Journalists debate role of media

Special Correspondent

New Delhi: Corruption-free governance is a basic human right and the media has a big role to play in helping citizens enforce this right, Justice J.S. Verma said on Saturday. Delivering the inaugural address at an international conference on media and governance, the former Chief Justice of India said that the "seven principles" of conduct enumerated by the Lord Nolan committee in England were applicable to anyone in public life "whether they belong to the First, Second, Third or Fourth Estate."

These principles were selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership. The conference was organised jointly by the International Communications Forum, the IC Centre for Governance and the India International Centre.

In his introductory remarks, Bernard Margueritte of the ICF noted the importance of the media developing and enforcing a code of ethical conduct. In the session on the role of the media as "problem makers or problem solvers," Magnus Linklater of The Times, London, spoke about the pressures journalists and editors were always subjected to by proprietors. "A businessman who buys a newspaper does so because he thinks he can use the newspaper to further his own personal interests," he pointed out. Recalling Robert Maxwell, the late proprietor of the Mirror group, famously declaring, "You editors are an inconvenience," Mr. Linklater said, "Editors should continue to be as inconvenient as we can be."

H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune, lamented the excessive influence of the corporate sector on the media and said that issues of concern for millions of ordinary Indians were routinely blanked out of the media.

In his remarks, Siddharth Varadarajan, Associate Editor, The Hindu , said the media's ability to be "problem solver" depended on the critical distance it was able to keep from both market and government. Pointing to the U.S. media's role in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Mr. Varadarajan said the same mistakes were now being committed on the issue of Iran.

"Under no circumstances should journalists become instruments for the instigation or continuation of violence and war," he said.

Amit Sengupta, senior journalist and former Edit Page Editor of Hindustan Times, criticised the "dumbing down" of news and the obsession with celebrities and rituals. "Our channels and newspapers have endlessly covered Amitabh Bachchan dragging Aishwarya Rai from temple to temple just because she is a `mangalik'," he said. But burning issues like the suicide of farmers received hardly any attention.

Among the other Editors who took part in the conference were Sanjoy Hazarika, Tarun Basu of IANS, Jerzy Klosinksi of the Tyogdnik Solidarnosc, Harivansh of Prabhat Khabar, Ajit Bhattacharjee, Mrinal Pande of Hindustan and Sumit Chakravarty of Mainstream.