Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Fourth Censored Estate

The setting: The newsroom of an English daily in Chennai, shortly after two English papers — The Hindu and The Times of India — were served notices for publishing “incendiary” reports on Tamil Nadu CM, quoting various opposition leaders as saying.

News Editor: Editor, we have a crisis.
Editor (rolling his eyes): About time I am told if it is to do with editing a trainee reporter's copy or modifying the page layout to accommodate more advertisements.
NE: Neither; it's about a political news report. As it is, we have had a stream of phone calls from our management and circulation departments, warning us on how to edit it and present it on our page. Last told, the publisher wants to know what it is.
E: So, everyone in our establishment knows of it before us. I hope we are still the editorial. Or, have we been transported magically to Siberia?
NE: Must we worry over such subtleties?
E: Did you just smirk? I dare you to retain that expression when we stare at our pink slips.
NE: Ok, ok. But a few sentences in this report set the alarm in me.
E: (looks up, quizzically)
NE: For starters, this one: “The opposition leader roundly criticised the chief minister for her wrong policies in administration.”
E: (looks up again) What's wrong with it?
NE: I suggest that we do away with “round”. Other publications have only faced lawsuits; we may enter the wrong books of the Women Rights' Commission. And I haven't even started on us getting the sexist tag. Let us  leave it to TN's Opposition parties to describe the CM.
E: (Groaning) I wish I had stocked on my BP pills. Let the statement, then, run as, “The opposition leader was said to have criticised the chief minister for her alleged wrong policies in administration.”
NE: But that would mean the CM’s policies were “allegedly” wrong.
E: And I thought I was the editor around here.
NE: I could not agree more. But that won't make a difference if the lawsuit comes calling.
E: (Voice raising) Pray, just what on Fort St George do you expect me to do? (Takes a sip of water... then a gulp and empties an entire bottle)
NE: You've hit the nail on the head.
E: Fine, then just make it “The opposition leader criticised the chief minister.”
NE: Editor, we still have a problem with it.
E: Aren't you stretching this a bit too far? Do the words free speech and freedom of expression mean anything to you?
NE: I only wish we'd be on the safe side (examines cellphone after it beeps). It's our legal advisor, he wants to know if he could help with editing the copy if it involves legalese.
E: (Takes a deep breath and then cuts loose, mouthing some expletives) You could tell him we need an expert in Swahili, (reacts when he sees the NE texting the same). Wait, that was a sarcastic comment; can't you tell apart hyperbole from facts?
NE: I've ceased to ever since I examined our publication's circulation figures for the last quarter and the advertisements for the same.
E: (In a resigned tone) But we digress. I'd rather we do away with the first sentence.
NE: This could be me speaking. This sentence too set the hair on me standing. “He also demanded an inquiry into all the wrongdoings of the schemes initiated by the government.”
The two exchange a cursory glace as the sentence is deleted.
The CM also seeks to muzzle the press by filing cases against them for carrying news that do not kowtow to her. This is nothing but a brazen act of arm-twisting.”
The keys Ctrl+X make the all-too familiar click noise.
NE: I suggest that we do away with this one, too: “We are confident that the public will take note of such ham-handed actions, and deliver the verdict during the next elections.”
The sentence gets wiped off the face of the LCD screen.
NE: That leaves us with only the details of the protest; it doesn't make sense carrying it alone.
E: Need I tell you what do (smiles)? Take a bow, news editor, we just did the national censor board and our Parliament proud!

You can read the reports here and here.