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NEWS OFF THE CHANNEL

“If I am identified with Star News then it is deliberate and there are no plans to neutralize this image. I have decided to primarily commit myself to do programming for Star which is a very professional company.”

That was Rajat Sharma exactly a year ago, confidently looking forward to a bright future with a Star that had announced the parting of ways with Prannoy Roy’s NDTV. The possibilities appeared boundless for Sharma and his Independent Media Pvt. Ltd.

Today, one of television’s best known faces is not saying a word while Star has openly announced Sharma will be out of Aaj Ki Baat, the programme he started six years ago, when his contract expires in late October. “With the type of budget we have, we cannot afford to outsource news shows like Aaj Ki Baat,” Star News president Ravina Raj Kohli has told the website indiantelevision.com.

News shows have been Sharma’s forte ever since he became a household name with Aap Ki Adalat on Zee TV around ten years ago. But today, he is no longer just a journalist; he is a businessman too. And, ironically enough, business is hurting with the explosion of news channels in the last few months. Most channels are increasingly opting for in-house productions — all the better to control costs and content with.

Competition among independent producers of news shows is severe indeed. Professional track record alone may not be enough. Star has just given a fat contract to BAG Films to produce Mera Gaon Mera Desh. However deserved, the suspicion remains that BAG got the contract not least because it belongs to Anuradha Prasad who happens to be the sister of information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and the wife of Rajya Sabha MP Rajiv Shukla.

Rajat Sharma too has connections, forged in his youth as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing and nurtured over the years as a political journalist. Nor is he one to go down without a fight.

How India was won

Going by the reports of their 9/11 paranoia, this could have appeared in an American paper. “Vice-president: Jane Alam; joint secretary: Md Shoaib; assistant secretaries: Sahid Jamal and Noor Alam. But relax. For a change this isn’t another story of another terrorist outfit.”

It didn’t. This is how a report began on page 1 of a “secular” newspaper last week.

Would that it could be dismissed as an example of an over-enthusiastic reporter trying to write a “smart intro”. Sad to say, this is hardly an exception. The Indian press abounds in examples of such implicit acceptance of the Muslim stereotype. Hence too the unquestioning acceptance of any Muslim the police arrests as a “terrorist”, long before charges are framed, not to speak of conviction.

Iftikar Gilani’s wrongful arrest could have taught us something. But in the battle for the heart and mind of the media, the communalists are winning.

Wrong impact

It looked like news, all bold headlines, cutouts and celebrity quotes. It read like news — or sort of. It even felt like news as it was a topic the media could legitimately devote a whole page to.

But the page in Tuesday’s Times of India glorifying the rainbow coalition that has taken over in Lucknow was anything but. Though readers may (or may not) have noticed the word “Advt” — buried in a corner in very fine print. That is usually how papers maintain the chastity of their news content.

Such pretend news is all the rage these days. Magazines don’t even bother with the fig leaf of “Advt”. India Today calls advertisements that look almost like its regular articles “An Impact Feature” (which lived up to its name when it promoted Narendra Modi’s government before the Gujarat elections), Outlook has named them “Spotlight”.

The question is, if readers can’t make out the difference between the real and fake news, then what does it say about journalism' If they do, then how does it help advertisers'

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