Sunday, January 13, 2013

Media Recruitments: Need for Transparency

Media fiercely fights for self-regulation and freedom from even a remote semblance of government control. But should a public service like journalism be kept away from public scrutiny? Asks Charu Kartikeya, General Secretary, Sahbhag.

(Published in Media Critique journal, issue July-September 2012)

In an interview after picking up a 27.5 per cent stake in the India Today Group recently, Kumar Mangalam Birla said that the “media sector is a sunrise sector from an investment point of view.” While the Chairman of the Aditya Birla Group was only explaining the rationale behind his recent investment, the boom in the media sector is not an unnoticed story.

Media is a visible industry and the growth in the number of news TV channels and newspapers is for everybody to see. At last count, there were about 500 news TV channels and about 82,000 newspapers in the country. With the rise in the number of TV sets, significance of TV news channels for the average Indian is also going up. It isn’t surprising then, that media has become a preferred career choice for millions of young Indians today. A sizeable number of the lakhs of students who enrol into institutions of higher education every year are choosing media as their career. Not just that, media has become a rare professional subject to be introduced in the school curriculum in India!

Accordingly, the number of institutes that offer courses in journalism/mass communication/media is also increasing exponentially. In Delhi/NCR alone, there are at least 200 such institutes. Even if we go by conservative estimates, a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation would reveal that this region alone is churning out at least 6000 students every year, who dream of entering the media sector. Does the sector have enough jobs for them? At least 20 well-known newspapers and 15 prominent news TV channels have head offices/regional offices in the region. At a per organisation average of even 100 staff members in media-related departments, as distinct from departments like HR, Accounts, IT etc, total number of media-jobs in Delhi/NCR would amount to not more than a total of 4000. That implies a shortfall of at least 2000 jobs. These students are then left with no option but to use “jack”, as the back-door entry system is popularly known in Delhi, to enter the industry.

But what is of bigger concern than this deficit is the lack of transparency that media organisations observe in their recruitment processes. Newspapers still advertise vacancies for reporters/sub-editors and certain other positions from time to time, but TV channels, especially private ones, don’t even do that. In the last five years, there has been only one instance of a major private TV news channel announcing via advertisements that it is “seeking dynamic, young and news driven talent.” Nobody knows what happened to those positions that were vacant, since the vacancies are still displayed prominently on the channel’s website, nine months later. And the fact that new faces have been brought in for presenting news and other content on these TV channels is for everybody to see. So you don’t announce vacancies but your staff changes? How?

People change jobs and organisations hire and fire staff all the time in all sectors. Only, in most sectors one doesn’t get to know about these developments. But since media, as emphasised earlier, is a visible industry, it is at a particular disadvantage here. And yet it pays no heed to principles of transparency, such is the brazenness. Of late, most big media houses have floated their own media institutes where they charge hefty fees from students and, in return, promise to absorb them as interns and, subsequently, as staff. But all students in such institutes run by media houses too do not get this chance, primarily because of the mathematics explained above.

Public service broadcasters (PSBs) are not exactly holy cows in this regard. Several journalists who are at top positions in various TV channels and other media organisations today are known to have joined Doordarshan when particular governments were in power and moved out as soon as their benefactor government fell. Two years back, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) had quashed appointment of 25 news-anchors and reporters posted at Doordarshan News, saying that allocation of marks in the interview of the candidates was done in an arbitrary and malafide manner. However, PSBs are accountable to the public at the end of the day and corruption in their recruitments can be unearthed and exposed without too much difficulty. But private TV channels’ have no such accountability and, therefore, it is nearly impossible to detect such anomalies there.

