T.J.S. GEORGE

The following is the text of an interaction of members of the Mysore District Journalists Association (MDJA), with  T.J.S. George, founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine and editorial advisor of The New Indian Express.

***

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

“I am given to understand that today is a special day in Mysore journalism because from today Deccan Herald and Praja Vani are being printed from this city. I think this points to the big changes taking place in the newspaper industry. Some of us on the dais (T.S. Satyan, Krishna Vattam, Rajashekhar Koti et al) will have difficulty in accepting the changes because a shift is taking place from journalism to the market.

“Journalism is getting less and less important.

“I don’t think this shift from journalism to the market is a good sign or a healthy sign, nor do I think this is necessary.

“In the United States, where marketing was invented, journalism and television and the internet have had the same pulls and pressures of the market. Still, they have the New York Times and Washington Post and several other magazines doing extremely well.

“Whereas, in our country, we have deviated from the core mandate of journalism, we have commercialized, we have trivialized, and we have tried to make all our pages, Page 3. This is not good because journalism is one of the continuing thought processes of civilization. And I only hope this is a passing phase and we will return to our good ways soon.”

**

QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION

NEWS IS SACROSANCT: “News should not be commercialized. Journalism should not be commercialized. Unfortunately, we now have newspapers which have an advertising rate-card to publish news items. The reader does not know, nor is he told, that what he is reading is not news but advertising. To that extent, publishers are cheating. If other economies can find their way around such pulls and tugs of the market, I don’t see why we cannot.”

**

TELL THE READER: An advertorial is perfectly honest and ethical, journalistically speaking, as long as you say it is an advertorial. Some papers call it an advertiser’s announcement, some call it a sponsored feature. As long as you say it’s paid for, I don’t see a violation of ethics. The problem arises when you seek to cheat a reader. If an interview appears on page 1 or page 3 as part of the news columns but has been paid for, then that is cheating. So, let’s make a distinction between what is paid for and what is not.”

**

DON’T DO STENOGRAPHY: “A signed column is one person’s view. He puts his name to it. He doesn’t impose his views on you. If you don’t like it, don’t read it…. I have doubts about the word ‘objectivity’ itself. I am not justifying twisting things but I think there is no shame in admitting that the days of old style he-said-she-said journalism are gone. Journalism should not be partisan, but it should also not be stenographic journalism. The whole concept of objectivity in journalism needs to be revisited.”

**

STING IS IN: “Sting journalism has become a part of our lives and for good reason. I think we should accept sting journalism because there are many items, many events, many incidents, many scandals which can only be brought out through techniques like these. For example, the cash-for-questions scandal. We should be prepared to accepted the validity of sting journalism but a line should be drawn.

“Tehelka did a marvelous sting opertion that was also necessary, but it lost a lot of goodwill and credibility through its use of women to expose the scandal. I think you’ve to make sure that he public do not feel uncomfortable.”

**

OPPOSE STING LAW: “I don’t know if the proposed law against sting operations is legally feasible. I hope not. It’s a bit like the political opposition to opinion polls and exit polls. Can we get rid of these just because it is inconvenient to some parties or individuals at different times? I hope they will not succeed. A lakshman rekha may need to be drawn but in principle I do not think they can be banned.”

**

MONEY-SUCCESS HAS BECOME BE-ALL: “The mindset of the journalists is no different from the mindsets of those round them. The mindset of a newcomer in journalism, as far as I can see, is to get 4-5 bylines, become a celebrity, get invited to functions and generally enjoy life. I don’t blame them. There is a problem with the country as a whole and the mindset of the country gets reflected in the mindsets of the journalists. This kind of “money-success” has become the be-all and end-all. But if publishers/owners can devalue the business, how can you blame the newcomers or the journalists?”

**

IMMATURIY IN JOURNALISM: “There is a lot of immaturity in Indian journalism. All it takes to become a reporter is a degree or a diploma. I don’t know what expertise they have. You look at crime reporting and sports reporting. In most organizations, the junior-most reporter is assigned these beats. Yet, these assignments are also among the hardest, requiring maturity and a socio-economic awareness. But where is the equipment? Education is another such beat. But unless you’ve studied it, there is very little you bring to the table, and very few papers care to develop the kind of expertise required to cover such demanding beats.”

**

DEVELOP EXPERTISE: “The Yomuiri Shimbun of Japan has a subeditor assigned to cover specific countries or regions. For example, if a sub editor is looking after Indonesia, he is supplied books on Indonesia by his employers, sent to annual holidays to Indonesia by his employers, etc. The company goes out of its way to develop his knowledge, awareness and in the end expertise. That is mature journalism. I haven’t heard of one newspaper in the country doing something like that.”

**

IMMATURITY CAUSES INCOMPETENCE: “What passes for journalism is a lot of immaturity. Out of that comes incompetence… The incompetence is not due to poor salaries alone. We’ve come a long way from days when we used to earn Rs 125 a month. Today, by any yardstick, at the entry level, journalists do get paid better The problem with journalism has to do with a lack of commitment, a lack of interest. If I can make more money as a police constable, why would I want to be a journalist?”

