What’s with journalists these days? Has journalism changed from being a noble profession to one that is ignoble? It seems that it has become a profession of jokers, extortionists, political stooges and spineless boys and girls. Of course, there are exceptions out there. As journalists we are not supposed to be biased. We are supposed to pursue the truth, write fair and be impartial.
Just the other day, we got to see on television a young lady reporter from Time Now directing a barrage of questions at Brij Bhushan Singh, WFI chief, who is allegedly involved in several cases of sexual harassment. To begin with, I salute this brave reporter for asking several pertinent questions, despite the menacing way in which he tried to side step her. He even went to the extent of slamming his car door on the Time Now mic which was thrust towards him. I must say, she should get an award for her brave stance. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea to be brave and honest, at least in these trying times.
Godi media and its traits
The term “Godi media” came into existence when the current political party came to power. I had never heard of this term in my 36 years as a journalist. There were good journalists and bad journalists, there were crooks among journalists, there were spineless journalists too, and there were bootlickers and upright journalists. There were times when good journalists were persecuted, as was the case during Emergency under Indira Gandhi’s rule. But there was no Godi media, at least not so many in number. Today, barring a handful of journalists, every television channel you see, is flooded with Godi media.
Godi (A Hindi word which means lap) media is a term reserved for all the journalists who suck up to the current political set up). Maybe they have been given a mandate from their managements to toe a particular political line. Now, it is quite apparent that they are speaking like spokespersons of the the political party in power. As a political journalist, whether X is in power or Y is in power, political journalists are supposed to report in a fair manner.
While on one hand you have the Godi media, you also have a set of jokers among these journalists. Remember the days when a cyclone hit parts of India? On TV we saw several anchors holding on to their umbrellas in the studio and pretending to be reporting from where the storm was happening. The screen behind them played recorded videos of some cyclonic storms that happened a long time back in some foreign country. What’s the need for all that drama? Is this some C grade Bollywood movie scene they were enacting? You can always sit behind a desk, or stand, or whatever, and speak coherently, informing your viewers about the storm.
Buffoonery at its best
The circus is getting funnier by the day. Delhi and all its surrounding areas have been experiencing a flood like situation. This is serious business and we want our reporters to tell us everything from ground zero. Now, many overzealous television news reporters actually walked into waist deep water to report about the flood! What? Have they been smoking pot? What’s the need for that? You want to report, you can always stand very close to the flooded area and pan the camera and tell your viewers in detail. This is absolute buffoonery. It can be dangerous too. What if a crocodile were to stray into the waters where they are standing?
Tomorrow, you may find an even crazier reporter tossing himself or herself into a swirling river to demonstrate the flow of the water. Or a war reporter may actually pick up a gun and start firing to tell the viewers how tough it is to survive a war. Or even crazier, the way things are progressing, a sports journalist covering a football match may actually jump into the field and kick the ball around to tell the viewers how strenuous it is to hit a goal in a match, for example. This buffoonery has to stop.
Auto Journalists, a breed apart
Now let me come to my favourite subject, Auto Journalism. Well, reporters here are of a different breed altogether. They have no problem being slaves at all? Slaves? Yes, it’s almost as though they are on the payroll of vehicle manufacturers. Free air travel, free five star stays, free food, free gifts, it’s as though it’s a norm. They have no qualms today. I quit junkets and press conferences completely because of this. It’s not that I hate the subject. It’s that I hate the way it is done.
The gospel truth is that an auto journalist is an absolute zero without an OEM invitation. You cannot drive or ride a vehicle, unless you are invited by an OEM for a drive. You cannot cover a launch event, unless you land up at a five star hotel where the event is being held. You will witness a grand spectacle involving the vehicle launch and boring speeches and presentations that will go on for hours sometimes. The event management company, along with the public relations company, have to ensure a full house of journalists . Journalists will be flown in from all parts of the country and you will be surprised that it’s the same crowd that may have travelled a zillion miles by air in their lifetimes who will be attending the show. It’s like a big, gala family get together of sorts.
