Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Journalists, Conversations

Outside the government hospital in Morena, the city's journalists were sitting on dharna.

One of the journalists from one of the Hindi dailies had brought his sick father to this hospital. Apparently, the patient needed an operation. But a certain Dr Sunil refused to perform the operation until some money was forthcoming, although it was a government hospital and the procedure should have been free (or almost free, I assume).

The distraught journalist did not want to argue with a sick father on his hands. He managed to bring back Rs 5000 and told the doctor to please go ahead and perform the operation. The patient/father was taken into the operation theatre, but...

At this critical juncture, it appears, the doctor received a phone-call, telling him that an emergency situation had arisen in his own private hospital. (I cannot, in truth, describe how critical the juncture was, or exactly how far the doctor had progressed) That doctor dropped everything, stopped operating on the 'government' patient and ran to attend to his own 'private' patient.

Naturally, the journalist was upset. Word went round to the local newspapers. They all sent representatives, who gathered outside the hospital. Slogans were shouted and a certain Dr Sunil was already sounding rather apologetic, last I heard.

The journalists of Morena, however, began adopting the 'andolan' habit, much earlier.

It started with what is now referred to as the 'incident of the PNDT Act', which is better known through the flagrant violation thereof. The district collector had ordered that certain nursing homes/clinics be raided and the sonography machines be sealed, until the doctors concerned manage to produce the relevant paperwork.

A photographer from Jan Darshan landed up at one of these clinics, where the sonography machine was believed to be illegally kept. He got beaten up by the hospital staff; the doctor had him locked up in the clinic, taking away his camera, and there the poor photographer stayed until his colleagues came to rescue him.

When they went to the police, the doctor spun a neat little web of (what seem to be) lies.

He alleged that the said photographer was beaten up because he was attempting to molest one of his nurses. The police officers concerned were not listening to the photographer's side of the story. Which was more credible, in any case. [I mean, it is rather peculiar isn't it, that a photographer should choose to molest a nurse at one of the (suspected) 'tainted' clinics, on the very day that the sonography machine had been sealed by the authoritites.... and if the good doctor had to take away some offending piece of er... equipment, it should not have been the camera.... right?]

Anyway, that was when the journalists of this small town got together and began to protest - against the police, against the doctor, against the persecution of the said photographer who now found himself facing charges of attempted rape.

The tamasha continued for a few days. The nurse admitted, though not in writing, that she'd been pressured by the doctor to make certain allegations. Her husband joined the dharna-side of the fracas. The police buckled. The doctor apologized....

The matter was allowed to rest there.
Which I thought was sad... but well, one step at a time, I suppose.

A conversation:

D: You think the BJP will take Bihar?
Me: Looks like that.
D: They'll be kicked out of MP, I'm sure. Everybody hates them.
Me: Then who will be brought in?
D: Congress.
Me: Congress? But didn't MP throw them out because they'd mis-ruled and the people had had enough?
D: That's true, but now we're realising the problem with the BJP. These people do not know how to rule. Inhe shaasan ki aadat nahin hai (they don't have the habit of administration). They take as much as the Congress took. But they don't deliver.

[D takes out his camera phone at this point and shows me a blurry image of a minor official. You can't really tell much, but there's money being counted, ON the desk.
D says "Many of them don't even bother to take it discreetly. They accept money in office. It's no longer an envelope 'under the table'."]

Me: Are they less corrupt?
D: (laughing) No. But at least, in the Congress' time, people would take bribes and do the job. Here, you pay, yet there's no guarantee that your work won't be held up. Besides, people are being transferred at the drop of a hat. One IAS officer was tranferred twice in a month. How can he do any good work? Forget good work, how can he do anything? .... I'm a struggling entrepreneur. I have accepted that I cannot get anything done in this state without bribing. But give me some assurances... oh yes, if this continues, the Congress is coming back.

And more....

D: I'm interested in journalism. I hang out very often with these journalist friends.
Me (to myself) Amazing how often I hear that... (Aloud) Really? Why don't you join a paper?
D: Where's the time? And there's no money in it. Most of these boys get paid 2,000-2,500 rupees, in local papers. Even the biggest-circulating papers pay very little. You can't survive.
Me: But they do survive... how?
D: You know how it is.
Me: I don't, actually.
D: They manage... like, there's something you know about somebody. You could choose not to publish it..... that's the only way, around here. The boys who enter the newspaper business at all... they do it out of personal interest, not as a career option.

