Media Savvy Jackass: You’ll Believe Anything!

mediaGetting a media job (any job for that matter) was very tough in 1983. I needed a job very badly since I had to take care of my higher studies then. Luckily, I got a small job as sub-editor in a vernacular weekly. Pay was very meager. The first work assigned to me was to write “astrology column” as the astrologer who had been writing the weekly column suddenly died in an accident.

“But sir, I know nothing about astrology…”I said

“Go through the old copies yaar and compile a new one…” the editor said curtly.
I have gone through the old issues and wrote down some rubbish things under each star for 27 stars.

The biggest surprise came in form of huge pile of ‘letters to the editor’. Many people said that the prediction was very accurate! The editor congratulated me. He asked me to (permanently) handle the column and offered extra payment. His righteousness didn’t sync with that of mine. Hence I refused. Natural outcome = he was kind enough to sack me.

While I was working in a national investment magazine, a public relations officer (PRO) contacted me with an exclusive story about his company. It was about a listed company XYZ (can’t give the name) that went public with a premium initial public offer (IPO) two years ago. He produced account statements and documents that would convince you that XYZ was incurring huge loss. It window dressed the bottom-line. Its order-booking position was zero for the next year…. Everything appeared true. I carried the story.

Same day, I saw lot of other publications carried the same “exclusive” story. The PRO was not reachable on phone. The shares of the company nose-dived from Rs48 to Rs 5. Later, I came to know about the manipulation done by the promoter of XYZ with fake documents. XYZ had actually got very huge export order. The promoter bought back all the shares at Rs 5 which he had sold at a premium two years ago. I became a JACK ASS. (Now people say regulators are strong)

I was shocked and upset. I contacted my chief editor and explained. He said, “Don’t worry. I know you are an honest editor and you don’t invest a single paisa in shares.” It was a shallow pat on the shoulder.

“Sir, I feel morally guilty, lot of investors lost their money…”

“The story was carried in many publications…So it was not your story. Don’t worry about investors – they invest money not for the love for humanity- they are just a greedy lot. So how can be you guilty…?”

“No sir – I can’t work with this anymore. I am sorry.” I had to resign the job and then struggled for 4 months without any job. I don’t have any great ethics in life. But I was aware of a logical fact that if I become part of a bad karma, I would suffer more in the future. So let me suffer then and there. Again, no job, no money = hard times. I utilize such times for learning more. You will also learn that most of your friends are experts in ‘Thiraskarani Mantra’ (Sacred chant to be invisible) when you face tough times in life.

Years ago, I was asked to select four winners in a crossword puzzle competition conducted by my employer’s sister publication. It was humanly impossible task to scrutinize (to check correct answers) more than 40000 entries and select four among them. I said: “Impossible”

The editor replied: “Just take up few entries and check for names. We need one Muslim, one Christian and two Hindu names, that’s all. You don’t have to worry if the answer is right or wrong.” (No competition in India is free from this unwritten golden rule of sharing – you can see it even in the competitions for sub-human participants- like, the general elections). Merit has no value in India – that angered me more.

After a heated argument with the publisher, I lost my job. I was accused of using foul language. In fact, I didn’t use any foul language. I just said that he looked like his father. But then I went on comparing his father to a constipated Gorilla. Blame it on my immaturity age. I regret this incident. I regret this because I had insulted the Gorillas.

I have been seeing or experiencing such incidents in my profession. During initial days I had been feeling sad. I couldn’t do anything about it. I didn’t have courage or resources to fight. All I can do was that refraining myself away from what I considered as manipulation and corruption. Some people ask me: Why didn’t you stick to any job – 18 jobs in 20 years! I am not saying I was right and they were wrong. It’s just different for me.

However, it is not frustrating or depressing to me any more – I know it is part of media business and they earnestly do it for their survival. It is just that I am unfit for such great trendy things as my conditioning is just different – blame it on to my parents.

I know most of the “exclusive stories” that appear in politics and business are planted for a hefty price tag. Price does not necessarily mean money. And most of the readers take it as true – they discuss, debate, post blogs, write opinions, respond and react as if it is a fact. In short, readers join in the club of JACKASS.

And the moral of this story? I am enlightened. I am enlightened not to trust anything in print, television and internet. I am convinced that media seldom publishes the truth. You can see manipulation and strong hidden opinions even while reporting an event. If you see truth – it either happened by default (truth has such a power -it will come out on its own) or there was a purpose behind it – the truth as a marketing weapon for the benefit of something and somebody. They know how to sell all products and services through soft porno or ticklish stories. They know how to make you emotional. They can make you react exactly the way they want.

I am not saying all journalists are corrupt. Some of them intentionally plant stories to become richer. Some do not know what they are doing. Some of them are bearing the brunt with bleeding heart, as they can’t do anything else to support few lives. Still, some of them are deriving enormous pleasure from cheating the public.

Udaylal Pai
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