Tuesday, June 7, 2016

VK Madhavan Kutty and colleagues in 1984...Author in  Kurtha..

Changing face of Mediaperson as a mediator( lobbyist) in a world full of “ doctored realities.”

VK Cherian

VK Madhavan Kutty was a media person in New Delhi for over 40 years before his death in 2005. He worked for Mathrubhoomi , the Malayalam newspaper which was an offshoot of the freedom movement. People of Malabar gave contributions to freedom fighters in Congress party to start a newspaper to get updates about the events leading to freedom of the nation. The legendary Editor of Mathrubhoomi, KP KeshavaMenon, who even joined Indian National Army at one point, chose spirited nationalists for his paper as media persons. Even after the nation achieved freedom, Mathrubhoomi continued to patronize nationalists as its media people and Madhavan Kutty was one among them whom , Mathrubhoomi and its legendary Editor found to represent them in the free nation’s capital.
This article is not about Madhavan Kutty,or Mathrubhoomi but about the hot subject of media person as a mediator, especially in the aftermath of Radia tapes which are making waves . However, unless some background of Madhavan Kutty and Mathrubhoomi is given, the changing mediating aspect of media and media persons which has come under so much of ridicule cannot be discussed. The Wikileaks and its impact on media as a prime source of “ contemporary history” add another dimension to the entire issue, which needs another detailed discussion.
The role of media in India till Bennet Coleman Ltd which runs Times of India and allied publications declared a decade ago that we are in the business of space selling, was perceived to be a noble one. The noble goals of media was defined as catering to the information hunger of its readers in a factually and balanced manner, without pouring the media person’s individual biases and organization’s corporate interests. There was a firm belief among the media and media houses that readers were entitled to information in its pure distilled and balanced form. Media persons and houses were rated as good, bad and ugly based on their free and fair editorial stand. Due to these aspects of sharing facts on a daily basis media was termed as “contemporary historians”. This obviously put lot of responsibility on both the media houses and persons.
Indian media, especially may of the regional media developed alongside freedom movement, it had a nationalistic slant, especially for newspapers like Mathrubhoomi and many other regional language ones. This obviously promoted many leaders to push many of their educated boys and girls, with some social commitments about the country, into the field of media.
People like Madhavan Kutty had the benefit of this early mover advantage and was patronized by leaders like the then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon and also CPI(M)’s AK Gopalan in Delhi. And this helped Madhavan Kutty to balance his views from the liberal left attitude of Krishna Menon and the communist ideals of AK Gopalan. The best compliment of this good journalist trait was a quip by former Chief Minister EK Nayanar, while on a dharna at boat club , when K Karunakaran , was the Chief Minister( Madhavan Kutty was equally close to Karunakaran). Nayanar told everyone at the dharna pandal ;” ON nammude all anu, Mattavanodu( Karunakaran) close anenkilum”. ( He is our man, though he is close to the other one( CM Karunakaran). This, I am sure is the best compliment for any media person by a political leader, as both sides of the spectrum are vouching for your integrity and balanced approach. Madhavan Kutty did go on record about his comments on national and Kerala politics every week through his weekly column and his views are out in the open often enough.
If lobbying in Delhi by media person is bad, Madhavan Kutty is terribly bad! He is an original sinner. He lobbied so hard in Delhi for a person to be in power that the country got one of the best President in free India and also the first dalit to occupy that post in Mr. K R Narayanan.
It is not that he lobbied to make KR Narayanan the President of India, but he had already lobbied to ensure that KR Narayanan, the retired diplomat, was made a member of parliament, then a Minister, the Vice President and ensuring that he eventually became the President of the country. I was witness to the situation where Mr. Kutty even ensured that Narayanan got his share of funds from Congress election fund, when the retired diplomat offered to sell his “foreign car’ for election expense, when he was nominated as Congress candidate for 1984 Lok Sabha elections.
A lobbyist of this nature expect huge return from the beneficiary like any other “ tainted lobbyist “ of today, accused of making crores of Rupees for themselves. Let us examine what Madhavan Kutty got in return as a media person for his lobbying work for KR Narayanan. So far no one has so far accused Kutty of amassing wealth out of his Presidential link. Of course, he had access, which any media person want to have with President or for that matter any one in high echelons of power in the capital, as during those days government presided over not just politics but also the economy in total. Madhavan Kutty loved travelling abroad and he was a permanent fixture in all the foreign trips of K R Narayanan as President. But Madhavan Kutty was already a regular in Prime Minister’s media party from Indira Gandhi’s regime onwards. So what was the new door which President Narayanan could open for Kutty, his promoter. It could have been a Rajya Sabaha nomination, which is the secret personal dream of all senior political journalists of the capital. However, we all know that Madhavan Kutty died without being a member of parliament, though he was given a national honour of Padma Shree during the tenure of President Narayanan.
Kutty eminently deserved national honour for not just making the regional media count among the big sharks of English media in the capital, but also promoting and guiding all most all of the contemporary malayali cultural figures in the corridors of power in the national capital. Whether it is literary figures or film makers or any cultural figures when they are in Delhi, Madhavan Kutty’s office and home were always warm for them. His office room at INS Building at Rafi Marg, a stone throw away from parliament, was gathering place of Delhi based cultural figures, especially OV VIjayan, who was a lecturer in Malabar Christian collage and hence was “ Mash” for Kutty. Paul Zacharia and Kutty had launched their failed book publishing house from that room. During the Parliament session, almost all the members of Parliament from Kerala made it a point to visit him.
