In the final session at The Media Rumble 2019, stalwarts of the Indian news media attempted to dissect the mudslinging that has become the norm in India. Are media houses entitled or expected to criticise, question, or judge each other? ‘Let the one without sin cast the first stone,’ reads the oft-quoted Biblical verse, but in this world of secret owners and dubious agendas, is anyone really pure? In ‘Calling Out Our Own’, moderated by Abhinandan Sekhri, the CEO of Newslaundry, Sevanti Ninan, founder of the media watch website Thehoot.org; Shekhar Gupta, founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Print; Siddharth Vardarajan, Founding Editor of The Wire, and R. Jagannathan, Editorial Director of Swarajya magazine looked at whether media’s criticism of other media houses was a healthy practice for improvement or an exercise in discrediting news.
‘Criticising the media is not the same as covering the media,’ said Gupta, starting off what was to be heated discussion on the rights and wrongs of calling out one’s own. None of the panelists were comfortable with the term ‘calling out’ and sought to reframe the basic premise of the session. R. Jagannathan felt there had always been an ‘ideological consensus’ between media houses thereby negating the need for any real analysis of each other. Things have obviously changed in the last few years. ‘Media covers all sectors, but who covers you?’ asked Sevanti Ninan, who was a pioneer of media covering media organisations in India. Gupta praised the way that the American media allowed their rivals to respond to allegations of foul-play. ‘If you cover the media, give them the courtesy of journalistic freedom,’ he said, explaining that allegations ought not be made unless someone has had an opportunity to respond. Vardarajan asked why no stories were done on the ‘exits of senior journalists’ from big media houses before their contracts expired or on the astronomically growing ‘assets of certain politicians’. He also claimed that the Cobra Post - fueled scandal was the ‘most shocking of exposés of the India media’ revealing how journalism really works. Trying to explain why it would never be in a journalist’s best interests to criticise their peers, Ninan said that one becomes ‘unpopular very fast’ when you call out fellow journalists. ‘Most want to have careers in the media, and this jeopardises their chances of doing that very fast,’ she added.
The session became slightly tense when Shekhar Gupta and Abhinandan Sekhri locked horns while discussing whether or not journalists ‘closed their eyes’ to how their companies were funded. In the end, the panelists struck a conciliatory note and agreed that the nexus between big business, governments and big media houses made critiquing each other difficult and that only a small percent of media were truly independent and therefore above reproach.