Chit Funds, Journalism and ethics from the grave – Chawm Ganguly

chawmThe channels are spitting venom, castigating the ruling party, their predecessors (the present opposition) and the powers that be in the center – depending upon who is wearing which stilt – and the public is drinking the details of debauchery to the last lees. Then the tastefully groomed anchors ask you to stay on and witness the opening of the vitriol cans of Ponzy worms on the other side of the commercial break.

But what is this? The breaks are nothing more than a series of advertisements extolling the virtues of the same chit funds that the shows are supposedly condemning? Promises that cannot be fulfilled on the face of it, pictures of achievements that are not worth the paper they are written on, montages of yarns that don’t even have a yawn of reality? On your face fleeces that are taking the public for a ride, straddling the prime time, even as the mannequins in artificial coiffure seek to joust public opinion between their boasts and claims!

Isn’t this hypocrisy in Capital letters? I asked. “Certainly not, cried out the channel walla’s in unison. How are we supposed to judge the veracity of the advertisers? It is not for us to know the antecedents of the owners of every commercial that we air? Besides, we are not even equipped to investigate – rush into areas where even the police fear to tread, such complex is the maze of cross holdings. If SEBI cannot see it, if the department of serious fraud is silent, if the state governments are in the dark and when important functionaries cutting across political lines are seen to openly patronizing select entities, why should cash-starved television channels throw away their victual?”

Good argument. Taking it further, if tomorrow an entity from a hostile neighbour buys commercial time, will we use the same logic of being hungry to sell out? With our souls mortgaged to the self seekers advertising their designs of grand deception, aren’t our fleshes getting weak, despite all the hyperbole? Besides, are we not the same “fearless scribes” who unleash one string operation after the other? If we are, who we are, have we ever “exposed” any of our advertisers, even by mistake? Points to ponder? Hardly!

We are journalists, bad mouthing everyone, yet, when members of our tribe take obscene amounts from entities that are dubious “ab-initio” we do not raise eyebrows, except in envy. When people of our ilk, enjoy the trappings of political patronage, conveniently overlooking concepts of “office of profit” we remain silent – hoping against hope that we too will be made members of the coterie. When members of our brethren, stop being wielders of the written word and reinvent themselves as brokers (power, financial, political et all) we jump in glee – secure in the knowledge that we too will tread the path to prosperity and Policy making. When our brothers spit and shine the boots that adorn the feet of their political masters we fill our hearts with pride – thinking that we are the ones scripting the political agenda.

But where does sycophancy end and ethicality begin? Is an honest journalist an oxymoron? Ill paid with impossible working hours and hardly with any trappings of trade, there were our predecessors – cornucopias of knowledge that kept a generation glued to the written word. They did not hanker for corner offices as CEO’s of chit fund financed toilet paper which were (are?) self proclaimed vanguards of particular political parties. They did not hob-nob with pygmies harboring the mistaken belief of being political stalwarts. They did not act as spokespersons of dirty monies or even dirtier men who control these businesses. They did not need swank cars to commute or expensive watches to be punctual. They were parts of institutions that have tested time. They were the inspirations that attracted youngsters like us into journalism in the first place. They taught us to be frugal with words and in life – they taught us how to be upright, ethical and stand by the facts even on the face of the strictest adversity – not to bend them like Beckham and score “own” goals.

Sarada may have folded up. Many more may be on the way, but the fact remains – if we journalists do not learn our lessons, if we refuse to comprehend the writing on the wall – our descent into bankruptcy (moral and otherwise) cannot be stalled. Let us take our lessons – treat the black sheep with the contempt that they deserve and work towards reclaiming the halo that journalists had, their empty pockets notwithstanding!