Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hartosh, Manu, Open and Me.

My boss Political Editor Hartosh Singh Bal was fired last week because the owner of the Open magazine ( Sanjiv Goenka, also chairman of RP-Sanjiv Goenka group, was under pressure to do so by a/some politician/s. 

Manu, the editor, my editor, our editor, allowed this to happen. He is a sad man and called it a “compromise.” He made the compromise to rebuild his relationship with the owner (Goenka) so that ‘I can push through an ambitious online plan for the magazine’ he reasoned. 
I don’t agree with him. After losing Hartosh, who he himself described as “irreplaceable,” how can we actually make the magazine better?

But to his credit, Manu called a spade a spade. He came out clear on what transpired behind the scene. He confirmed that Goenka was under political pressure to take this step. 

Hartosh is like a notional shield that protects me. 
Many of his counterparts, in other publications, dub his forthrightness as madness. I respect you Manu for your forthrightness. But I have a feeling that it might be too late in the day. 

Logically so, Hartosh wants to know who is the face behind the political pressure.

In the backdrop of this travesty of justice, such awful treatment meted out to one of the finest journalist I have ever worked with, the anger in me is galvanised into an affront to my self respect.

I am a journalist. Or in other words, Journalism is my profession and the only source of income. I write stories to make a living. I look at my employers, Open magazine, as a platform where I enjoyed, so far, because I was able to do justice to my profession. Manu and Hartosh thanks to you both for that. And I thank Sanjiv Goenka for paying our salaries from his pocket.

I make an important distinction at this point: I am a journalist first and then I am an Open staff. And never till few days ago were these two identities in conflict with each other.

I am acutely aware that someone has to pay for our salaries. News is not a lucrative business. Magazines have long gestation period. Financial support is a must to survive. And there is no bravery in perishing. There will always be areas where journalistic freedom will hamper the business interests of the owner of a publication. So those areas should be listed: Please don’t exercise your journalist freedom in these specified  areas, with these set of people. No freedom is absolute. That's an absolute truth. Let that be known and there will be no problem. And still if some wayward journalist insists to walk the prohibited area, drop the story. That is fine with me. 
Manu never stopped a story.
But to fire someone for no specific reason is travesty of justice. And since we write about others, it is imperative that we too maintain those high standards of propriety ourselves. To exist as a compromise is not a good idea. 

I have been pressurised by friends who wish good for me, time and again, to fall in line. Be pragmatic, be rich. All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts..... So play your part. Play it well: be a bedfellow with people in power. They will look after you. It is an easy option. They will keep you happy, you will get out of turn promotions, undeserving pay hikes and you would never be inconvenient to your employers, as their business interests, with time, will become consistent with your personal interest.

I admire Manu for stating the truth. It is no mean achievement to say the truth under given circumstances. People pontificate to tell me that it is not a pragmatic thing to do, to state the truth and embarrass the owner. I tell them you can’t expect journalists to be pragmatic.That they choose to be a reporter/writer is testament to the fact that they are not pragmatic. Pragmatism makes this world a bad place to live in.  

I am very pragmatic in chasing a story, though. Over the years, I have realised that journalism can get very frustrating not only when things like this happen. Also because you are always a witness to events; never a participant, you are writing about what others do and that is all you do as a profession for a lifetime. You are a witness with a pen, never part of the action. This frustration revisits me often.

The act of being able to report what you see, as you see is very empowering. After all reporters are the primary sources of information. This sense of empowerment compensates effectively for some nagging frustrations that I now look at as a professional hazard.

If one was to live with the fear that one day someone politically powerful would take offence to your writing and would approach the owners and force them to show me the door, and offer some money as consolation, that Manu calls ‘a form of justice,’ is a bad news.

But in this imperfect world, we journalists have to learn to live with the bad news, bad conscience, and compromises as some sort of existential dilemma.

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