Media fiercely fights for self-regulation and freedom from even a remote semblance of government control. But should a public service like journalism be kept away from public scrutiny? After all, even in this era of rising corporate control of media, journalists still use terms like “your newspaper” and “your channel.” Shouldn’t an entity be held accountable to the entity in whose name it professes to operate? Gone are the days when journalism was one of the noblest professions and men of honour used to run newspapers. Today, the constraints on journalism are many. The institution of the Editor has been massively subverted by the proprietor. Many editors too have fallen to the charms that come to you once you throw the code of ethics out of the newsroom’s window. It is hard to envisage how the sector would make itself more transparent, but if it has to retain its credibility among the public at large, it must find out ways to. One might like to add a note of caution for the media here. There isn’t enough awareness about the fact that under the RTI Act, definition of a "public authority" includes any authority or body that is substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the Government. If one looks at the money that private TV channels make by airing advertisements of Central/State governments and their various agencies, many of them may be liable to answer RTI queries about the way they go about their business. So wouldn’t it be advisable to pay a little more attention to concerns of transparency voluntarily before the public starts demanding it?

The call recently given by the CPI, CPI(M), BJP and DMK to introduce a collegium system for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and Comptroller and Auditor General has a lesson for this sector. The essential argument is that appointments to offices in whom public reposes its trust must evoke confidence among the people and must not be vulnerable to manipulation and partisanship. This must apply to journalists too since crores of common men and women repose their trust in what their favourite newspaper or favourite TV channel tells them every morning.

Charu Kartikeya

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sahbhag's First Field Trip

At least 1300 crore rupees have been spent on a plan to clean river Yamuna in last 20 years, from 1993 till now. Result: River water quality of Yamuna River continues to be deteriorated “especially in its stretch between Wazirabad barrage at Delhi till its confluence with Chambal River in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.). High count of Total and Faecal Coliform, which are above the permissible levels, along with no or very low Dissolved Oxygen level in the river water is due to wastewater discharges in the river Yamuna, predominantly from domestic sources. The water quality of the river shows improvement only during monsoon period.” (Central environment ministry’s reply in Rajya Sabha, 21st August 2012).

Pained by the sorry state of the capital’s river and bewildered at the sheer lack of results after two decades of governmental “Action” to save it, members of Sahbhag have decided to consider the possibility of a people’s initiative to rejuvenate river Yamuna. To assess exactly how daunting a task this is, Sahbhag has launched a programme of a series of field trips along the entire 22km stretch of the river between Wazirabad barrage and Okhla barrage. The first trip in this series was organized on 12th August 2012. A delegation comprising nine members and friends of Sahbhag traversed the stretch of the river from near Nanaksar beyond the Wazirabad barrage to a little ahead of Monastery market, near ISBT Kashmere Gate.

It was an eye-opening exercise for all members of the delegation, most of who have been living in Delhi for at least 20 years. The observations from these field trips will be documented in detail soon, but a conversation is being reproduced here that the members had with a gentleman who had come to the bank of the river near Nanaksar to dispose a plastic bag.

हम: ये जो बोरा अभी आपने नदी के किनारे फेंका, इसमें क्या है?
(We: This bag that you just threw on the banks of the river, what does it contain?"

वो: कल मोहल्ले में जन्माष्टमी मनाई गई थी ना. उसी की पूजा का चढ़ावा और अन्य सामग्री है.
(Man: Janmashtami was celebrated in my locality yesterday. This bag has offerings from the celebrations.)

हम: अच्छा.पर अगर ये सब नदी में डालना ही था, तो आप बोरा खोल के इन सब चीज़ों को प्रवाहित भी तो कर सकते थे. बोरे के साथ ही क्यों डाल दिया?
(We: If at all you had to surrender these things to the river you could have at least not thrown the plastic bag along. What did you drop the bag here untied?)

वो: बोरा खोल के डाल देने पर ये सामग्री यहीं किनारे के नीचे नदी में जम जाती.बोरे के अन्दर है तो उसके साथ साथ बह जाएगी.इस से ज्यादा पुण्य मिलेगा.
(Man: If i had opened the bag and then deposited these offerings they would have settled right here at the bank. If the river takes them along that will bring us more divine blessings.)

