Blood in the newsroom

Published: Dec 14, 2011, 08:23 IST | Team MiD DAY |

With the arrest of a journalist in the J Dey murder case, the media is under the scanner. The recent launch of a novel, The Newsroom Mafia, probing the nexus between the media, underworld, the police and politicians, is particularly timely

With the arrest of a journalist in the J Dey murder case, the media is under the scanner. The recent launch of a novel, The Newsroom Mafia, probing the nexus between the media, underworld, the police and politicians, is particularly timely

As J Dey's murder probe goes on, the arrest of Mumbai journalist Jigna Vora has raised uncomfortable questions about journalistic credibility. Writer and former journalist Oswald Pereira, who has seen it all as he says, in his fictional book, 'The Newsroom Mafia' exposes the ugly underbelly of the profession. Excerpts from the book �

Event: Oswald Pereira (second from left) during the launch of his book 
at Crossword Bookstore in Kemps Corner

Things go awry
Pereira writes in a chapter called, 'The Front Page', "Sreedhar Shastri, editor-in-chief of The Newsroom, was busy putting to bed India's most respected and largest English language newspaper. It was rare that the editor-in-chief himself was present to close the edition �For the first time in the history of the newspaper industry the world over, The Newsroom was publishing a news story written even before the event had occurred �

Underworld Don Narayan Swamy Arrested from Home in Predawn Swoop, screamed the front page... Bombay's Police commissioner Donald Fernandez had struck a deal with Sreedhar and me that I was to have an 'advance' exclusive on the Don's arrest if my editor-in-chief agreed to carry it on the front page. The beneficiaries of the deal were the police commissioner, The Newsroom and me, the newspaper's crime reporter �" 

The newspaper's crime reporter  is Oscar Pinto, who shares a special rapport with the Police Commissioner, Donald Fernandez. Unfortunately, the event did not unfold according to the plan, writes Pereira, "as the first copies of The Newsroom started rolling out of the giant printers, Narayan was safely ensconced in an early morning Air India hop-over flight to Madras, having apparently slipped through a 400-strong police cordon around his sprawling three-storey house in Matunga.."

It's a deal
In their quest for 'exclusive' stories, sometimes, as Pereira points out, deals are struck with journalists, which, "did not involve money but the so-called 'news scoops'. They helped boost Donald's image and my career. He gave me 'exclusives' and I gave him fame, thanks to my big splashes about his brave acts �"

The different types
In another chapter called, 'Glory and Shame', the writer talks about the different categories of journalists in the field, "There were the na ve and sincere ones who were conned by sources offering 'exclusives' and inspired leaks, and the smarter scribes, for whom the pen was indeed mighty: a Damocles' Sword that they hung over their victims...There was a price for printing a story. But, in most cases, the price for not printing a story was higher. Fortunately, most journalists were honest and stood by their ethics. But the percentage of corrupt journalists was not negligible either �"

The connecting link
In another chapter called 'The Temptress', the writer talks about a journalist who acts as an intermediary between the underworld don and a powerful politician. In Pereira's book, this journalist is a female named Stella Kutty. Stella is one hell of a journalist who can, 'unearth crucial leads that took her to the bottom of every story that she filed.' Stella acts as an intermediary between the Don Narayan Swamy and PK Krishnamoorthy, the president of Tamil Nadu's ruling party.  Writes Pereira, "Krishnamoorthy did not communicate with the Don in case some intelligence official was keeping tab on his phone. Hence, Stella served as a perfect insulator to officially dissociate Krishnamoorthy from any dealings with Narayan �Stella was: elusive and sexy but efficient and businesslike in all of her many roles-smart journalist �"

'It's an insider's view'
Oswald Pereira , author of  'The Newsroom Mafia' speaks about his book. An interview: What is your opinion on the ongoing J Dey case in which Jigna Vora (journalist) has been accused along with others? 
As far as Jigna is concerned, it won't be appropriate to comment because J Dey's murder is still being investigated. Personally, I think that Chhota Rajan, who is such a big gangster, didn't really need Jigna to get some basic information about Dey, such as--his bike number.