**

PRESENT IS BLEAK, FUTURE IS BRIGHT: “What is the future of Indian journalism? In the short term, I don’t think we are headed in the right direction. In the long term, I am a great optimist. I believe that when the economy develops and matures, the reader will demand better. In the current milieu, a serious paper is also a tabloid paper and a film paper and a scandal paper and so on. We cannot be everything at the same time. As we mature as an economy, I think we will have serious papers, tabloids, scandal sheets, fashion rags, etc, all fulfilling their chosen mandates.”

**

REVERSE COLONIAL DEPENDENCE: “I‘m not against Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) considering what we’ve done to our media and journalism ourselves. Did we send a single correspondent to Iraq? To Kargil? FDI is already there in a more sinister form, in content. Even the great M.J. Akbar had put up hoardings in Bangalore recently advertising ‘New York Times Crossword in The Asian Age’. Our reverse-colonial dependence on foreign media for content is there for all to see.

“FDI is not to make your country better. It’s to make profits.”

**

CONTENT ISN’T KING, BUT: “A journalist is incidental in today’s journalism. We must understand that content doesn’t matter, as The Times of India has proved. I used to say at management meetings of the Indian Express that TOI has proved that good editorial was irrelevant to a paper’s success as long as there was a good management. But, in the last couple of years, Kannada Prabha under H.R. Ranganath has proved me wrong. Without promotion, without advertising, without any of the gimmicks, a good paper is being produced almost as if to taunt the doomsayers.”

**

DON’T: “For young people wanting to take up journalism as a profession, I would say the same thing I would tell people about to get married: don’t. That said, though, they should have a sense of values and a sense of social responsibility. That sense of social responsibility is the difference between journalism and any other career. A journalist must have a feeling of doing it not for himself or his paper or his company but for the society as a whole. But with what honesty can I say that considering all that we see around us?

“However, India’s too big, too rich culturally to allow this to go on forever. No owner, no proprietor, no editor can think this will go on forever. The reader has been forgotten. Once the market matures, once the reader is reestablished as king, we will learn.”

**

7 Responses to “T.J.S. GEORGE”

  1. Trinity Says:

    The above statement of being a socially responsible journalist is easier said than done. Many a times in the business of journalism, you are expected to write in a certain manner which invariably caters to the interest of the sponsor/advertiser. For instance, if we are asked to cover a musical concert, you are expected to give it top ratings.

  2. journo Says:

    I have no disputes with TJS’s views on what ails our tribe, where the media is heading, about advertisements masquerading as news etc. He has made his point, as always, without mincing words.
    However, TJS appears to be fitting into the same mould as other common crime reporters when he calls Kannada Prabha a “good paper”.
    The success of Kannada Prabha is not very different from the success of Vijaya Karnataka. If TJS knew to speak and read Kannada, he would realise that our H R Ranganath, like Visweshwara Bhat, is packaging hindutva with liberal doses of laissez-faire. Kannada Prabha does not have the reach like TOI. So, advertisers are not exactly knocking down KP’s doors. Besides everyone knows that Mr Sonthalia — who has presided over the fall of a great newspaper — is actually keeping the paper’s print-order on a leash.
    Coming back to the point, Kannada Prabha in the last 2 years may have become a successful paper, like some of our government institutions like the KSRTC, the BTS etc, which were under perpetual losses. The first thing that got thrown out of the window, towards making these institutions profitable, was social responsibility. Ranga and team has done the same and TJS does not know because it was done in a language he doesn’t understand.

  3. Mary Soh Says:

    I have a question for T.J.S. George. Are you the gentlemam who used to write for Far Eastern Economic Review in Hong Kong back to years ago. I am a fan of yours. If so, could you please reply to my e-mail address?

    Thanks.

    Mary Soh

  4. Thampi Says:

    Sir,
    I recently happen to heard your speech about the ‘development of kerala’ conducted by asianet few months back. I admire you for telling the truth. Thanks you sir.
    Best Regards
    Thampi

  5. rajasekhar Says:

    Sir,

    I admire you for “KHOSHAYATHRA”

    Thanks you sir

  6. Shridhar Says:

    I admired TJS for his forthright articles. In this interaction also he is frank. His concern for immaturity in Indian journalism is understandable. Persons like me entered the field wayback in 1965 on a paltry sum of 90 Rs. But we were committed and were aware of our duty and responsibility to the society. Can we expect such sense of commitment in the media people belonging o present day generation?

  7. Shiv Says:

    For those in Bangalore and Karnataka who are unfamiliar with TJS, as a long time reader of once readable Indian Express published from Madras, TJS understands India, knows its history and also accepts the basic goodness of hindutva of the country for all indians not the hindutva the BJPians probagate for their vote bank politics.He is one of the few rare quality journalists left behind in this mayhem of mediocrity in all spheres that current india is passing through.It was a surprise to read today that he is one of the padmashree recipients and this award will have some value if more people of the quality of TJS gets it. Does the average so called “Learned Indian” does really know what is quality, hardwork and truthfullness really mean?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,708 other followers

%d bloggers like this: