Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Broadcast Editors Association's selective amnestia

The Broadcast Editors Association has acted with alacrity in the Zee Jindal episode. But its silence on ethical lapses of TV editors in the past is noteworthy,says ABHISHEK UPADHYAY
Posted/Updated Tuesday, Oct 23 14:38:55, 2012 
Is it a case of exemplary action taking, or does it smack of selective amnesia, sparked by politics among editors?
New channels could doubtless think of several catchy slugs and sensational  headlines for the story of extortion, blackmailing, and broadcasters’ intervention emerging from Zee-Jindal controversy. But it is not a story they are pursuing.
The  Broadcast Editors Association has taken a rather historic decision in the Zee-Jindal case andn removed its treasurer Sudhir Chaudhary from primary membership of the association. For the record, Sudhir Chaudhary is the editor and business head of Zee News, who is accused by Jindal group of extortion and blackmail for the sum of 100 crore, allegedly in lieu of dropping stories against the power and steel giant in Coalgate scam.
The enquiry committee formed by BEA in this case, took cognizance of evidences (the FIR and sting CD provided by Jindal group) aganst Sudhir Chaudhary and arrived at the decision to expel him from this apex body of editors. The decision is unprecedented. This is the first time the Broadcast Editors’ Association BEA has taken such a decision against a core member.
however it fails to address the core issue associated with this particular move.  The Zee-Jindal fiasco happened only when a formal complaint was lodged by Naveen Jindal, a billionaire Congress MP and owner of Jindal group, against Sudhir Chaudhary, editor and business head Zee News,  and Samir Ahluwalia, editor of Zee Business. But its genesis is in an earlier development which  BEA chose to remain silent on.
This is the decision to appoint the same person to perform two very different functions: that of editor and business head, a trend propagated by the new age media barons in the hope of extracting more revenue by holding an editor directly responsible for the turnover of advertisement revenue. Sudhir Chaudhary wasappointed as editor as well as business head of Zee News. While making the announcement the then CEO of Zee News said, "In line with our aggressive growth stratagem that will be fuelled by a combination of editorial and business inventiveness, Sudhir Chaudhary fits the bill perfectly in the future scheme of things.” He possibly did not forsee the lengths to which such inventiveness could be taken.
For the record, these two positions are very contradictory in nature. As an editor one is responsible for setting the  editorial agenda and as a business head the same person is bound to squeeze that very agenda to ensure maximum ad revenue.   Any sane mind can understand the glaring contradictions inherent in both the positions but BEA took no note of this development.  
In this particular case, assume for a minute, if being an editor Sudhir Chaudhary can plant stories against Jindal, so too being a business head, he can approach Jindal for advertisements. Technically there is no problem as none of the news channel can claim on record that their advertisement marketing teams don’t contact those persons, group or institutions against whom they have run the story or are planning to run a story. In order to avoid this risk and maintain ethics, editors were at least spared from the responsibility of pulling up the revenue graphs of the newspaper or channel. But in Subhash Chandra’s empire the jobs were merged in order to milk the cow to its full capacity.
BEA simply chose to avoid this glaring contradiction and decided to stay silent despite being a body of TV editors and not of TV business heads. The Hoot put this larger question related with Zee-Jindal incident to Mr. NK Singh, General Secretary BEA, who tersely responded in the following terms, “As of now, we are dealing with this particular case; this issue will be discussed later.”  
Now comes the very question of the nature of the stand, BEA has taken in this case. Was this particular stand taken in isolation, or does BEA follows any norm in arriving at such decisions?
Lets look at the record in these matters.  BEA, after taking suo moto cognizance of the incident, instituted a three member fact finding committee on this Zee-Jindal issue on October 10, 2012 which comprised three members including NK Singh (Secretary BEA), Dibang (Ex managing editor NDTV) and Rahul Kanwal (Managing editor, Headlines Today). The enquiry committee was unexpectedly prompt in its deliberations and pronounced its verdict within just eight days of its formation, holding Sudhir Chaudhary guilty of misconduct and removing him from the body’s membership. BEA issued a press release on 18th October, 2012 to the effect.
This alacrity has raised eyebrows as BEA has still not released its enquiry report in the heinous Assam molestation incident in which the editor and reporters of  the Assamese channel NewsLive were accused of provoking molestation of an innocent girl to get some eye grabbing visuals. The Assam molestation incident not only shook the country but badly tarnished the image of the media as a whole.  
The incident took place in July 2012. On 17th July, BEA formed a three member team of senior editors to look in to the matter and even laid out the much hyped “larger issue” for the sake of its jurisdiction. BEA said in a statement that its team would try to find out if any journalist had actually played a part in the commissioning of the crime. It would also deliberate on the larger issue of conduct of journalists. The three member team was headed by NK Singh (General Secretary, BEA) and included Dibang and Ashutosh (Managing Editor IBN7). The team immediately rushed to Assam, met the concerned parties and looked into the evidence. This was well reported in national and regional media with the hope of getting a clear picture about the incident and the code of ethics on the larger issue of journalistic conduct.
But till now no report has been filed by the BEA on this case, though it arrived at a decision in the Zee-Jindal case in record time. Four months have already passed but BEA is nowhere near to filing the report.
 But in the Sudhir Chaudhary case, the promo, trailer and shooting of the film was completed within a week, and the film was even released simultaneously.
There were two common members in both committees (those of the Assam molestation incident and Zee-Jindal incident), NK Singh and Dibang. The Hoot contacted both to understand this riddle. Dibang said that he would not like to comment on the issue as there was a consensus in the BEA that committee members would not  comment publicly on cases. He said he had answers to all such questions but he was bound by the decision of the BEA.
