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Freedom Of Media & Fighting Fake News

25 September 2019


Bhubaneswar: Media should become financially independent as presently only vested interest people are able to control the media. This will be possible when people start to pay for news. They should come out of the habit of consuming free news, said founder and editor-in-chief of Ommcom News, Jajati Karan, during a discussion on ‘Challenges of Media Owners and Road Ahead’ at the 1st National Conference On Media And Journalism in Pune.

Speaking on similar lines, senior journalist RN Bhaskar said, the revenues by newspapers in India is pathetically lower than the cost of creating a newspaper. Therefore, to sustain, you have to depend on the government or advertisers. This makes a tight rope walk for the owners of media houses between quality news and dependence for revenues.

Founder CEO of India Ahead News Channel, Hyderabad, Chetan Sharma said media is a unique industry “where all of us are fighting for visibility, but ironically the money coming to us is almost invisible.” He highlighted the fact that there is not a single institute of the level of IIMC to train and create good journalists. The result, he said, is a media full of untrained journalists and inflated egos.

He said as much as ethics and self-regulation were important, it was also true that media primarily is a business. “If it was social work, like in the pre-independence era, then I wouldn’t talk of financial gains. But, as long as I have to pay salaries and taxes, and bear expenses, earning will be important.”

CEO of Intelligent Insights, Delhi, Neeraj Sanan backed his view, saying, “We should not forget in our mission as a journalist that to run a media house, we need money.” He spoke about an issue that is often ignored. He said previously the owner of media, publisher and content writer were different, and so unknowingly kept a watch at each other. But with digital technology, the content creator, publisher, content owner are the same person. This is dangerous.

MD of Aaj ka Anand, Pune, Anand Shyam Agarwal said an owner of a media house has to manage 5 things – editorial, production, circulation, marketing, and finance. The first four can be delegated, but finance is the most difficult part. It is becoming even more challenging to meet the expenses.

He elaborated the 3 Ps of media business: Passion, Paisa and Patience. One can manage with higher or lower level of Passion, but one definitely needs Paisa and Patience to succeed as a media house owner. “We need to keep looking for newer ways to make money. At the same time, let us also have the confidence that the product we make deserves a good selling price,” he added.

Reminding how brand Kodak, which once commanded 80 per cent market share, is now bankrupt because it did not adapt to the changing market, he cautioned that is what happens to a news media house too. “When people are getting news on their mobile for free, why will they buy a newspaper? This is a huge challenge for old media houses which have thrived on print media. But now we need to find ways to make ourselves available into the mobile,” he said.

SN Vinod Editor, Lokmat Samachar, Chandran Iyer while speaking on the topic ‘Challenges of Media Owners and Road Ahead’, said that the challenges today’s media owners faced were altogether different from the ones owners had to face a few decades ago. There is a mad rush in today’s media in all respects.

Referring to the decline of values in media, Vinod recalled an old speech of a political leader who named it bajaru media. He said no media house had protested then. “The media has, in a way accepted that. And this is serious,” he said.

Answering to a student’s question on how much powers should a journalist have, he explained that the journalist must keep barking about the wrongs of the system, and if that doesn’t work, he must have the right to bite too. But this would be possible with the backing of the media house owners, he added.

“If owners have the courage and determination of Ramnath Goenka, they will encourage journalism of courage. Journalists will fight valiantly when if reporting facts is the prime aim of a media house,” he concluded.

Media has always transformed societies, right from the days of print, to digital media today. And anything that transforms, or changes, is viewed with suspicion. Because it’s that powerful. So, the governments, and businessmen try to control it, said Bhaskar while moderating a discussion on how the electronic and social media can be made more responsible for a better journalism.

Rajesh Badal, Senior Broadcast Journalist, and former executive director of Rajya Sabha TV, Bhopal, told how Gandhiji had written about the power of a newspaper 100 years ago. “But Gandhiji had also said that the pen should not go beyond control. So self-regulation is essential,” he said, adding that the MIT universities were unique because they were teaching students the basics of that much-required self-regulation.

