- Vijay Simha
Let's leave the defrocked Tarun J Tejpal aside for a while. He has a long battle with himself ahead anyway. Let us instead try and see what Indian journalism may do now. The media industry in India is possibly the biggest there is.
Tejpal is not the first editor in this vast fraternity to harm by thought and deed. If he is to be the last, the Indian media would need a strong, honest and sustainable dose of reform. Resistance will make it tougher; willingness will inject enthusiasm.
Here are a few steps that could salvage Indian journalism from the train wreck it threatens to be.
1. Initiate a public inquiry into media practices
The UK had its Leveson Inquiry in the winter of 2011 after the phone-hacking scandal that year. The Inquiry report and recommendations has become a yardstick for media worldwide. India needs a media inquiry too.
It could be a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the Indian media. A retired judge of impeccable credentials, either from the Supreme Court or a chief justice of a High Court, could head it. The inquiry would have a six or nine-month window so it doesn't become stale. A report has to ideally come after nine months.
A six-member panel of unblemished names could assist the chair of the inquiry. At this point, I can only think of Vinod Mehta from among journalists. No serving editor is eligible because they are the subject of inquiry. Other names have to come from the wider society.
The inquiry would examine the culture, practices and ethics of the print media, news agencies, broadcasters, and online and social media. It would need separate components to examine the relationship between:
1) Media and politicians
2) Media and the corporates
3) Media and the judiciary and police
4) Newsroom practices and codes of conduct
It could consider the extent to which regulation has failed and whether previous warnings about media misconduct were not acted upon.The inquiry could be funded by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting with no control resting with them on the inquiry itself.
The inquiry could have a separate website in English and Hindi, extending to other Indian languages in due course. This website shall be permanent and funded by the I&B ministry. Control of the website shall rest with the person conducting the inquiry. Anyone and everyone can depose.
Image: Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhry arrives at her office in New Delhi. (PTI)