A healthy dash of reality helps

Now that the Tarun Tejpal case and all the sh.. that goes on in newsrooms has hit the fan, reams are written about sexual harassment, how the hunters have become the hunted and how giving strange excuses and covering up may just be a psycho-shoma-tic disorder. Today, women are being given a pat on the back for having the courage to speak out, and one does need courage to do so, there is no denying that.

Women shout slogans calling for the arrest of Tarun Tejpal, during a protest in New Delhi. Pic/AFP

Meanwhile, the media’s critics are in finer fettle than ever before. Those who believe that all journalists can be bought with bucks and booze are sharpening their knives on the Tehelka controversy. ‘Corrupt and immoral b..ta..s’ is one of the kinder epithets being thrown at the press right now. ‘Porn addicts’ is another, ‘free, fearless, fair, f…s’ is yet another alliteration used for the press. Another person comments on a site with what he/she thinks is rare insight and whistle-blower’s courage: ‘we know what goes on inside newsrooms: ‘f....cation’.

Shoma Chaudhary, managing editor at Tehelka being helped off the dais by Mahesh Bhatt at an event in Mumbai

One need not have a fertile (all those f-words) imagination to see how these media bashers must have hammered on their keyboards, pounding in happiness at having a chance to say this. Though the lingo of the sentiments may raise eyebrows, it has to be expected. There has also been plenty of advice to women in the workplace and senior journalists have written what have been termed as ‘whistleblower’ columns on newsrooms. Women and young men too need to set their bulls..t quotient high.

Not referring to the Tejpal case specifically, the yardstick in journalism which says that you need to be sceptical not cynical, when investigating a story, be sceptical too of carefully construed images.┬áIf there are things being said that are making you feel uncomfortable, brushed off as some ‘intellectual’ or light-hearted observations or banter, look through that posturing, because that most probably is claptrap. Do not attribute celestial qualities to journalists who write columns full of words that have you running to the dictionary, or fall over in excitement when one sees books written by them.

Tarun Tejpal
Tehelka’s founder-editor Tarun Tejpal

Some people have a great way with words, a real gift in this profession where words are your most important tools. Yet, this felicity with words can be used in different ways. If they can be used beautifully they can also be used to barb, humiliate, wound or even cover-up as they are powerful weapons with serrated edges, and can be wielded with damaging or devious dexterity by those who have a command over them. See also through those carefully cultivated groupies or acolytes following this powerful individual. This does not mean one cannot be a genuine friend to somebody, but make distinction between friend and fawning follower.

Since the Tejpal controversy included some phrases like: ‘drunken banter’, if you smell alcohol on this venerated figure at work all the time, hear of him get into liquor-related skirmishes, don’t believe it when it is brushed off as some cosy, old boys’ club drinking. He may need Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) more than backslapping buddies who tell him there is “no harm” in drinking hard as he is a “true journalist”. Not every newbie in a newsroom needs to be a cynic or an insolent upstart know-it-all who cannot learn from seniors. Yet, as in life, so in the newsroom, there’s no harm in a healthy dose of reality.

Teacher talk
A powerful barometer of the Tarun Tejpal controversy, is the effect it is having on young persons aspiring to this profession. The mood in several Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM) classrooms is a yardstick to measure the reaction of GenNext to the imbroglio given that so many of these students want to become journalists think.

Says Dr S Varalakshmi, head of the Dept of Mass Communication, Jai Hind College, “Classes have just begun and of course, the Tarun Tejpal controversy did figure in classroom discussion. Today’s youngsters are not naive, there was none of that shocked ‘how could he do this? Or how could this happen?’ kind of reaction. Students have acknowledged that though Tejpal is from the fraternity, it is the media too, which is playing a big role in this expose and is a vigilante in that way. A direct offshoot of this is that a group of students are now working on a project on Women and the Workplace as it has so much resonance today.”

Jerry Pinto, writer and guest faculty at the Sophia Institute of Social Communication says, “Classes have not started yet, so I cannot say what the reaction would be to this. There, will probably be a lot, a lot of questions that students would want to ask, once class begins in a couple of days.” Pinto says that while the Tejpal case and Shakti Mills cases are hugely different, the latter did evoke a lot of discussion.

“It was, interestingly about how the Shakti Mills case was covered by the media. A lot of students thought that they would not be able to live through the media storm that followed.” Pinto ends by saying that there are signs that, “the new generation is not willing to compromise. This attitude that: I won’t stand for this, helps everybody -- women and men in the newsroom.”

Carol Andrade, media educator, says that the Tarun Tejpal controversy has not come up for discussion yet in her class, “Though gender issues have been discussed in the past. On the whole, I do not see students worried about violence at the workplace as such. That perhaps is not surprising, because at that age, young people feel invulnerable they feel they can handle everything.”

Andrade though adds, “It is encouraging that girls are coming out to speak up and I see real transformation in that. We are also seeing girls unafraid to give details of the crime. The feeling is seeping in that the man has the most to lose. There was also the beginning of a feeling of certain spaces, like workplaces becoming much safer for women.” It is evident that across classrooms, media students were following with much interest ‘how’ the crime and aftermath is being reported in different media.

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