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How to 'Handle Scams and Controversies'
Padma Bhushan Awardee Prabhu Chawla, who is currently the Editorial Director of The New Indian Express Group and hosts Teekhi Baat, a talk show on IBN7, talks about how Indian Media Houses should handle both "internal" and "external" controversies and scams
Onkareshwar Pandey | Issue Date - 03/02/2012

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Q. The count of media houses has increased manifold over the past few years. This has led to an increase in competition. What do you think has been the outcome of such a development in terms of quality benchmarks – has quality improved or has it deteriorated?
I think the count of media brands and media houses increasing, has done both. Some organisations have responded by raising their standards further, based on the conviction that these standards are the very soul of what they do. Others have taken the opposite path, lowering the bar, so to speak, in order to get more attention in a crowded house. So I would say that today, we have a mixed bag in terms of quality benchmarks.

Q. India, today is a country wrecked with scams. In your view, have agents in the Indian media done justice to covering all the scams as they should have or have they been found wanting?
Again, there is no quick yes or no to this question. The 2G scam has been covered reasonably well, for instance, but farmer suicides have been almost ignored by the mainstream media. In short, Indian media houses can learn to handle "external" controversies better.

Q. But even, Indian media has been plagued with controversies, which we can call "internal" controversies. These challenge the very fabric of ethics in the industry. How should one tackle such a situation while running a media house?
It's very simple. If the ethics of your media house is sound, then you will remain relevant no matter what. That’s the short-, medium- and long-term view as far as handling internal controversies are concerned for any media house.

Q. In the light of controversies, what is your view on the credibility of media in the country today?
Despite controversies, the Indian media is still on a growth path, with credibility as the invisible driver of growth. Over the years, the media space has become crowded and intensely competitive. It is inevitable that the chaff will drop out as the real grain matures. Mature growth should be the next phase. And I am positive about this expectation, despite the ups and downs in the industry.

Q. Talking about external controversies, after the recent scams exposed by the Indian media, the industry is under attack by the judiciary, government and corporates. Your thought on this.
This is not a new development. Uncovering and telling the truth has always been a dangerous proposition. Having said that, I'd add that the Indian media will not just survive, but every attack on it from any section, will only make it stronger.

Q. What are the various challenges for a media house in terms of putting forth a fair picture in front of the viewer/reader while covering a scam?
The challenge is not to lose sight of the ‘who-what-when-where-why’. Who benefitted? Who was hurt? How did it happen? How can it be prevented from happening again? The whole picture has to be revealed, with every piece in the right place. Since it’s the journalist representing the media house who puts pieces of the puzzle together. He has to get all the pieces and put them together correctly. It’s a zero-tolerance zone for mistakes. Three rules – First, facts. Second, facts. Third, facts.

Q. As compared to the early 90s, what all has changed in the industry with respect to handling scams and controversies effectively?
The tools have changed. Now we have RTI as well as the Internet. Scams are set in motion by tweets. The size of most scams has exploded, and financial chicanery has become more complex. But greed remains an unchanged constant, as does the motivation to expose it for the greater good.


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