Junkyard Journalism

You can put it down to my natural curiosity or you can attribute it to the trained inquisitiveness of the journalist in me, but the fact is the moment I came across the news item ‘Zee News has been hoisted by its own petard in a reverse sting operation by the Jindals’, many intriguing questions came surging into my mind, one of which, of course, is: What the heck is this ‘petard’?

I have never seen this ‘petard’ alone. Whenever I come across it, it is always hoist on itself, as if it were attempting some kinky stuff mentioned in an Indian treatise.

But for the time being we will continue with the Jindals. As a journalist, I must confess that it hurts me that there are some news people out there greedily and shamelessly haggling for Rs.100 crore in a noble calling known for hardworking and sincere professionals who will gratefully accept the Rs. 25 crore that the Jindals were apparently ready to offer in the first place.

And just in case, if the Jindals are reading this, let me say this to them: I am ready to withdraw this piece (you will come across a sensational revelation that has the potential to put you out of business) for a consideration that we can honourably and honestly work it out in a non-sting, no-crowd atmosphere, like the theatre that screened Ra.One.

Anyway, before you smarty pants get all snooty about Indian journalism and journalists and start hurling at us uneasy queries, remember we as a tribe had refrained from throwing many questions for the sole cause of the nation.

Let me illustrate with some examples here:

India gets Independence; Nehru makes historical speech

At the stroke of midnight last, India was formally unshackled from the yoke of British, a fact that beautifully came through in the brilliant ‘tryst with the destiny’ speech that Jawaharlal Nehru made in his usual lyrical English.

While celebrating the momentous occasion, some journalists could as well have pointed out:  ‘Guys, hang on for a minute or two. Are we missing something here? We mean, the English have just been thrown out, and here we are celebrating it with a speech in English. Mr Nehru, without putting too fine a point on it, are you making this speech to the nation, or are you just showing off to Edwina? Yes, the nation wants to know.’

No, we didn’t throw any such spanner in the wheel  then.

Nor in the ‘70s when this happened:

PM appeals to farmers to increase rice output

Prime Minister Morarji Desai today made a clarion call to the farmers of the country to increase the agricultural produce.

The Prime Minister also made a fervent plea to the ryots, most of who are totally illiterate, to make use of modern farming methods and understand the benefits of fertilizers.

Journalists should have actually paused at that point, dropped their pens, and asked: Hey, if the farmers are all illiterate, to whom am I writing this appeal?

But since we were focussed solely on nation-building, we chose to ignore common sense and filed dense reports so boring that even the non-farming community was forced to take up agriculture. This is how the green revolution came about.

In the 80s, we came to the aid of the nation in a bigger and better manner.

Rajiv Gandhi pledges $ 5 million to famine-ravaged Burkina Faso

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi today arrived at Burkina Faso’s capital for a brief stopover and offered $ 5 million in aid to the famine-infested country.

Rajiv Gandhi halted here, on his way to Mexico, after his sojourn at Washington where he had several meetings with the IMF officials with whom he made a strong pitch for a loan of $ 50 million to the perennially drought-hit States of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, India.

Again, the obvious question that begged to be asked was —  yes, you are right — Why is the Prime Minister flying from Washington to Mexico via Burkina Faso?  It seems Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister has more flying hours than when he was a actual pilot?

But we kept quiet because one of the first principles of journalism, which is resonantly valid even today, is: Always be nice and toady when you are part of a free junket.

I can go on and on here about the countless sacrifices that we journalists have made from time to time and let you people feel smug and superior. But I have the urgent task of pointing out here that the Jindals have made a huge mistake by choosing to target the news people.

We journalists may, on the face of it, look disparate and disjointed. But when the occasion demands, we can be counted to come together and hit back.  I use this column to appeal to my fellow journalists that we must hit Mr Jindal where it hurts the most: Yes, we must start producing steel. Which, when you consider the state of journalism all over, also seems a better career option.

But if the Jindals are still bent on continuing their exposes, I must say that the need of the hour is a daring sting operation to find out how on earth to hoist a petard on itself.