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Home page > English > Opinion > BOOK REVIEW

The Rape of News? The Ethics (or the Lack of it) of Selling Editorial Space

Edited by Sunil Poolani

Published by Frog Books (www.frogbooks.net), Mumbai, India

Pages: 60; Price: Rs 60

 Considering that most Indian newspapers and journalists remain comfortably ensconced in glass houses, hard rocks in the guise of media correspondents are religiously grouted to terra firma.

But for the occasional catfight that tosses up dirt on the news pages, scrutiny of Indian media is strictly confined to the tribe within press clubs and the rarefied climes of journalism schools. In a country where 14.2 crore copies of daily newspapers were sold in 2002-03, readers continue to remain clueless to even major transgressions of ethics by those who purportedly educate them every morning.

The Rape of News…, a slim anthology of comments by eleven contributing journalists, is therefore refreshingly different despite the authors mostly confining themselves to one newspaper — The Times of India.

The country’s largest-selling English daily clocking around 14 lakh copies daily is on the rack for plugging paid advertising copy as news. At the risk of sounding repetitive, much of the commentary in this volume castigates the ToI for its ‘Medianet’ initiative. Advertisers reportedly pay a fixed price to ‘Medianet’ executives to carry interviews and puff pieces on themselves in the form of news. Only the reader is left in the dark since s/he is unable to distinguish between genuine news and an ‘edvertorial’.

While all the contributors rightly mourn the disappearance of the Chinese Wall between editorial and advertising, a few like media critic Sevanti Ninan and social commentator Dilip D’Souza attempt to trace the ascendancy of the suits in the newsroom. Ninan even gloomily forecasts that most of India’s newspapers would take after the Times. “That is the problem with all Times innovations. They may stretch the norm when they surface. But sooner or later their practices start becoming the norm.”

A major shortcoming of the book, though, is the omission of even a passing mention of the developments in Indian language newspapers. For instance, Gujarat’s biggest regional newspapers, Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, exposed their flanks to Divya Bhaskar, a competitor from Uttar Pradesh, by compromising on their credibility. Only one contributor, Meher Pestonji, exhorts readers to ‘switch to honest newspapers’. She would have packed more punch if only she had attempted to offer solutions to the problem of advertising masquerading as news.

Considering that it is still a tiny operation, the publisher may be excused for not delving deeper into the crisis of credibility afflicting the media. Such an effort would have taxed the investigative skills of any journalist. Still, one cannot understand why no attempts were made to get an executive from the Times to comment on ‘Medianet’ on record. That would have surely have rounded off this brave venture.

 (Shiv Kumar is a senior journalist and presently works with The Tribune in Mumbai)

For copies of the book editor@zzebra.net

Home page > English > Opinion > BOOK REVIEW

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