The Indian Express published a news item yesterday (9 May 2016) on its front page with the title “MP list for 2012-15 shows dodgy websites run by journalists got Rs 14 crore in govt ads” by Shyamlal Yadav. This piece obviously points to a shoddy attempt by an award winning journalist to sensationalise a serious issue without backing it with solid investigation that would have helped him to zoom in and present a comprehensive list of all those websites that were really “dodgy.
By painting everyone with the same brush the Indian Express news reports (actually there are two pieces with the same byline published by Indian Express on 9 May 2016) have been done obviously with the purpose of damaging the credibility of online media in Madhya Pradesh and the real journalists associated. It is well known that launching a new website is not as costly a proposition as starting or running a news paper, magazine or a TV news channel. Obviously therefore some opportunist and undeserving elements are always there to jump on the bandwagon and overnight transform themselves into “journalists” and extract their piece of the cake which in this case is the Government ad revenue. Such crass opportunism can be seen in all walks of life and the field of journalism is no exception.
As one started reading the Indian Express “investigative” report, one expected a big expose on the fly-by-night operators and non-journalists, including those who were close to the powers that be or were relatives of government servants or were retired government officers, who had floated news portals and were receiving government ads even though their websites had nothing to write home about when it came to serious journalism.
It would not have been difficult for any journalist to sift the wheat from the chaff and identify the lot that was having zero standing in the world of journalism but was still raking in ad revenue from the government. One doesn’t need a magnifying glass to point out that the Indian Express was not expected to do such a sweeping report and call it investigative. One cannot ignore the fact that this report is based entirely on a list prepared by the State Government in response to a query by Congress MLA Bala Bachchan. It has been over six months now that this list is in the public domain.
The Indian Express talks of “dodgy websites”. The report by Yadav is in two parts running through three pages. He has cited less than 3 dozen examples or quotes by journalists to draw conclusions about 234 websites. His tailpiece linked with the page 1 news item which appears on page 11 of Indian Express (9 May 2016) with the heading “No more ads, “genuine site”, and “no comments” along with the tagline “How journalists who got ads responded”, paints everyone with the same brush.
Yadav, whose report has been described as “an investigation” by The Indian Express, begins the tailpiece by stating “Several websites based in Madhya Pradesh linked to current or former journalists got advertisements worth over Rs. 7 lakh or more from the State Government during the period 2012-15. The least expected of a senior editor of The Indian Express is that he should know the difference between a journalist on the one side and a retired or a former journalist on the other. He refers to a couple of journalists running news portals as retired or former journalists. This only raises a question mark on his competence and comprehension of the word journalist. Had he taken time off his busy schedule as an investigative journalist and read the definition of the word journalist by Merriam Webster which describes a journalist as “a person engaged in journalism; especially a writer or editor for a news medium or a writer who aims at a mass audience”, he would, not have committed the blunder of calling a renowned journalist like Lalit Shastri, Editor-in-Chief of newsroom24x7.com as a “retired journalist”. Perhaps Yadav wrote what he wrote on the basis of what he was told by Arun Kumar Bhandari, who has been quoted as saying: “we are a group of retired journalists….” It is needless to say, Bhandari’s description of himself cannot be superimposed for every one else, especially journalists who are respected for their credibility, contribution and commitment to journalism.
The “examples” of websites given by Indian Express yesterday on page 11 under the tagline “How journalists who got ads responded” is a gross misrepresentation of fact. It is the websites that have received ads from the government and not the journalists. Nothing can be more shoddy than clubbing all the websites together under the same bracket as “examples” to support the story on dodgy websites.
Citing newsroom24x7.com, and a highly respected journalist like Rajkumar Keswani, the award winning journalist who is known for his forecast and trailblazing coverage of the Union Carbide gas disaster and Rajendra Dhanotia, whose website raajkaaj.com is very popular for its coverage of news relating to the bureaucracy in Madhya Pradesh, as examples along with a few websites that could be called dodgy is shoddy reporting.
The problem gets magnified as a result of such misplaced reports, especially when an award winning journalist flashes it on a social networking site and the gullible pick the printed word and just take off.