[I do not know what to say. Anything I could, would be inappropriate. We are joined, later, by a very enthusiastic young boy, who cannot be more than 18 or 19.]

Boy: Tell us something, ma'am... I want your guidance.
Me: If I can give any... sure.
Boy: How can I join a big paper in Delhi?
Me: Er... Umm... well, do you know anybody who already works there?
Boy: (small-voiced) You've got to know people?
Me: I'm afraid that's how it usually works. Or you must know people who know people who work there... or you get recruited from a campus, in a media college.... but that's only what I've seen....

Boy: Tell me something else. Something about the new things that are happening there. What software do you use?
Me: Software? I'm not sure.
Boy: Don't you design the paper?
Me: No. I just write. We have designers on the desk.
Boy: Ahhh... and you use the latest?
Me: I'm not sure. The only thing I knew of was Quark.
Boy: Oh that... that's very old stuff. What about Corel? I know all about 9 and 10 but I've heard there's a new 11 version. It must be all over, in Delhi?
Me: (sheepish) I don't know much about this...

[And I am thinking: Boy deserves better. At 19, he reports. He designs. He even handles visits to the printing press. He deserves better than to be stuck in this rut of a > Rs 2000 job, where he is forced to resort to blackmail and hush-money. But how? And what am I to do? And what are they thinking of, all these large selling Hindi dailies with the biggest circulations ever? Why aren't they thinking?]


Badri Seshadri said...

That poor young boy reporter. You could ask him to blog regularly. if the content is a bit too sensitive, perhaps anonymously. Some bright editor of some city newspaper may probably end up seeing the writing and may give him a job one day?

This 'blackmail' thing is quiet common in the regional press, particularly of the sensational tabloidish variety. There is so much muck in a village, small town level.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on annie, anyone in the news business knows that software is nothing but a tool and poorly paid reporters are dime a dozen even in the metros. That poor young boy reporter, if he's good, will make it good and be better than the city slickers. That is, if he has it in him to get a foot in. Dont lose sleep over it. Personally, I would rather advise him to get into the stock market. All misplaced idealism ends in the media

Brown Magic said...

I really liked your post. stumbled onto your blog from can't recall where, but will definitely be back.

thalassa_mikra said...

Annie, I do think reporters working for Hindi and other regional language newspapers, at least the big ones, get paid well enough.

I have a friend who works for Roznama Rashtriya Sahara, the Urdu newspaper brought out by the Sahara group, and his salary is comparable to someone in his position in a Delhi paper, adjusting for cost of living of course.

His office is technologically very well equipped, and looked posher than many English language newspaper offices I had seen in Delhi. So perhaps it's not all bad.

Subramaniam Avinash said...

Lovely post. Cheers.

heretic said...

Sincere advice for the boy: Ask him to get over the journalism fever, and get into technical writing; the work is good, the conscience remains clear, and the wallet gets fat.

PS: Sorry, but "they" did a good job of making a cynic of me in the short while I did work in the profession. :-)

Jane Sunshine said...

Annie, just discovered your blog and looooveeee your insights. Keep writing and will definitely be back!!!

Delhi's Deviant said...

wow!i'm a struggling copywriter who was on the verge of shifting over to journalism. But, i think you just made up my mind for me. Thanks a ton. Copywriting it is.

Anonymous said...

Nice, sad post.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Delhi's Deviant, what's ailing you? Compulsive impulsive disorder. You change your life's decision over a blog post!!! With copywriting all you will be seeing is paper for the rest of your life. In journalism, you deal with life-stuff...real people with real predicaments, fighters, losers, idealists, mothers of child molesters, lunatics leading one-man crusades, film stars, villains, inspiring people, the scum of the earth, good drunks and the list has not even started. You want this or you want to pen corny lines for soap companies. You want the heat of the real deal or the air-conditioner, that's the q you gotta be addressing...

1conoclast said...

I'm must be an MP-ite then. Coz I hate the BJP too! And it gives me so much joy to say this!

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