Badal explained the media had been blocking the governments’ bids of media regulation to keep up its freedom, because government regulating media was not a good thing. However, it is equally important for the media to exercise self-regulation, “especially because this is a transitional phase.”

Satish K Singh, Senior Journalist, Group Editor in Chief, Broadcast18, Delhi, alerted fellow mediamen saying they should be able to distinguish between regulation and strangulation. At the same time, there was also no alternative to self-regulation. “Today, there are 1100 YouTube channels, thousands of social media platforms, everyone has a mobile phone and internet, so everyone is a journalist. How do we ensure that there is no fake news. Only being responsible about whatever we are putting up on the internet, and self-regulation can help.”

Elaborating on this, he said that there were examples of nations where media puts national interests above personal ideals. That kind of thing discipline would help the entire nation walk towards a common goal. “Let’s allow the law of the land to take its course and be tied to law of the land. We must be accountable to the land of the law and to the constitution of the country,” he said, adding that this could be achieved by improving the interaction between the professionals of law and journalism.

What brought a smile on everyone’s face a statement by Amit Mandloi, ex editor, Dainik Bhaskar, Bhopal: People are still listening to and following media in this era of rampant fake news, disinformation, and misinformation. That is a big hope.

“We don’t like to listen anything against us, so there is no guarantee that even if a law is made, it can effectively regulate us. Self-regulation is the only way if we really mean to make a genuine media and a great nation,” he said.

Samrat Phadnis, Editor, Sakaal, Pune, differed in his view. He said digital media has just started evolving, so it should be allowed to flower. It was not the time yet to regulate digital media in particular. “Nearly 60 years after print media started, there was the first press council. Nearly 25 years after the electronic media stated, the first body to regulate television was made. It will take us 10 more years to know the pros and cons of digital media properly,” he explained, saying if they started regulating it so soon, it would shrink creativity and the scope of all the miraculous advantages that this media might bring for us.

Subhash Shirke, Bureau Chief, News Nation News Channel, Mumbai, informed how media regulation by law had happened in Europe, America, Eurasia, and Middle East, but it weakened investigative journalism, transparency went down. And now India was mulling the same.

“Amidst such a scenario, digital media has come up, where the newly-empowered class was raising voice. Instead of regulating digital media, we should learn to be responsible. Self-regulation is the only way instead of letting a law on this. For example, when you see a news on What’s App, first verify it before commenting, through search engines, through authentic people.” For now, this will also help. Youngsters, through self-regulation will strengthen media transparency, he said.

Manoj Bhoyar, Asst. Editor, Jai Maharashtra News Channel, Mumbai, also stressed the importance of self-regulation. “We want to be revolutionaries without risks. Instead of blindly using digital platforms, we must be alert. We must learn how they work, scrutinise the news, weigh the standard of the news, he said, adding that more than the hurry to forward a news, we should be eager to give real news.

He spoke about the vast network of mushrooming websites and channels in rural areas, which was a major point of concern, as the channels has a huge impact on the rural people, and there was no one to educate them about self-regulation. “Self-regulation is a challenge. We can make it work only by starting with ourselves.”

Dr Shailesh Gujar, the Editor of Pune Varta, said he had started India’s first news channel in 1993, which is still running well. “If there is democracy in the world, there will be value for news media, and democracy can’t be without world peace. MIT is working its way towards it forcefully. I have a great hope that eventually, we will win.”

Pune Press Union leader Prasad Kulkarni reiterated the need for self-regulation. “But self-regulation should come from within. And to let it come from within, we must keep educating people.” He informed that the likes of Google, Twitter, Facebook were already conducting workshops to train journalists in how to filter fake news.

Senior journalists attending the conference also agreed that there is need for amendments in Press Council laws. Investigative journalists have to work in conditions which involve a lot of risks, including pressures from political powers. Still journalists passionately go about their job. Special laws to protect them can be a good backing and encouragement for them.