Just imagine, someone released the tapes of Madhavan Kutty’s phones to public. Such conversation might point to intense lobbying and “misuse “ of his position in corridors of power in Delhi. Times were different and he may not be seen as a lobbyist or operator, but as a social activist. Those were the days when political parties used friendly media people even to disburse their election funds. And nationalist and social good spirit was still part of the fourth estate.
However, when corporates’ get involved in a free market economy to influence policy decisions, it can be assumed that there is a quid proquo. As a media person who covered the advent of telecom reforms in India and was in constant touch with about five country heads of telecom MNCs those days on a regular basis,( apart from Sukh Rams and N Vittals of the world) I can say, we all enjoyed exchanging notes. Since they all had fat salaries, no one asked me to pay for the lunches or dinners we had, while exchanging notes. Unless someone came to our press club, I could not afford to pay for those five star lunches and dinners. The only benefit I could get those days were the foreign trips which many of these companies offered in groups for sensitizing all of us new world of telecoms. But that was in 1990s and media was still social and not yet completely corporatized. The media houses made some profits, but profit was not the key word of their existence.
The media person in 21st century is greedy person, just as his/her media house which has turned a profit mongering , space selling, corporate, going by the general trend . Today most media persons expect quid proqo from corporates’. Mostly expensive gifts , sometimes family holidays, depending on the work done, sometimes other favours, which is at best not listed here. A particular business house ( from Mumbai) in 90s and later ensured that the corporate media is totally pliable and others were delighted to join the brigade of humoring media, like the otherwise very “ decent Tatas” . The government and political parties had in the meanwhile, succeeded in dividing the political media into their camps in a parallel process for their own vested interests. As more and more corporate, political and government institutions engaged in creating a “media reality” as against the real ones, the eagerness to grease and soften the media to see the “ made up reality” went up.
Adding to this situation is the changing profile of media people, at least in Delhi. Earlier most of the media persons were arts graduates who were fond of writing or interested in politics and society with a “ zeal” to change it for the better. Now the media is full of trained students in media, driven a passion for seeing their own names in print or their face on television and the perks thereof. They too are ambitious, but for themselves and their pay packets and more opportunities, mostly. Competition is killing. In 1990s a junior journalist had to wait at least 10 years to become a special correspondent, who can do special and exclusive stories, today most become special correspondents sometimes from the word go. One is not dismissing the presence of many ethical media persons, but the general trend appears to be otherwise.
Many of the 80s and 90s media people had left media and gone to others sectors or become contributors to foreign media earning dollars for livelihood. The journalistic hierarchical control ( Editor to news editor) in media began to wane as new set of CEO/Owner Editors took charge. Corporate advertisers began to flex their muscles to have their say with these CEO Editors. Increased competition made the CEO Editors dance to their (advertisers and corporates’) tune as they need to be competitive in getting their share of revenues and profits. The situation went to such an extent that one leading PR consultancy top honcho was heard saying that, at given day the major financial dailies are carrying 60 to 80 percent corporate inspired news. As more and more companies get listed, increasing stock valuations through public image engineering and stock market movements have become an order of the day. A government, corporate inspired “reality “is the staple diet of the media today, while few bothered to cut through these maze and get to the bottom of reality. In a situation where many major media houses have been corporatized and declared profits as their only motive to be in business, it has become even more difficult for media men and woman, to “ get to the realities” , behind many stories. Simply, the business interests dictate the level of getting to real facts in business media and other vested interest play havoc with political and general media. Paid news has become such a phenomenon, in some media houses that one cannot make out which is real news and which is paid for. Brand promotion agreements by media houses make the situation more complex for media person to approach reality and they all settle down for the “ manufactured “ reality to be safe in the system.
Hence all leaks, whether Radia or Wikileaks become fresh and interesting for all, including the media persons. We can discuss and debate the origin and purpose of these leaks endlessly. The only way out of this quagmire which media in India is facing appears to be the digital medium. More and more such leaks and events are to happen on the internet, as it is impossible to control the activities in the digital media given the present spread out of the internet, which has a life like growth path. So let us wait for non-conventional media to take over the conventional media, sometimes even expose the latter. Let me quote Julian Assang, of Wikileaks to conclude. “… we can get international covenants to promote that standard for freedom of the press and encourage ethical standards for journalists, so that good journalists are not out-competed by bad journalists" . Hope good media houses are not “out –competed “ by profit mongering media houses.” And in the process we in the democratic world, get the real facts and not saddled with “manufactured” ones.

VK Cherian has been in mainline media for 20 years and now works as consultant to coporates on their communication needs.

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