The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tarun Tejpal is at it again, doing what he does best — causing a sensation. This time with the mere announcement that Tehelka will rise again, and live up to its name and reputation. His bid to expose corruption in defence purchases two years ago led to his fledgling website being practically hounded out of business. The bitter experience seems to have only strengthened his resolve. “A journalist’s job,” he still believes, “is to continue to expose people who abuse public office and public money.” Unhesitatingly he uses words like “crusading”, “truth” and “uncomfortable questions”. How old-fashioned that sounds. More than 20 years ago, the press saw such investigative reporting as a great brand-building tool. No longer. You hardly hear the expression in newspaper offices these days. “Our task is to report, not investigate,” is the wisdom that salves consciences in newsrooms today.

Even some that are billed as one don’t turn out to be the real thing. The Indian Express, the standard-bearer of investigative journalism in the Eighties, is currently running a multi-part series called “Loot and Scoot” which it is promoting as an “Express Investigation”. Instead of hair-raising exposes, however, the series is merely dishing out warmed up cases of infamous defaulters who swindled thousands of hapless small investors in the not-too-distant past. On television, there is Aaj Tak’s Jurm ke Peechhey, another pretender, which is more a helpline than an investigation. Of course, any form of journalism means asking questions, eliciting information, checking facts — that is, investigating. Purists believe that’s all there is.

Yet most journalists and laymen know what they are talking about when they say investigative reports: exposés that carry a heavy price-tag. Such reports not only take more time, money and manpower to generate, but also the repercussions of publishing them may be overwhelming — something Tehelka knows all too well. Something prospective investors will also remember. The climate is just not conducive for projects built on such explosive concepts.

His friends in high places notwithstanding, money won’t come easy, Tejpal knows. But as they say, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

Forgettable faces

On Aaj Tak, the rules are simple. Anchors and reporters should be neat when they face the camera. On NDTV (24x7 and India), women should not wear sleeveless clothes, men should not have long hair. And yes, they too should look neat.

But appearance matters far more on Star News. Inspired by another Rupert Murdoch channel, Fox News, Star has not only had professionals design the look of its “on-air” personnel, but it also has a formal contract with these journalists that prevents them from altering their appearance, looks, grooming, or voice without prior “written permission” from the company. The contract lays down that the company holds the exclusive right to “all aspects” of their “portrayal” on the channel. It directs journalists to maintain their weight, their grooming, and take necessary precautions to maintain the “freshness” of their voice. The contract also warns that altered looks could cost them their job and could be terminated if the company spots “material deterioration” of looks or voice for 30 consecutive days.

Trouble is, even after all this there is still not one face, one voice on Star News that stands out, not one name that stays in the memory. NDTV has its slew of stars, there’s Ashutosh on Aaj Tak and Arup Ghosh and Shireen on Sahara Samay. But Star' Think hard.

A game of monopoly

So what’s it to us who owns American media' Well, for one, it might make Star boss, Rupert Murdoch, even more powerful than he is. Thanks to Tuesday’s change in the rules govering media ownership in America, Murdoch, or any other media mogul there for that matter, will be free to build up as big a media monopoly as he wants. Soon there might be only one news template for all, made in the US.

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