During a discussion on ‘Media Laws & Security of Media persons – A Formality or Reality’ RN Bhaskar put forth the question, “Do we really need special laws to protect media professionals? Doctors and lawyers don’t ask for that. Then why only journalists?”

While Editor in Chief of RSTV, Delhi, Rahul Mahajan said that the protection that journalists have as citizens of India was enough, National Head of Sahara Samay, Delhi, Bhupesh Kohli said that at least the outdated press council laws should be amended to create a safer ground for the press people.

Senior Journalist Manish Awasthi added a unique point by stating that killing or torturing a journalist for telling the truth is perversion. Those who do it are part of this very society. “If we wish to change this, we as a society must change our mindset. We must educate ourselves and others on the importance of honest journalism.

“Paid news and fake news is talked about more now than in the past. It is difficult to find out what is paid what is not,” said Bhaskar during a discussion on ‘Fake News and Paid News – Myths & Reality’.

While addressing the session, National Head of Patrika Group, Jaipur, Rajesh Kasera said the “What’s App University” was the biggest concern today. “There is no affiliation. No regulation. It can shroud the truth in the most dangerous way. Still we must keep working, keep educating, and use this powerful platform to circulate real knowledge,” he said.

Editor of In Dinon, Delhi, SM Asif gave an interesting example to drive home his point that any media house can’t survive for long if it is not genuine. He said: “We run an Urdu newspaper. We have a limited readership. If we print fake news, they will reject my paper and I will have to close down. If people seriously educate themselves, instead of casually following whatever is served to them, they can start identifying and rejecting paid and fake news. Then the media at large will also not dare to give you fake news.”

Director of Maharashtra Information Centre, Delhi, Dayanand Kamble said there were 3 types of fake news: Deliberate, false reporting, and adding own opinion to the report. Journalists must commit themselves creating awareness on this. “But, until we achieve that, we need some regulatory powers and punitive action to curb fake news.”

Reporter and producer of Mirror Now, Mumbai, Shaayaan Sheikh made an interesting point when he said, “We are all to be blamed for the rise of fake news, because we are the consumers. All kinds of media, whatever they show, they dare to do because we watch. We think so seriously about it.” Sheikh gave students a 3-step mantra to counter fake news. First, if a news is negative, ignore it. Second, if it’s positive, engage with it; and third, if you don’t know, research it.

Editor of Maharashtra Times, Pune, Shridhar Loni echoed the same point: “We are the carriers of fake news, even if we are not the originators. So, we are equally to be blamed for the propagation of fake media.” Fake news through the rapidly rising digital media was putting the credibility of mainstream media in jeopardy, which was huge challenge.

Senior crime correspondent of TOI, Indore, Karishma Kotwal gave amazing examples of how even big media houses of the world were sometimes incapable of identifying, verifying and blocking fake news. “We can’t pass on fake news. We have to take it seriously and counter, if we have a suspicion,” she cautioned.

Giving young journos a simple way to save themselves from falling into the fake news trap, Legal Editor of Hindustan Times Ashok Bagariya said: “Whenever we hear something unusual or shocking, if we begin by asking ourselves ‘why is it important, and how it will affect us’, it can help us save ourselves from fake news.”

He also threw light on the fact that Indian legal system was inadequately equipped to deal with fake or paid news, and that all its tools were outdated. But he expressed a lot of hope when he said, “Almost every newsroom in the country is aware of the long term consequences of fake and paid news and is working dedicatedly towards eradication of paid news.”

The unique two-day round-table conference, with the theme ‘Role of Media to Promote the Culture in Peace in the World’, was organised jointly by MIT World Peace University and Pune Union of Working Journalists. Aimed at creating a non-political and non-aligned platform, the programme has been envisioned as the beginning of a movement to connect media leaders with the youth.