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Media Ethics In Britain and India

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On May 14, 2004 Piers Morgan was ‘fired’ as editor of Britain’s ‘biggest selling newspaper’, “DAILY MIRROR” over the issue of some pictures he published in the paper on Saturday, May 1. The pictures were of British soldiers of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment abusing Iraqi civilians, more specifically one of which published on the front page of a British soldier in full modern battle-gear urinating on a hooded Iraqi.

The pictures instantly raised a furor in the political establishment as well as the media. The concern was not only about the veracity of the pictures but their effect on the morale of British soldiers in Iraq already under fire from the Al Qaeda. Alastair Campbell, Director of communications at No. 10 Downing Street advised Morgan:

“When you decide it’s no longer enough to be a national newspaper editor, and you want to be a political player…when you decide to be a player, then sometimes you have to face up to the rules of the political game as well.” (The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade. Ebury Press, London 2005. p.9)Fast forward and Campbell could be advising our celebrity journalists caught with their hands in Niira Radia’s cookie jar in late 2010?

Even after being shown the door Morgan insisted that the pictures he published were real and were in fact provided by a soldier of the QLR serving in Iraq. But Morgan had the candour to confess:

“There were times in my editing career when I was sanctimonious or hypocritical…Journalists are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to our own failings. But much of what we do is notable for its conceit, moral double standards and occasionally downright nastiness.”  (Ibid. p.ix)DAILY MIRROR may only be a tabloid given to purveying salacious gossip. Still the paper fired Morgan once it became known that the pictures he published were crude fakes.

Morgan says that during the two weeks in which the controversy originated, peaked and climaxed he was constantly stalked day and night by newspaper reporters and TV crews shouting questions like ‘Are you going to quit Mr. Morgan?

And that is the big difference between Britain, the ‘mother of democracy’ and India, still unable to shed its feudal past, where two different standards co-exist: one for the clichéd common man and another for the high and mighty.

Here it is not about an editor paying the price for publishing ‘crude fake’ pictures, probably himself done in and publishing them in good faith.

Here it is about a famous ex-editor and columnist supplicating before a corporate lobbyist begging for instructions on what should go into his next column almost as obsequiously as a waiter in a restaurant taking an order.

Here it is about a puffed-up television diva lobbying for a political crook – whose malfeasance was all too apparent because a number of other journalists’ exposes in reams of newsprint eloquently detailed it – to be re-inducted into the national government.

All would have ended well and the whole issue sanctimoniously submerged except for OPEN and OUTLOOK which published transcripts of their secret conversations. (Privacy be damned; the only thing private in the conversations was about Niira Radia’s gown a graphic description of which she delivered to Ratan by golly Tata). And the abhorred Internet Hindus who would not give up! They texted a million (according to some estimates two million) tweets, focused the attention of the world’s press and brought the demigods down to the earth with a thud.

Morgan was summoned to the Chief Executive Sly Bailey’s office to be informed that it was ‘no longer appropriate’ for him to continue as editor. His security pass and handheld Blackberry computer were instantly confiscated and he was escorted out of the office by burly security personnel.

In minutes as he was driven home by his official chauffeur for the last time, Morgan’s in-car TV crackled into life and he was ‘breaking news’! He says his phone went into ‘meltdown, with calls and text messages pouring in relentlessly from colleagues, other editors, family, friends. Even the odd foe, presumably just to make sure it was true’!

Here in India, let alone stalking the two journalists shouting questions like ‘Are you going to quit?’ the media first went into denial and then put in place a massive cover-up exercise.

In the case of the freelancer, he was allowed to withdraw his column on his own volition and escaped to, of all places Bangkok; probably to have a massage to soothe the bruised ego for having been exposed, with hefty wenches holding neem twigs?

In the case of the puffed-up television diva, at whose desk all bucks (including the famed American?) stop, her security pass and handheld computer were not confiscated nor was she escorted out of office by burly security personnel. On the other hand she was allowed to stage her own trial live (and unedited as her chosen moderator-judge claimed and we have no reason to suspect otherwise!) for prime-time entertainment (what else?) with herself participating as a juror at her own trial that was almost surreal if it were not so comic.

For once, on the issue of journalistic ethics (or lack of them!), the Internet Hindus and some of the editors are on the same page. One couldn’t possibly agree more with one of them when he says that if these journalists were employed by the Financial Times or New York Times or The Guardian it would have been curtains for their careers.

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2 Responses to "Media Ethics In Britain and India"

  1. Anil Kohli says:

    This is precisely what the Indians are demanding. Journalists who have exceeded their brief and indulged in unethical professional behaviour must relinquish their posts. These individual no longer meet the required minimum standards of the Industry.
    Credibility like virginity once lost cannot be regained. Latter may be found out only when you go to bed next time with a new partner , former precedes you and is known to all.
    Media has been busy protecting its own and is extremely nervous who will be the next person to be exposed and shamed. Closing ranks helps no one this exacerbates the problem instead of solving it. Neither does fighting the world at large help the exposed individuals.
    Hope better sense prevails with our media or it will be drilled in by the people of this country. Choice is simple do it yourself or be compelled by public pressure to rectify the situation.
    There is escaping this time, price has to be paid by the guilty media persons.

    Anil Kohli

  2. PRADEEP says:

    Very well brought out. This is the diff between real democracy and copy of democracy thats what we are . we are not the real one.

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