‘Hooting’ about the media with Sevanti Ninan4 min read
Manipal: She comes across as an astute conversationalist valuing every word she speaks. With her name being synonymous to the bastions of credible journalism in the country; her contributions to ‘The Hindu’ editorials seems colossal.
Sevanti Ninan is not just full of unbiased opinions on the media, but also aims to revive ethics in journalism through her website, TheHoot.org. The Delhi-based writer/critic visited the student township to conduct a workshop at the Manipal Institute of Communication’s media fest Article-19.
TMJ caught up with her before her insightful workshop on ‘Media Matters’. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
The Constitution of India terms the media as the fourth estate of democracy. Do you think the statement holds any relevance to present times?
If one looks at the three estates of democracy (i.e. the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary), we see what probably remains left out is, ‘accountability’. Looking at what the other three pillars do, somebody has to make the effort for accountability. That has to come from the press of course. It is as relevant today as it was before.
Today, accountability seems to be the problem with media houses, with the concept of ‘paid news’ sprouting on the scene. Do you think paid news can be eradicated in a country like India?
Paid News has always been present since the early 2000’s but has become an issue of concern recently. It will always be there because it’s a fundamental issue which isn’t addressed. However, I believe the climate is created now and the pressure against it is already building up. In current times it is peer pressure in a way, between different publications.
If you notice, both the Election Commission as well as the Press Council of India (PCI) are creating a fair amount of pressure on the concept of ‘paid journalism’. One such example is the last round of elections in Gujarat where the PCI picked up information from the Election Commission on the cases and complaints filed against paid news.
How do you think ‘media trials’ showcase issues to individuals reading about them?
There used to be a fairly stringent ban on this because the media is not supposed to influence the judge’s mind. But times have changed now; we have broadcast channels running shows 24*7. Obviously, one would require content to fill up these slots. Hence, the correspondents try to do the police’s job by running their own parallel investigation. It becomes worse when individuals pass comments and judgement in live studio discussions on the situation. Media trials do exist but I don’t think they are desirable.
Speaking of ‘media trials’, even though Naveen Soorinje was jailed for over three months, there wasn’t much buzz created by the media. Do you see the media fighting for their own here?
In this case, the media certainly is not ‘fighting for their own’. Personally, I think it’s very selective. It may have made news here, it may have made news a couple of times in The Hindu, but it hasn’t been taken up by the national press. The case definitely has been brawled at an individual level, and that is not enough. It is sad to see how the media reports issues like the Palghar girls case, where the police lands up at someone’s door because of the comments made on Facebook, and overlooks bigger issues like these.
During raging issues, we see the presence of Twitter ‘hash-tags’ on news channels. How big a role do you think ‘Twitter journalism’ plays in the country?
Well first of all, I think tweets do not count as journalism. Besides, it has made PR much easier for famed personas. You don’t rely on an agency, you do your own publicity. Also, all these guys who have learnt to tweet (politicians or actors), they’re doing it because it’s a source of publicity, and they want to get written about, instantly. That is not journalism.
When you stopped writing for The Hindu, one of your editorials wasn’t published. What do you think wasn’t apt enough to publish, in your content?
There were specific columns every now and then that they wouldn’t publish. One was when the Radia tapes happened. Nobody at The Hindu explained to me what it was that they couldn’t publish. There was never any talk; I was just told that the editor will not carry this. I clarified the matter (in question) on News Laundry, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu happened to say something else. I mean, I’ve been writing for 20 years and you didn’t have time to read it, that’s a bit thick.
Sub-edited by Tarush Bhalla