For me, auto journalism had reached a point of disgust. Everything is so artificial. The CEOs would be introduced to the Editors of leading auto magazines, besides correspondents and reporters from leading newspapers and television channels. The same crowd, the same set of people, and to make matters worse, the growing breed of influencers. Everybody wines and dines, some stay put in their five star hotels, and some do their shoots and interviews and finally everybody goes back home with a large packet containing some expensive goody.
Code of ethics
Yes, I understand we cannot do away with this OEM largesse ever in auto journalism. It’s a curse (a blessing for many) that we have to live with. But it’s time to bring in a code of ethics in this profession. It’s time every auto journalist, whether an Editor or a rookie, tells his or her audience, readers, viewers that at the event they attended, they were given certain free items. They should then declare, for example, that their air ticket to a certain destination was sponsored by an X OEM. Their stay, whether it was at the Taj or some palace hotel in Jaipur or Udaipur, was taken care by this Y OEM. And that the food they ate was on the house and the gift they received too was on the house. They should mention the value of the gift they received and name the item, whether it was an expensive mobile phone or just an ordinary pen. And in one of the rare cases when a journalist does not accept a gift, they should mention that too at the end of their report.
This code of ethics will be a good way to cleanse the stables of auto journalism. This profession has reached levels where it feels as though auto journalists are employed at a casino in Las Vegas. Or worse, they are managed like a clutch of prostitutes in a seedy street.
Long term vehicles
Many auto journalists, depending how good you are at boot licking, get long term vehicles to drive and ride. Does it make sense to give auto journalists long term cars and bikes? Well, I have never got a vehicle as a long termer, though I had at some point wanted one. I am grateful that the OEMs did not oblige me, and for that I am eternally grateful to them. A couple of decades back when I was working in an auto journalist in a leading auto magazine in Delhi, we had a long termer parked at our office. To tell you honestly, the car was misused by everyone in the office, so much so, the marketing and sales guys learnt their driving in that. One of the boys from the marketing and sales team even banged up the car which they got it repaired later. Everyone who had to go out of office took turn driving the car for their respective assignment. Finally, the car was returned to the car company and the vehicle was in such a pitiable condition that it had to be written off.
I also know of one auto journalist based in Delhi who got a long termer car and while it was with him, it got stolen. He did not bother to inform the company about it at all. Finally, when the company found out about it, they insisted that the journalist accompany them to the police station and sort out the matter. Reluctantly, the journalist had to do that. This clearly demonstrates the mindset of auto journalists. They don’t give a damn to anybody, all they want is to grab as much as they can. As for OEMs, sometimes they behave like the uncouth men who fling wads of currency notes at a strip club. Long termers usually sound exciting to young reporters who have all the time to travel, take their girl friends (or boyfriends) to different places to impress them, etc. I mean, once you are settled and you live in a place where there is limited parking slots, taking care of a long term vehicle can be a pain. But again, it’s always impressive to have a BMW or an Audi, or a Mercedes-Benz parked outside your house. Like they say, it’s fun showing off to your neighbours.
No scope for change
Even though I have always mooted for a code of ethics for auto journalists, I know it’s a very difficult proposition for anyone to adopt. Auto journalists in India (and I am sure it’s the same case abroad) are so used to freebies in their lives that they may die of a life without a free travel or a free five star stay. During the Covid time, when everything came to a standstill in India, I actually felt sad for several auto journalists of the country, especially Editors of leading auto magazines. They may have experienced withdrawal symptoms like the way drug addicts do when they are without their drugs. Without their usual free travel, stays, lunches and gifts, I assumed they would die. But thankfully, like roaches they survived. To call them journalists is like saying that the late sandalwood smuggler Veerappan is a saint. It’s a murky world out there and the OEMs with their deep pockets and millions of rupees to spare, are enjoying their power over the journalists and influencers. As long as these OEMs don’t change their way of dealing with journalists, this tamasha will go on! Only a code of ethics can bring about some sanctity to this murky profession.
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