ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Trading Places

A Brief History of Journalists as Power Brokers and Corporate Agents in India

Media professionals have an important responsibility to society since they are in a position to mould public opinion. But the recent exposures of journalists taking favours from corporate groups have only highlighted once again an old phenomenon in India--codes of conduct are observed in their breach and Chinese walls are usually non-existent in media organisations. Since the 1980s, groups of journalists have tried to straddle the worlds of the media, business and politics, and in the process have damaged the functioning of democracy in the country.

The corrupt nexus between business and politics in India has been facilitated by particular journalists. While it is true that this association involves other segments of society as well, including the bureaucracy, the role played by media personnel in this nexus is particularly pernicious because journalists exert influence on public opinion through what they write or say—or what they do not. The disclosures by a whistle-blower in the Essar group of companies recently have led to the resignations of at least three journalists. In another case, a journalist who ran a website on the petroleum sector has been arrested for allegedly purveying government documents.

The alleged misdemeanours of the media-persons who have been disgraced in the recent instances seem relatively trivial. At the same time, the role played by certain corrupt journalists in the business–politics nexus raises issues of serious concern because these have an adverse impact on the working of democracy in the country. It is common knowledge that many political parties and politicians receive money in an illegal manner from representatives of business groups and that politicians return favours to their benefactors in a variety of ways. On occasions, journalists and practitioners of public relations (PR)—call them lobbyists if you like—become important players in this pernicious project not merely by providing information but also by influencing opinion through what is published or uttered in the mass media.

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