Media, print and visual both, is often referred to as “Fourth estate”, or “Fourth Pillar of Indian democracy” and many including well meaning but innocent people sincerely believe in this falsehood. However those who participate in people’s movements know very well from their day to day experience that far from being independent, the media in fact is a very potent tool in the hands of ruling classes to create, confuse and divert public opinion.
Indian Express, one of the largest media groups of our country, annually gives awards for “Excellence in Journalism”. This year too it will be giving away these awards in Delhi on January 16th 2012. Like every year this year too corporate are sponsoring these awards. What is notable this year is the fact that this time the awards are being sponsored by two large corporate of India i.e. Jaypee group & Mahyco. Jaypee group is one of the largest Project engineering company in India and has built a large number of very big dams and has plans to build many more in the coming years. Mahyco Monsanto is Indian arm of one of the biggest GM seed companies of the world Monsanto. Both big dams and GM seeds have attracted a huge opposition from farmers, tribals, intellectuals, and environmentalists. What is notable is the fact that Indian Express carried out massive campaign through its media arms in support of big dams and GM seeds on a regular basis, and the obvious largest beneficiaries of that campaign are the Jaypee group & Mahyco India. Especially when “ethics in reporting” are supposed to be one of the important factors for giving awards of excellence in journalism, the sponsorship of the awards by Jaypee & Monsanto clearly bring out what is the meaning of “ethics” in the eyes of news media barons. It is not only Indian express group but all other major media groups have time and again proven by their conduct that they are the spokesmen of ruling classes of India. It is only the people’s media i.e. media completely controlled by people themselves which will defend people’s interests. We give below a statement issued by concerned individuals regarding the sponsorship of the ‘Excellence in Journalism’ awards organized by the IndianExpress.
On January 10 and 11, 2012, half page advertisements in the Indian Express (IE) newspaper (at least in the Delhi edition) announced that on Jan 16,2012 the IE Excellence in Journalism Awards will be given. The advertisement also said that the main sponsor is Jaypee Group and among other sponsors include the Mahyco Monsanto.
One may recall that Indian Express has been on a campaign mode advocating big dams in general. It has been specifically campaigning against the movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan. In March April 2006 the paper specifically ran a campaign against NBA and also against the then Union Minister Prof Saifuddin Soz (see – http://www.indianexpress.com/news/narmada-dam-hike-after-all-proposed-soz-wants-to-dispose/1126/2, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/muddying-the-waters-soz-passes-the-narmada/2594/)
In Oct 2010 the paper ran a campaign for large hydro projects in the North East India when the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh held an open public hearing on these projects in Guwahati and then wrote to the Prime Minister, raising concerns about so many hydro projects being taken up in NE India and the impacts thereof.
Now it is well known that the Jaypee group is India’s largest dam building contractor, largest private sector developer and plans to develop many more including in the North East India, which was the subject of *Indian Express*campaign in Oct 2010. Jaypee group is also the contractor for the largest of the Narmada Dams, namely Sardar Sarovar Project. The group is planning to develop the 2700 MW Lower Siang and 500 MW Hirong Hydropower projects in
Arunachal Pradesh, for example. It may also not be irrelevant to mention here that the Jaypee group has a pathetic record in terms of social, environmental and human rights issues in the projects it is involved in. More recently, in January 2012, India’s market regulator Sebi fined Jaypee Group Rs 6 million for the illegal practice of insider trading (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/markets/regulation/sebi-slaps-rs-60-lakh-fine-on-senior-jaiprakash-associates-executives-for-insider-trading/articleshow/11396444.cms?intenttarget=no).All these facts are very much relevant for any business group to sponsor awards for excellence in journalism, particularly when the awards are also for “ethics in reporting” (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/time-to-celebrate-the-finest-in-indian-journalism/899201/)
The Indian Express campaign in Oct 2010, willy nilly helped Jaypee groups’ interests. And now Jaypee is sponsoring the IE Journalism award. Shall we call this conflict of interest or quid pro quo? Should a media house accept such sponsorship from a group that has directly benefited from the campaign that was run by the media house? And when the business grouphas such abysmal reputation?
Earlier in January-February 2010, when Jairam Ramesh held a series of public hearings to get a cross section of views on Bt Brinjal, Indian Express had launched a campaign against Jairam Ramesh and FOR GM crops. It is clear that the campaign hugely benefited GM crop companies and the biggest among them in the world (Monsanto) has an Indian arm Mahyco Monsanto, which is the biggest GM seed company of India. Mahyco Monsanto now is one of the sponsors of the Indian Express Excellence in Journalism awards.
So the same set of questions that arise about relation between Jaypee group and IE also arise for Mahyco Monsanto: Is this conflict of interest or quidpro quo? Is this not intellectual corruption? Should not the lobbyist media groups like Indian Express keep away from getting sponsorships from the organisations that their lobbying helps? This is particularly true if media group wants to retain any credibility to the effect that it is still speaking in public interest, which we assume they should be.
We would like to clarify that we are not raising any doubts about the genuineness, independence and excellence of the jury or those journalists who may get this award.
Prashant Bhushan, Senior Supreme Court Lawyer, Delhi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
EAS Sarma (for secretary, Govt of India, Andhra Pradesh email@example.com)
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Delhi (www.sandrp.in, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, MP (email@example.com)
Manshi Asher, Him Dhara, Environment research and action collective, HP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Joy KJ, Soppecom, Maharashtra (email@example.com)
Dr Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Soumitra Ghosh, NESPON, W Bengal (email@example.com)
Hemant Dhyani, Ganga Ahvahan, Uttarakhand (firstname.lastname@example.org)