हम: बोरा प्लास्टिक का है.नदी में रहेगा तो ये नदी के लिए हानिकारक नहीं है? क्या हम सब नदी में प्लास्टिक इत्यादि चीज़ें डाल कर नदी के नाश में मदद नहीं कर रहे?
(We: The bag is made of plastic. If it goes into the river it will harm it in the long run. Arent we contributing to the death of the river by depositing materials like plastic in it?)

वो: (मुस्कुराते हुए): गंगा-यमुना कभी नष्ट नहीं हो सकतीं.
(Man (with a smile): Ganga and Yamuna can never die.)

हम: अभी तो आपके इलाके के पंडित जी, जो यहाँ २५ साल से हैं, हमें बता रहे थे कि यमुना का अस्तित्व अब खत्म हो चुका है.अब वो यहाँ सिर्फ़ एक बरसाती नदी बन के रह गई है.
(We: The priest of the temple by the river-side here just told us that in the 25 years that he has spent here he has seen gradual destruction of the river's very existence, which is complete now. He feels Yamuna has been reduced to being just a rain-fed river now.)

वो: पता नहीं पंडित जी ऐसा क्यों कह रहे थे. हमारे तो पुराणों में भी लिखा है कि यमुना कभी मर नहीं सकती.यमुना अचल है.
(Man: Wonder why he said that! Even our ancient scriptures say that Yamuna will never die. It is immortal)

हम: पूरा बताइए, क्या लिखा है पुराणों में?
(We: Really? What exactly is written in the scriptures?)

वो: जब तक गंगा-यमुना की धारा, तब तक अचल अहिवात तुम्हारा.
(Man: As long as Ganga and Yamuna will flow, mankind will continue to flourish.)

हम: इसमें ये कहाँ कहा जा रहा है कि गंगा-यमुना कि धारा अचल है? आपकी ही सुनाई गई इस पंक्ति के अनुसार गंगा-यमुना के नष्ट हो जाने की संभावना को नकारा नहीं गया है."जब तक" का मतलब ही यही है.
(We: Don't these lines mean that civilisation will prosper only till the time these rivers will flow unobstructed? Isn't it implied that the rivers will die if not taken care of?)

वो (मुस्कुराते हुए): आप मेरी बात मानिए, गंगा-यमुना कभी नष्ट नहीं हो सकतीं. मुझे लगता है कि गन्दगी नहीं डालनी चाहिए पर ये तो पुण्य के लिए है.
(Man (smiling again): You must believe me, Ganga-Yamuna will never die. One must not throw garbage in the river, but what i just deposited was for divine blessings.)

Sahbhag thanks all members and friends who took out time to be a part of this field visit.
Sukirti Vinayak
Gaurav Bedi
Azad Alam
Aswathi Muralitharan
Bhawna Arya Bajaj
Ankur Bajaj
Bhaskar Bhatt
Charu Kartikeya
B Sanjay

