GUWAHATI, India, 30 March 2019
“Journalism is a service to society and the nation. Anyone wanting only to make money should not be in the profession. Only those who have the flair, the passion, and the right attributes should enter, for only such people can take on the challenges and survive in the long run,” said Sashi Nair, director of the Press Institute of India, and editor of its journals Vidura and Grassroots, while addressing the Guwahati-based scribes recently.
Stressing the watchdog role of Press Council of India to ensure ethics and quality in news presentation, Nair agreed that the PCI’s ambit could be expanded to include electronic and online or social media as well, because print and digital were two parts of one whole entity. With National Press Day lending a special significance to the programme, Nair elaborated through video conferencing from Chennai:
“India still remains a country of newspapers. Most Indians continue to trust newspapers as conveyors of factual information,” said Nair, pointing out that the circulation of newspapers in India is healthy compared to downward trends in other parts of the world, and that this is a good sign. He agreed the reading habit has flourished in rural India where people are often seen gathered around one newspaper and sharing information.
On the question of whether today’s editors retain the influence of the ones of earlier generations, Nair felt that today’s editors of newspapers are no longer the giant-like figures of the past. This is a reflection of the changing times, and things, in any case, are never the same after the invisible wall between editorial and advertising crumbled several years ago, he said.
One of the main challenges for journalists in the days ahead would be tackling fake news or misinformation, Nair pointed out. Listing various examples, he said there was no solution yet in sight to tackle the malaise, and the onus is on editors and journalists to double-check at every stage.
Nair spoke about the hardships journalists in India today face, especially if they are investigative journalists. He said India ranked low on the Press Freedom Index (complied and published by Reporters Without Borders, journalists often face threats and intimidation, and killings of journalists (Gauri Lankesh, Shujaat Bhukari, Santanu Bhowmick, Sudip Datta Bhaumik and others) have cast a dark shadow on the profession. It is not right that this should happen in the largest democracy in the world, he said, adding that journalists must be allowed to function freely and be protected.
When asked about the woeful coverage of subjects such as health and agriculture by newspapers, Nair said it is indeed true save for a few newspapers; a lot more attention is being paid towards politics and entertainment than hard issues that concern the common person.
To a question relating to some publications inflating circulation figures to attract government advertisements, Nair said that publishers of repute would not resort to such a practice and that such instances must be reported. He was all for transparency within the media and for news publishing houses publishing their accounting figures yearly. When editors and journalists report on the need for transparency and want individuals and companies to adhere, they should lead by example, he said.
Nair said news publishing houses and their managements must pay their journalists reasonably well and provide them the necessary facilities to function. For, after all, the financial and social security of journalists mattered a lot.
About the author
Nava Thakuria is a journalist and media commentator based in Guwahati, northeast India. He has been covering socio-political developments of northeast India, along with its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, for various media outlets for more than two decades.