By Rifat Jawaid
Follow the author on twitter @RifatJawaid
India’s Supreme Court on Friday was hearing a Special Leave Petition against the May 25 order of the Delhi High Court, which had called the notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the administration of Delhi government ‘suspect.’
While hearing the bail application of a Delhi Police constable arrested by the ACB of Delhi government on bribery charges, Justice Vipin Sanghi of the Delhi High Court had said, “In my view, since the Union lacks the executive authority to act in respect of matters dealt with in Entries 1 & 2 of List III of the Seventh Schedule, the further executive fiat issued by the Union Government on May 21, 2015 is also suspect.”
Delhi High Court had not only denied bail to the police Head Constable Anil Kumar but also declared that Delhi government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) had the jurisdiction to arrest police personnel. Aam Aadmi Party was quick to declare it as a major victory of their stand on corruption and a huge setback to Modi government, which according to AAP, was hell bent on restricting their ability to govern Delhi effectively.
On May 21, the MHA had released a notification giving sweeping powers to the Delhi Lieutenant Governor, Najeeb Jung.
Delhi government moved to HC against the MHA notification, while the Centre moved to Supreme Court against the HC’s unfavourable order against them.
So, what SC was going to say on Friday mattered a lot to many people.
Just before noon on Friday, the SC order began to flash on almost every channel as huge breaking news. A headline on a leading Hindi news channel said “Kejriwal sarkar ko Supreme Court se bada jhatka.” The channel quickly managed to get the AAP MP from Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, on the phone for an early reaction on this development.
Mann struggled as any AAP leader would do if what was being attributed to the SC was true.
Another leading English channel too called it a setback for Arvind Kejriwal and quickly cut live to the government lawyer, who was addressing a news conference outside the Supreme Court.
Everything looked fine for the channel until a reporter asked the lawyer if the SC had also stayed the High Court’s order involving the jurisdiction of ACB. The channel abruptly left the lawyer’s press conference midway just when he was going to explain that the Supreme Court had not stayed the HC’s order on ACB. Continuing with that press conference would have been tantamount to mocking both their own headlines and editorial judgement.
Up until now, most of the channels bar one (read NDTV) had begun flashing anti-Kejriwal headlines. A copy from a reputed news agency said that the SC had also stayed the Delhi HC’s order on ACB’s jurisdiction. One of my colleagues from office called me for editorial advice. He said different agencies were flashing contradictory facts and he didn’t know what to do.
Janta Ka Reporter editorial guidelines say that ‘when in doubt, refer up.’ That’s precisely what this colleague of mine was doing. We are pretty unambiguous about our motto. We are not competing with anyone in breaking the news. We are not obsessed with any TRP or the race to be number one. Instead, objectivity and credibility are what drive our newsgathering ethos.
I told my colleague to wait until we had gathered the true facts on this story from our sources and correspondents. Soon my sources in the SC informed me that the channels’ headlines were utterly misleading and far from the truth.
We, therefore, put our story with a headline, which at that time, may have appeared to be contradictory to the headlines carried by rest of the Indian media. But I wasn’t complaining. I had a choice to make here. Should I have gone along with the rest of the media or displayed my own editorial conviction. I chose the latter. And boy, was I right?
Episodes like today justify the existence of Janta Ka Reporter. I’m not for a moment saying that we will not make mistakes. But when do, it will be purely unintentional and we will be quick to own up our mistakes and take corrective measures.
Aside from their obvious biases, another problem with a large section of Indian TV industry is that often their specialist reporter has very little or no expert knowledge about that subject at all. If you known someone in the CBI, you will be deemed as an expert to report on CBI matters. Likewise, your good contacts in political parties would be enough for you to be appointed as the senior editor even if it means you have never written a single sentence in your entire life. Very few channels like to invest in talent capable of doing credible journalism. Which is a shame, really.
In Britain, while the BBC believes in being credible, its competitor Sky News appears to be in the race of being the first to report the news. At Janta Ka Reporter, we draw inspiration from the BBC’s editorial values. Like in the beeb, the instruction to my team is not to report any sensitive and big news if they are being reported only by one source. The minimum threshold for us to judge the credibility of news is to make sure they are coming from at least two sources.
We are here to revolutionise the way we gather news without taking anybody’s side. The journey so far has been a mixed bag. We’ve been humbled by your outpouring support and unending love, but we’ve had our share of bumpy rides too. I know the journey ahead is difficult but it’s not insurmountable.