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

सहभागिता के बिना अधूरा है लोकतंत्र का मकसद

शनिवार सात जुलाई की संध्या सहभाग ने एक और पड़ाव पार किया। सहभागी लोकतंत्र यानी 'पार्टिसिपेट्री डेमोक्रेसी' के लिए प्रतिबद्घ इस संस्था के अनवरत सफर के सहयात्री बने वरिष्ठï पत्रकार विपुल मुदगल ने सहभाग से जुड़े 'सहभागियों' को अपने अनुभवों से रूबरू कराया। उनकी विशुद्घ अनुभवजन्य बातों से यही बात सामने आई कि सहभागी लोकतंत्र की अवधारणा को ग्रंथों को खंगालने और अकादमिक गलियारों में टहलने के बजाय विशुद्घ अनुभव से कहीं बेहतर तरीके से समझा जा सकता है।
निश्चित रूप से आधुनिक समाज का आधार लोकतंत्र है और जन द्वारा जन के लिए विकसित की गई यही प्रणाली ही निर्विवाद रूप से सबसे बेहतर है। परंतु लोकतंत्र की सफलता बिना सहभागिता के संदिग्ध ही होती है। लोकतंत्र में जब तक लोक यानी जन सहभागी नहीं होंगे तब तक उसके मकसद को हासिल नहीं किया जा सकता है। सहभागी लोकतंत्र पर जोर देते हुए मुदगल ने कहा, 'लोकतंत्र में जन की सहभागिता के बिना उसे सफल नहीं बनाया जा सकता।' नीति निर्माण में स्थानीय तत्त्वों को शामिल किए जाने की वकालत करते हुए उन्होंने बताया, 'आपको सत्ता का विकेंद्रीकरण करना ही होगा और नीति निर्माण में स्थानीय लोगों को शामिल करना होगा।'
संयुक्त प्रगतिशील गठबंधन (संप्रग) सरकार की ध्वजवाहिका योजना महात्मा गांधी राष्टï्रीय ग्रामीण रोजगार गारंटी अधिनियम (मनरेगा) का हवाला देते हुए उन्होंने बताया कि आपको स्थानीय जरूरतों के हिसाब से आवंटित कोष के उपयोग की आजादी देनी होगी। उनके अनुसार केंद्र की कई योजनाएं ऐसी होती हैं जिनका कई गांवों में कोई उपयोग नहीं होता, ऐसे में सोशल ऑडिटर्स के सामने बड़ी समस्या होती है क्योंकि वहां जो काम होता है वह मनरेगा के तहत अधिसूचित नहीं होता। इसलिए उन्होंने स्थानीय जरूरत के हिसाब से नीति निर्माण की बात की।
तमिल नाड़ के एक इलाके का उदाहरण देते हुए उन्होंने बताया कि वहां महिलाएं किस तरह सैनेटरी नैपकिन बनाने के कामकाज से जुड़ी हैं जो न केवल किफायती है बल्कि रोजगार सृजन के साथ-साथ स्वास्थ्य से भी जुड़ा हुआ है। इसे भी उन्होंने एक तरह के सहभागी लोकतंत्र की मिसाल बताया जो महिलाओं को जागरूक बनाने के साथ-साथ उन्हें आर्थिक रूप से सशक्त भी बना रहा है।
सहभागी लोकतंत्र के साथ ही मुदगल ने सामाजिक पूंजी निर्माण यानी सोशल कैपिटल फॉर्मेशन को भी बेहद जरूरी बताया। उन्होंने कहा कि इस मामले में सरकार की मिड डे मील योजना बेहद प्रभावशाली रही है। इसमें तमाम गड़बडिय़ों की बात स्वीकार करते हुए उन्होंने कहा कि फिर भी यह योजना बेहद लाभकारी साबित हुई है। इसी तरह मनरेगा में व्याप्त भ्रष्टाचार की बाबत उन्होंने कहा कि चाहे जो भी बात की जाए इसे महज इन बातों के चलते खारिज नहीं किया जा सकता है क्यूंकि इस योजना में वे लोकतंत्र को एक्शन में देख रहे हैं। उन्होंने कहा कि मनरेगा समावेशी विकास में अहम भूमिका अदा कर रही है। - प्रणव सिरोही

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sahbhag's Second Public Event

09 February 2011: Sahbhag, in association with Delhi University Students Union (DUSU), organised an interaction with Janata Party President and eminent scholar Dr Subramanian Swamy on

“The Significance Of Fighting Against Corruption” at Arts Faculty, Delhi University.

Dr Subramanian Swamy, whose PIL in the Supreme Court pushed the issue of irregularities in the 2G spectrum allocation auction to the political centrestage, addressed students of Delhi University at the event. The Harvard-trained economist and scholar explained the intricacies of the alleged 2G scam and also gave a detailed account of his initiatives to ensure that the law caught up with those responsible for misuse of public money. He told the gathering that mechanisms and institutions that were formed to ensure the smooth functioning of democracy in India continued to be strong and that people must not lose faith in them.

