they are enjoying ‘freedom of expression’ very well, sometimes at the cost of hardcore journalists.
Commenting more on this would dishearten you and dispel all kinds of illusions regarding media. However, one thing is clear – today’s editors enjoy freedom only at the pleasure of their owners.
A typical case in example is M J Akbar, fondly known among his friends and colleagues as MJ.
MJ, a veteran journalist, editor, columnist and author was recently eased out of Deccan Chronicle / The Asian Age newspapers. There, he was Editor-in-Chief until he was overtaken by a flurry of messages on his Blackberry asking him to check his newspaper’s masthead: his name had gone missing overnight, replaced with that of T. Venkatt Ram Reddy, the publisher.
Indeed, things could not go well between MJ and his Chairman T Venkattram Reddy and his name went missing from the newspapers’ March 2, 2008 printline. But, MJ’s exit has a lot to do with the Congress party which wanted him out of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.
This is what MJ wrote in his farewell note to colleagues: “For reasons that need not detain us, I must say farewell. I was under the impression that I might have been able to do so with more grace; I did want to travel to all the offices and spend a convivial evening with everyone; and in Delhi I did want to call everyone over. But, judging from this morning’s edition ( March 2, 2008 ) of our paper, it seems I might have already overstayed my welcome. You have all been family. Many of you were young men and women when we began this long, difficult journey together, a journey during which we gave so much blood and sweat, during which we often faced hopelessness and never surrendered to despair. Now you are 10 and 15 years older….
“Take care, God bless and remember that what we achieved together made media history. I began working in the South when our circulation was perhaps 60,000 copies; and then we created a new template with the Asian Age. Today, we have a combined circulation of over a million copies, according to ABC. This is a triumph for our family of journalists. We may not have been the biggest, but we held our head high because there was one non-negotiable asset in our family: we could not be bought. We were independent. We were free. We held our head high. Never let your head stoop, not as long as you are a journalist. As ever, MJ”
Later, when Khaleej Times asked MJ if he now joins a list of illustrious editors shown the door rather unceremoniously, he quipped: “I have always wondered what a ‘ceremonious’ exit is like!”
The long list of fine editors who have been unceremoniously shown the door by publishers includes Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar and Vinod Mehta.
Now MJ is understood to have floated his own company MJP Media which is launching a political fortnightly ‘COVERT’.
Well, MJ always stood for investigative journalism. And I expect him to use his new venture as a weapon to expose the murky side of our media as well. Do it first MJ. And do it fast.
And remember. Do not get so close to any political party or a politician as you were to Rajiv Gandhi, who got you elected to Lok Sabha. Now, even as an owner of a publication, be a journalist first. Good Luck.