Saturday, November 25, 2017
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journalism

The field of journalism is a fast-changing one where values and norms keep on undergoing transformation as the time rolls by. I have written on this before and I don’t mind doing so again.

When I entered the profession in 1962, there were self-imposed constraints. Sensationalism was unheard of. It is only when a great personality died that there was a banner headline The word `rape’ was unheard of. All that we were permitted by convention to write was that the modesty of so-and-so was outraged. Even `criminal assault’ was an expression that was very sparingly used.  Today we are used to reading the reproduction of the exact, lousy, words used by one against the other. For instance, Arun Shourie,who subsequently became a Union Minister, reproduced the exact abusive language that the late Deputy Prime Minister, Devi Lal   heaped on him. It was the well-known Hindi abuse that is all about violating the modesty of one’s sister and mother And this reproduction of the abuse was done in a widely circulated newspaper like `The Indian Express’. I don’t have the heart to reproduce it as Shourie did though he is a respectable man and a respectable journalist. In the Northern India Patrika too we follow a conservative line. But when this newspaper was coming out simultaneously from Lucknow and Allahabad, the magazine section was being readied in Lucknow.  Now Lucknow by then was bolder in terms of using foul language and we were still conservative. I was then the Assistant Editor and Mr S.K.Bose the Editor. I warned him that the language being used in the Sunday magazine would be unacceptable to the conservative readers of Allahabad. He didn’t  agree. But one day Lucknow staff broke all barriers of decency and in one of the articles published some highly objectionable  word. It was something outrageous. I again drew Mr Bose’s attention. And this time he, too, was shocked. He took back the Sunday Magazine for publication here for both the centres.

For quite some time we were asked to use `Mr’ and not `Shri , the argument being that `Mr, carries two letters and `Shri’ four. Today when I write an editorial I don’t affix either Mr or Shri but straightaway write the name of the personality concerned. The reason ? Great persons or well-known personalities do not need these prefixes. As a scribe used to put it, `You don’t say Mr Amitabh Bachchan or Miss Hema Malini. You don’t say Mr Mukesh or Miss Lata Mangeshkar. But I do have 78 RPM discs of the legendary singer K.L.Saigal, on  the label of which is written, `Mr K.L.Saigol’. Times change, values change. 

There was a time – and I have lived through it – when the Chief Minister  would not order an editor to visit him but would himself go to his house. I recall one anecdote. Mr R.N.Zutshi was the editor of `The Leader’. Mr C.B.Gupta rang him up, requesting him to meet him at the Government House in Allahabad (where the medical college now stands). Mr Zutshi told him: `I don’t have the time to meet you. But you are most welcome to come to The Leader press’. And the CM did visit the press. Likewise, I used to write a column on local affairs in The Leader, `Flashlight on Allahabad’, in the name of Wayfarer. I used to be highly critical of the police’s acts of omission and commission. Once the then SSP rang up ‘The Leader’ and spoke to the News Editor, asking him to tell me that I must meet him. Mr Zutshi was around. He asked the NE to tell him: `He won’t come to meet you. You must come here to meet him’. This was The Leader office where outside the room of the legendary editor Sir C.Y.Chintamani, on a stool would sit the future President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, in the pre-independence era, waiting for him to call him in.

And about Tushar Babu’s greatness? He was known the world over for his fearless journalism. Once he had to appear in a court in eastern UP. When Tushar Babu entered the court, the magistrate got up to show his respect to him. Ministers would seek appointments with him.  Today the Chintamanis and the Tushar Babus are no longer amidst us to re-ignite the flame of fearless journalism. What we have is not necessarily fearless journalism; it is sensationalism, sometimes concocted, sometimes paid for and rarely true in the sense it used to be in the days of P.D.Tandon whose brutal criticism of the then British Governor led to the closure of National Herald for some time.  Things might have changed. But so far as I am concerned. I have preferred to live in isolation, keeping away from politicians and bureaucrats as far as I can help it. Some of the politicians currently in news are known to me since student days. But the distance has grown. Apparently a journalist has to be more pliable or, to use a respectable term, be more flexible in order to flow with the ever-changing tide of events.  That is pragmatic journalism unheard of in the days of Tushar Kanti Ghosh and Sir C.Y.Chintamoni.

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