He inspired young students to rise to the occasion by adding that each one of us has the right and means to fight against corruption and therefore we mist fight. People must approach the courts fearlessly, for example, and must shed the general pessimist view that our systems do not work, Dr Swamy added. He also opined that time was ripe for a people’s movement on the lines of the movement that the country witnessed under the stewardship of Loknayak Jaiprakash Narayan, the founder of Janata Party, in the 1970s. Dr Swamy also declared at the event that he would not spare any effort to ensure that everybody involved with mass siphoning of public money in India in the past few years, not least in the 2G scam, was brought to book.

Senior journalist Ram Bahadur Rai also expressed his views on why Indian youth should continue its fight against this menace. He opined that certain vested interests were working overtime to gradually weaken India’s hallowed institutions and therefore the aam aadmi must fight to ensure the revamp of our institutions, so that the democratic process could be strengthened.

Institutions like Sahbhag could play a monumental role in ensuring the success of this struggle, he added.

Addressing the students, DUSU President Jitender Chaudhary also agreed that fighting against corruption was indeed the need of the hour. He also expressed his commitment towards playing a pro-active role in the society’s fight against corruption.

B Sanjay, a journalist and senior functionary of Sahbhag, told the gathering that to talk about empowerment of the masses and not fight for preventing siphoning of public money was mere lip service.

Thanking everybody who made the event take shape, Bhawna Arya Bajaj, President, Sahbhag observed that it was time for one and all, especially the youth, to think beyond themselves, their families and their careers and focus their energies to fight against corruption.

Not only students, but lecturers of Delhi University also attended the event, which ended with a Q&A-based interaction between Dr. Swamy and the audience.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

एक सबक मिस्र से

मिस्र की सड़कों पर जो हो रहा है वो आप देख रहें हैं या नहीं? मुझे सहानुभूति है हिंदुस्तान टाइम्स जैसे अखबारों के पाठकों से क्योंकि उनके प्रिय अखबार के प्रथम पन्ने तक तख्ता-पलट के कगार तक पहुंचे मिस्र के सूरतेहाल 30 जनवरी तक ही पहुँच पाए. अन्य अखबार एक दिन पहले तक तक जाग गए थे. सडकों पर उतर आई मिस्र के कई शहरों की जनता मांग रही है आज़ादी - एक तानाशाह के शासन से और उसके राज में हुए भ्रष्टाचार से. सड़कों पर जन-सैलाब उभरा हुआ है.तीस सालों से मिस्र पर एक तानाशाह की तरह राज करने वाले होस्नी मुबारक के ख़िलाफ़ आज जनता में इतना आक्रोश है की वो सरेआम मुबारक के पोस्टर फाड़ रही है,उसकी ताकत के हर चिन्ह को आग लगा रही है और उसे गद्दी छोड़ने का हुक्म दे रही है.

इस आन्दोलन का चेहरा बने हुए हैं बढ़ती बेरोज़गारी, महंगाई, पुलिस के अत्याचार और लोकतंत्र के अभाव की मार झेलते मिस्र के युवा. और उनका हथियार है - तकनीक. youtube पर शायद एक विडियो आपको मिल जाए.आक्रोश में डूबे मिस्र के किसी शहर का नज़ारा है.कुछ युवक एक सड़क पर अपना विरोध दर्शा रहे हैं.नारे लगा रहे हैं.रह-रह कर वहां तैनात पुलिस पर पत्थर फेक रहे हैं.एक युवक बाकियों से कुछ आगे खड़ा है. अचानक दृश्य में एक वाहन का प्रवेश होता है.पानी का tanker है.आगे की तरफ मोटी धार फेंकने वाली नली है, जिसके ज़रिये tanker में बैठे पुलिसकर्मी प्रदर्शन करते युवाओं को तोड़ने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं.लेकिन वे सफल नहीं हो पाते.बाकियों से कुछ आगे खड़ा युवक अपनी जगह से टस-से-मस नहीं होता.tanker उसकी तरफ बढ़ता चला जाता है. आगे, और आगे.एक पल को लगता है tanker युवक को रौंदता हुआ निकल जाएगा या तो युवक उसके सामने से कूद जाएगा.पर युवक हटता नहीं. ज़रा डर नहीं दिखाता. tanker उसकी नाक के पास तक पहुच जाता है, तब भी नहीं.

