Suo motu, and at my own expense, I have decided to get working on a self-regulation mechanism. As expected, the response from within the press has been tepid. Most press people agree on the need to “do something” if statutory or external regulation is to be avoided, but till now we’ve only had masterly inactivity. I have, therefore, commissioned a bright researcher who has already done some work in the area to look at other countries (Britain, America, Australia, Sweden) where a robust free press functions and see what safeguards they have in place. Once I have the data, I intend to put together a draft self-regulation mechanism and present it to the Editor’s Guild for consideration. At present, a dangerous void exists, leaving the aggrieved citizen merely two choices: the Press Council and the courts. The former, unfortunately, is dysfunctional due to the eccentricities of its chairman, while the courts can take decades to adjudicate. In other words, no choice at all.
Of course, contemporary media realities have to be kept in mind. The mechanism must attract working editors and proprietors. If the body turns into a forum for ex-editors and ex-proprietors to pontificate, it’ll end up having no real authority or acceptance. Besides, two critical decisions need to be taken. One, should the proposed body be composed entirely of media persons, or should we invite a few eminent judges and lawyers? Two, if naming and shaming is not enough of a deterrent, what kind of punitive powers should the mechanism be armed with?
What troubles me is that the widespread worries over the crisis of credibility afflicting the press currently will die a natural death through complacency and neglect. And it will be business as usual. Make no mistake, journalists are drinking at the Last Chance Saloon in the belief that the “freedom of press” holy cow will ensure no one touches us. Actually, the touching has begun and unless we respond meaningfully, we will be regulated by force.
Currently, it seems impossible to switch on the TV set and not catch the army chief, Gen V.K. Singh, in full flow. As he gets ready to step down, he seems determined to ensure that his case does not go unheard. He comes across as honest, confident and purposeful. Also, alas, slightly self-righteous. The serial one-on-one interviews he grants liberally are designed to put across his “side of the story”.
Full disclosure: I’m a qualified supporter of the chief. There is no doubt he was subjected to a sustained and vicious smear campaign in which arms dealers and bureaucrats played a prominent part. Many sensational and “treasonable” reports calculated to discredit him and force him to quit appeared in the media. The combined result of the smear campaign, ironically, has contrived to present the general as a stubbornly conscientious chief determined to clean up the rot in the armed forces, situated, disturbingly, at the very top. So far so good.
I only have problems with his non-stop garrulousness. It allows his detractors to accuse him of egotism and publicity-mongering. As a well-wisher of Gen Singh, I suggest he put a sellotape on his mouth. A period of silence would do him good.
When you reach a certain age, you begin to dread birthdays. Birthdays, besides gifts, bring intimations of mortality—how little time you have left to do the things you set out to do. The unfinished agenda, as it were. And then there is the birthday party. My wife, Sumita, is determined to have a big bash. I am determined to thwart her. At the moment, she is winning.
I enjoy other people’s birthdays. Never my own. What gets me depressed is the chilling and constant reminder of senior citizen status, which may portend the erosion of mental faculties and physical movements. It doesn’t matter how much alcohol you drink on that day, you remain sober and morose. In my case, I am at present engaged with the following dilemmas. Whether I should write the second volume of Lucknow Boy. (The conventional wisdom says sequels are generally a big let-down and should be shunned.) Whether I should embark on a journey to Switzerland in search of my lost daughter. Whether I should renounce the world and spend more time with Editor. Whether I should hang up my boots, decamp to my cottage in Mussoorie and contemplate nature. Once the dreaded day passes, the difficult decisions remain, but somehow they loose their sting.
How do you know you are past it? One sure sign of impending old age I read recently fits the bill nicely. If your spouse says, “Let’s go upstairs and make love, and you reply ‘It’s one or the other; I can’t do both’,”—you’ve reached it.
Last week, I got...
...some good news. HarperCollins is reissuing my biographies of Sanjay Gandhi and Meena Kumari this year.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com