Most wanted: Underworld Don Dawood Ibrahim

Today, journalists are commonly seen as taking bribes, cosying up to politicians and even the underworld. There is a cry to bring the media under Lokpal. Should it be brought under Lokpal? 
There has been demand that politicians including the Prime Minster should be brought within the ambit of the Lokpal. I don't see why journalists should have a problem. 

With the current sensational J Dey case, your book release has become very timely. Do you agree?
It is just a coincidence. The book was scheduled to be out on September but it got delayed due to various reasons. I wouldn't want to capitalise on something like this.

Media bashing is in vogue these days. From being accused of being Page 3 followers only interested in glamour to corrupt, the media is a target. Do you think that criticism is justified?
I don't think this is right. In fact, media is doing a great job. But there is a need for greater self-introspection. The media should be able to morally justify its stand. The media plays the role of a watchdog in a society, hence it should have integrity.

Why a book on media?
After spending more than 30 years in the profession, I've seen it all. So, I thought it was time to put pen to paper and write the inside story. This is an insider's view of the growing culture of planted news, which involves lobbying. The book reveals the fine distinction between fact and fiction in the newsroom. 

Are the stories/chapters based on your personal experiences ?
Yes, of course, The Newsroom Mafia, is based on my personal experiences. But it's a highly fictionalised account. Fiction often does not stray far from the truth � it mirrors reality more often than you can imagine. Through this book, I would like to create awareness about what really goes on in the newsroom. The Newsroom Mafia, priced at Rs 245 is available at various bookstores. The book has been published by Grey Oak in association with westland

Lingo is lucre, not big bucks
Today, so many people think that journalists can be bought for a fistful of rupees. Sometimes, this perception may be justified, at other times, not. Other rather intoxicating stories say they can be bought for something as little as a few bottles of booze. I say if you want to win over a journalist lure him with a catchy description, a fits-like-a-glove epithet or a name to end all names and he would throw the money into the sea, smash the bottles on a rock and push the freebie dinner aside. 

Freedom of speech: Journalists at a protest rally condemning the 
killing of Senior Journalist J Dey

Lingo, lingo is what we lust for and what we could sell our souls for. The linguist crazy would simply love this by those that do it best -- the British. We loved the fact that they had dubbed Kate Middleton, Waitie Katie as she waited years for William to propose. 

Waitie Katie is a tabloid journalist's delight. With Vidya Balan's The Dirty Picture in the news, thoughts lightly turn to thoughts of Silk Smita. Whoever has thought of it, has to be a genius. The name has a South siren like quality to it, smooth, sexy and even a little raunchy. Years ago, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was flying out of the country on various assignments. 

He was titled Shuttle Behari Vajpayee. It was a twist that should have given the inventor a free international ticket. Then, of course the pre-Twitter generation will remember Stardust giving stars of old some memorable monikers: Dharmendra was known as Garam Dharam; Zeenat was Zeenie Baby, Sridevi was Thunder Thighs and Hema was the Ai Ai Yo Amma. 

I dream of a time when a Mr. Hormuz opens a flask company, simply for that wicked delight of calling him Hormuz the Thermos. So, you get the message then: never mind all those accusations about buying journalists, some you cannot buy with money or love; just give us a phrase that fits like a glove.

Other books
The Invention of Journalism Ethics: The Path to Objectivity and Beyond, is a book by Canadian academic, Stephen Ward. The author in the book throws light on biased and unbalanced reporting 

The Journalist and the Murderer is a book by Janet Malcolm, which deals with ethics in journalism. When Malcolm's work first appeared in March, 1989, it caused a sensation, sparking a debate within the news industry 

Journalism ethics and society, a book by David Berry evaluates the role of media in society 

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