इसके बाद क्या हुआ, ये विडियो नहीं दर्शाता. पर बदलाव के लिए बेचैन जनता के लिए ये ही बहुत है.youtube , facebook और अन्य social मीडिया websites पर ये विडियो कहीं से पहुँच जाता है और फिर एक एक करके सैकड़ों लोग इसे देखते हैं और दिल में जज्बा भर कर सोचते हैं की हम भी तो ऐसा कर सकते हैं!

facebook आग भड़का रहा है!बल्कि आग लगा रहा है!social मीडिया को कुछ बेवक़ूफ़ ज़रुरत से ज्यादा ताक़तवर समझ रहे हैं, ऐसा कहने वाले सभी के मुंह पर एक करारा तमाचा! क्या हम मिस्र से कुछ सीख सकते हैं? अब आप सोचिये.

चारू कार्तिकेय, सहभाग

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Compulsions and Democracy

What is that forces people, in a democracy, to stay away from speaking against systemic fault-lines? One would think that democracy, being a guarantor of freedom of speech, would encourage the opposite. Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to two distinguished personalities, who have served two of the most powerful institutions in India – a former senior IPS officer and a former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court. The two gentlemen have also served the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as well as other organisations working for the promotion of civil liberties. The issue was the large number of mercy petitions of prisoners on death row, pending before the Government of India. At least 26 such petitions are reported to be pending before the government, with the oldest among them having been filed a decade ago. The Supreme Court of India recently slammed the Central government over this record. Not only was this shameful, said the Apex court, but it also violated a prisoner’s right to live with dignity, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The event was a live discussion on national television. I and a colleague of mine spoke to the two guests on the finer print behind this issue. Our guests immediately agreed with the view taken by the Supreme Court and informed that the reason behind the delay was mostly political. But of these 26 petitioners, we argued, cases of only a handful had some sort of political connection, the most famous and the most recent one being that of Afzal Guru, convicted for conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on Indian Parliament. Several others are ordinary people, put on death row for gruesome murders. What was the reason behind the delay in deciding their cases? The observations put forward by our guests indicated that they did not have concrete answers.

Or were they keeping the answers to themselves? This question, which I asked to myself, was answered by one of the guests, but off the record. When the show was over and the cameras turned off, he offered me an insight. Awarding death sentence to somebody who has committed a heinous crime is a populist measure, he said, referring to the common man’s perception of justice. And abolishing capital punishment, something that human rights activists are fighting for across the globe, would amount to taking a step that would involve the risk of inviting the displeasure of a large section of the electorate. Translated psephologically, this could mean loss of a few thousand (or more) votes. And no government in India, irrespective of the party in power, has had the courage to look beyond this risk, till now.

Now I haven’t met any relative of a victim of a heinous crime, like murder or rape. So I don’t know whether what my guest pointed out is really the aam aadmi’s perception of justice. But even if it is, it does open another debate - who should be made the guarantor of justice: law or popular perceptions? I was left wondering as to why either of my esteemed guests could not make this observation in full view of the TV audience?

The first step towards correcting one's mistake is acknowledging that one is wrong. When even two retired representatives of the State can not be frank about systemic fault-lines, how can we expect the State itself to be honest in admitting that something is wrong? History has shown us that this couldn’t even be thought of in a monarchy. The modern world is still telling us that this is not possible in an autocratic setup as well. But what prevents a democracy, and a liberal one at that, from truly guaranteeing freedom of speech?
Still wondering…

Charu Kartikeya