NK Singh, on the other hand, said that the reason for the delay in the Assam incident’s report was because that they have been waiting for CFSL report to judge the veracity of voices, heard during the molestation incident. He suggested that the BEA was relying on the investigation by authorities to form its opinion in this case. Being asked for the reason of two different parameters adopted in two incidents of alleged ethical misconduct, he said, “Culpability is different in both cases. The Zee issue is based on editorial conduct.” He too expressed his unwillingness to elaborate further.
Now the fact is that a CFSL report is awaited in the second case as well. The police is yet to get the laboratory report of the sting CD, submitted by Jindal in the current case.  But that did not stop the body from announcing action against the editor whose conduct was being inquired into.
The fact that the BEA has taken an exceptional stand in this case is also proven by the previous stands of the association in the Radia tapes  case and in the Sahara-Ed controversy issue.  BEA was formed in August 2009 with some high profile objectives like need to evolve healthy norms, promote training of professional journalists at all levels, and ensure dissemination of credible and constructive news content and to protect the right to freedom of expression, whenever threatened.
The  Radia tapes controversy erupted at the end of the year 2010. in which names of several reputed journalists like Barkha Dutt, Prabhu Chawala, and Vir Sanghvi came to fore for being allegedly involved in unethical hobnobbing with a corporate lobbyist.  Interestingly BEA neither instituted any enquiry committee nor released any statement and chose to remain quite immovable on an issue which came to epitomize the rot in the media.
Individually some  BEA members spoke out.  Ashutosh (managing editor, IBN7) of course, gave a very candid and scathing reply to questions raised on Radia issue while participating in Patna book fest. He bluntly said, “Hame sab pata hai ki media ke bheeter kuch patrakar dallagiri karte hain. Transfer aur posting ka kaam karvaate hain. Angrezi main bhale hi isey lobbying kaha jaata ho, lekin aise kaam karne waale ko hum apni bhasha main dalle kahte hain- (English translation-We are well aware that some journalist are involved in liasoning and dealing in the name of media. They do undertake assignments like transfer and posting. No matter, In English, they are called as lobbyist but we call such persons “pimp” in our language”). However candid this outburst was we don’t know if he raised this  issue at the forum of BEA.  Because there is no record of any action following.
BEA has a record of similar inaction in the case of the  Sahara-Enforcement Directorate controversy in which Upendra Rai, news director of Sahara News  was accused of trying to influence and bribe an Enforcement Directorate official at the behest of corporate lobbyist Nira Radia. Even the Supreme Court took cognizance of the issue and asked for an undertaking from the Sahara counsel that the channel would not publish any story against the investigating officer duing the pendency of the matter. On May 3, 2011, the CBI  also registered  a preliminary enquiry in this case and launched formal a investigation at the request of the Enforcement Directorate. The matter didn’t die down here and Supreme Court on May 6, 2011, issued a  contempt notice to the Managing Director of Sahara Group Subrata Roy and two others for allegedly interfering with the investigation into 2G spectrum case and in the administration of justice.But no decision or pronouncement  was forthcoming on this issue from the BEA.
Sudhir Chaudhary in his response to BEA against his expulsion, raises several issues on of which relates to grievances members of the BEA committee might have against him. In his words,  ‘”Sadly, the pronouncement is a result of infancy of systems at BEA/Committee and the association’s inability to manage a handful of eager-beaver agendas, including, but not limited to, those of Editors on the committee who I have removed from appearing on my channel.” He is alleging internal lobbying and interests groups within the BEA.
While discussing the larger issue of ethics and the BEA it is relevant to mention the record of Sudhir Chaudhary whom the BEA put on its executive and has now hastily removed. He was the CEO of Live India, when the channel ran a fake sting against a Delhi school teacher Uma Khurana. It devastated her life and brought indelible shame to media, particularly news channels. The question arises as to why BEA never took note of his past when giving him the position of treasurer of the organization.
BEA never clarified whether it had exonerated him of being guilty of that incident or whether it was suffering from selective amnesia.
But Sudhir Chaudhary’s side of the story, in this saga of inquiry and expulsion, cannot be ignored either. He has accused some of the editors of BEA to conspire against him whom he does not invite on this shows any more.  When The Hoot contacted him he once again referred to a few allegedly aggrieved editors on the  BEA enquiry committee, without taking any names. He also requested this writer to go through the constitution of the BEA which clearly mentions that only serving editors can be members of BEA. Two members of the enquiry committee, Dibang and NK Singh are no longer serving editors.
If sources are to be believed the third name of the alleged conspirator in his list, pertains to Satish K Singh who was earlier the editor of Zee news and was replaced by Sudhir Chaudhry. The Hoot contacted Satish K Singh,  currently editor of Live India news channel, over such allegations and insinuations but he declined to  comment and  added, “I even didn’t utter a single word in the meetings of BEA on the particular issue.” Dibang and NK Singh also chose not to respond to Chaudhary’s  insinuations. 
Apart from the BEA, the role of news channels in this Zee-Jindal episode  is questionable. They  have not investigated this story despite the fact the existence of a police complaint, sting CD (which has been sent for forensic examination) and consequent police enquiry. They just overlooked a very important and far reaching development of their fraternity.
Viewers must wonder which the reporters who aggressive pursue every scrap of information on  Salman Khurshid or Robert Vadra Arvind Kejriwal or A Raja, are conspicuously silent on and do not pursue allegations regarding their own fraternity.
The current incident could become a turning point for the BEA if it chooses to face allegations being leveled against its members and criticism of its own alleged arbitrariness. But one of the early decisions the body took when the Jindal-Zee story broke was that its members would express no public views on the issue, nor participate in any TV discussion on the subject.

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