January 20, 2008

life in journalism: how entities try to influence media editors

Not many readers of newspapers, magazines and media websites and viewers of television news channels might be aware of what transpires behind the scenes in the editors' cabins, reporters' bays and outside coffee houses/restaurants.

Among the many good or ugly things that happen behind the scenes, is one that I find to be a dirty machination (i say this based on my reasonably long experience -- on 1 January this year I completed 14 years in journalism, and majority of my stories have been on the Indian stock market).

It is the way in which chiefs of entities try to influence and pressurise the Editor-in-Chief if you have written something that exposes a negative deed or trait about those entities. The one entity that I suspect (you can never know for sure because your Editor does not tell you about it) has done this with regard to my stories is the stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). When I was in Business Standard (1994-97) the then-chairman of Sebi made a phone call to T.N.Ninan, editor-in-chief of Business Standard, sometime in 1996. I was given to understand that the call was in connection with those stories of mine that took Sebi to task for its various failures, weaknesses and negligences.

The current Sebi chairman, M.Damodaran, is no better. He is the most cunning chairman Sebi has got it in its 17-year old history. He treats the media shabbily (for instance, he has never replied to queries sent to him for any story of mine that required Sebi's point of view to be reflected) and tries to bludgeon journalists as per his whims and fancies. I suspect he calls the Editors too directly to influence them to stop writers like me from writing stories that he considers being bad for Sebi's image.

It's a sorry state of affairs when a law-enforcer himself turns into a manipulator and tries to suppress the press from writing freely. And this is just one of many many clinks in India's claims of being a democratic economic powerhouse.

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