On 2nd March 2008, India witnessed the death of a fearless Newspaper. M J Akbar was unceremoniously ousted by the Newspaper which he had nurtured for about 13 years. MJ had to pay the price for being on the wrong side of the establishment. The Asian Age was one of the rare voices in Indian media which was not really impressed by the propaganda of the Government on the Nuclear Deal with United States. Through his columns in the paper, MJ had exposed several drawbacks in the deal. The Newspaper was also critical of the Government on several other issues.
Instead of responding to questions raised by him, the Government chose an easy way out and ousted him from the newspaper. Vijay Mallya, owner of the paper and a Member of Parliament, was too happy to oblige his political allies. MJ learnt of his sacking, while he was on his way to his office. He was informed by one of his colleagues on SMS that his name was missing from the masthead of the paper. This incident is reminiscent of the dark days of emergency when the Government used to deal with defiant editors in a similar fashion.
But what is so surprising is that this important event went unnoticed in the mainstream media. None of the major newspapers found this incident worth covering. This points to a deeper malaise in our media. In the 1980’s, I am told the editor of The Times Of India was considered to be the second most important person in the country after the Prime Minister. The Fourth Estate was the conscience keeper of the society. Editors like Kuldip Nayyar, Arun Shourie, Prem Shankar Jha commanded respect because of their integrity and fearless attitude towards the Government of the day. Today, how many of us know the names of the editors of The Times Of India or Hindustan Times, the top two newspapers of the country ?
It is because editorial content or editors have little contribution towards the circulation of the Newspapers that Editors have become irrelevant. Today, it is the marketing department and not the editorial board which runs the show in most of the Newspapers. It is a fact that glossy supplements and sensational news determine the circulation of any News paper. How many of us really care about the unbiasness of any News paper? All we care about is the entertainment value, the newspaper has to offer. We are happy to read about the details of Sanjay-Manyata marriage or some new antic of Rakhi Sawant. The owners of these newspapers are aware of this and are too happy to play to the gallery. Why spend time and money researching on an important issue like the growing agrarian crisis in the country when readers are content to read about the latest development in Kareena Kapoor’s love life ?
A free and responsible media is the watch dog of the society. MJ Akbar’s exit is a wake up call for all those who believe that we deserve a free and better News Media.