Mirror to media

Published : May 22, 2009 00:00 IST

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA, a journalist of 30 years experience, is uniquely qualified to write this textbook. He has experience in both print and electronic journalism besides directing documentary films. In the wake of the Mumbai blasts, calls were heard for self-regulation by the media rather belatedly. Similar excesses were committed, by television particularly, in similar circumstances. That is, where something sensational had happened and the public was fair game for arousal.

This is not an arid textbook. It contains a number of case studies from India and abroad, such as the Mumbai blasts, the Aarushi Talwar murder case and even the Watergate scandal. It has excerpts from the codes of conduct issued by the Press Council, the resolution of Europes Parliamentary Assembly Council on the ethics of journalism and the code of ethics for advertising issued by the Advertising Council of India.

That it would serve eminently as a textbook for courses in journalism and mass communication is apparent even on a cursory reading. But the ethical issues it raises, pointedly and pertinently, make the book an excellent working paper, as it were, for a serious seminar among the truly concerned on the issues very many raise about the media.

Covered here are topics such as objectivity, sources of information, obscenity and blasphemy, reporting on the judiciary, election campaigns, privacy, media market, the clout of the advertiser and the power of the marketing manager over the editorial staff, libel, contempt of court, public relations, the Internet and blogging.

Sting journalism is discussed well. But there are a couple of sorry omissions. One wishes that there was a chapter on the Press Council and, in comparison, the British Press Complaints Commission set up by the press itself to enforce a Code of Practice also drawn up by the editors. That document surely deserved reproduction in a volume like this.

So also the commissions landmark ruling on July 17, 1994, upholding sting operations. There is, sadly, a colossal ignorance on this in high places, executive and judicial. Ather Farouquis book has come not a day too soon. It is a comprehensive compilation of informed essays on the depiction of Muslims in the media, the Urdu press, the projection of stereotypes by Bollywood, and Indian Muslims and Bollywood.

The contributors, distinguished journalists and academics, carefully document their assertions. Estelle Drylands paper Indian Muslims and the Free Press is particularly important. She explores the underlying reasons for a perceived lack of representation of Muslim Indian writers in Indias press. She examined a selection of publications from 1948 to the present day in an attempt to ascertain if Muslim writers are indeed under-represented and, if so, why? Her paper is in three sections. The first deals with the Urdu language and Muslim identity; the second with Indian Muslims and the free press; and the third with Indian Muslims, the vernacular press, writing and modernity.

How have the contributors to Indias free press addressed Muslim issues throughout this period? Have Indian Muslim writers been given a fair and equipollent voice? The readers will be more able than I to distinguish [by name] between Muslim and other writers whose contributions are examined in this paper. Again, the paper will seek to establish whether more others are writing more on Muslim/Islamic issues more than Muslims themselves.

In her opinion, Indian Muslims must achieve success in the world of Indias mass media and try to excel in journalistic skills. That holds good for Indian Muslims participation in the national life as a whole.

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