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Editors and Journalists Must Declare Their Assets As Well

August 26, 2009

On 15 August, our favourite newspaper, the Indian Express, carried a lead article on the edit page by its editor, Shekhar Gupta. The learned editor tells his readers, in case they are feeling depressed with the drought scenario, to drive down to Punjab – to Shimla, Chandigarh or Amritsar. ‘Just drive out’ he says… don’t fly’.

For then you will like Ali Baba be able to enter the magic cave and lo and behold! you will see ‘Totally lush, bounteous fields of paddy stretch endlessly into the horizon on both sides of the highway.’ And he goes on: ‘So where is the drought? Where are the caked, cracked and dried mud-flats with withered saplings that characterise drought? And mind you, Punjab and Haryana are among the worst hit states this year, notching up a rainfall deficit of 50 to 70 percent…’

Lord’s Own Voice, speaking through its prophet, tells us that why this is so:

The reason Punjab and Haryana, and to an extent western Uttar Pradesh across the Yamuna from Haryana’s grain bowl, can grin and bear at least one terrible drought is the foresight of regional leaders and some Central governments that made such decisive investments in irrigation in the fifties and the sixties. That, even more than any improved seed varieties or pesticides, is what made this the green revolution zone. The division of the Indus system rivers almost to the last litre between India and Pakistan also provided an impetus to plans to trap as much surplus water as possible in so many reservoirs which also, in turn, helped constantly recharge underground aquifers with constant recharge. Of course, it helped that most of this was done in decades when the most retrograde environmental and jholawala movements in the history of mankind had not yet arrived on the scene.

Editors and journalists like all other citizens are perfectly entitled to hold whatever opinion about themselves and the world.  That is their right to free speech. We also know that no journalist is under any compulsion to state the source of what he claims.We certainly care for such evidence.

Even as Mr Gupta was writing his piece, disregarding all evidence, NASA  had already published some more fresh material on its website – which was widely publicized and which Mr Gupta is unlikely to have missed. Here are some extracts:

‘Beneath northern India’s irrigated fields of wheat, rice, and barley … beneath its densely populated cities of Jaiphur (sic) and New Delhi, the groundwater has been disappearing. Halfway around the world, hydrologists, including Matt Rodell of NASA, have been hunting for it.

Where is northern India’s underground water supply going? According to Rodell and colleagues, it is being pumped and consumed by human activities — principally to irrigate cropland — faster than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes. They based their conclusions — published in the August 20 issue of Nature — on observations from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE).

The northern Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have all of the ingredients for groundwater depletion: staggering population growth, rapid economic development and water-hungry farms, which account for about 95 percent of groundwater use in the region.

They found that groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one meter every three years (one foot per year). More than 109 cubic km (26 cubic miles) of groundwater disappeared between 2002 and 2008 — double the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir, the Upper Wainganga, and triple that of Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States.’

In the meantime, the Times of India published another story, highlighting another angle that environmentalists have been drawing our attention to for a long time: the pollution of the Sutlej waters due to discharge of industrial effluents to the extent that it has started destroying bot aquatic and human life. Part of the later has to do with disappearing ground water and the resort therefore, to the polluted Sutlej water by villagers in Ropar district.

Now as it happens, those whom Mr Gupta derisively calls the ‘most retrograde movements in the history of mankind’ have been warning us precisely about this and piling up evidence upon evidence on the matter. But now the evidence comes from his very dear United States of America. Anybody even remotely familiar with Gupta’s writing knows that he has only one, very very predictable line of argument: how they do it in America! The answer to every question in this gentleman’s pieces, you can predict with the accuracy of a mathematician, will take this simple route. Why then did he not take this evidence from fatherland seriously?

We will reserve our comment on the intention for now, even though everybody knows that there are powerful corporate interests pusing for a relentless drive to insutrialization and Mr Gupta may actually be a committed believer of all he says. Howebvr, it is equally common knowledge that increasingly opinion makers in the media – editors and senior journalists in particular – are known to be making huge amounts of extra income (and other forms of assets like free shares, houses and so on) from sources other than those provided by their employment. This self important and self-righteous tribe of people in contemporary India who think they are above every body else and cannot open their mouths without a claiming a moral high ground, also needs to be made accountable. We are not suggesting that any particular person is in the pay of anybody else – even though the grapevine has innumerable stories to that effect – of the ultimate moral corruption of most mediapersons. But surely when opinions are expressed as ‘disinterested’ and ‘objective’, the public must have the right to know whether these opinions are actually disinterested. And what better way can there be when politicians have to disclose their incomes, and we are calling upon judges as well to follow suit, that we also demand the same of editors and mediapersons.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. ravi permalink
    August 30, 2009 1:01 PM

    I dont get this. If you think that editors, journalists and others should declare their
    income and assets and make them known to public, then you write about that. What is the link between your demand and the artcle you cite.
    Tomorrow somebody will write that NGO activists,
    academics and all those who wear jeans, signs
    statements condemning the state should also
    declare their assets and income in public and
    give the same reasons alluded by you. So where
    do we begin/end?

    • August 31, 2009 1:58 PM

      The public sphere and those who shape it vs those who wear jeans. Not quite the same, or are they Ravi. It is not an unfair demand to bring Editors/Journalists into the ambit of accountability.

      About demanding accountability from those who wear jeans and expensive shoes please read Peter Singer.

  2. Subash permalink
    August 30, 2009 6:15 PM

    Public opinions building may be the big business idea which remains invisible and works for the vested interests by creating an opinion among the population. In politics, in business even in fields like cinema social work etc public opinion is created by the experts,commentators etc which some how work for the vested interests and are rewarded following successful creation of this.

  3. linuxbeek permalink
    August 31, 2009 12:18 AM

    These elite journalists don’t know a thing about anything. But they are handsomely paid to churn out pearls of wisdom like the above one which just happens to dovetail so nicely with what the owners want.

    No wonder Gupta is a famous “Journalist”.

    I didn’t know he drags fatherland America in everything. I simply can’t bring myself to read his droppings. I used to look at it. They are so atrocious, just like most of those Indian Express op ed pages.

    Is it possible the Indian elites can’t find a more interesting propagandist than this sleep inducing mediocrity ?
    Apparently, they are scraping to the bottom of the barrel.

  4. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    September 1, 2009 10:39 AM

    Ravi, why do you think we wouldn’t agree with you that all “NGO activists, academics and all those who wear jeans, signs statements condemning the state should also declare their assets and income in public.”
    Declaring of assets in public should be mandatory for everyone, and fitting as I do, three of the categories you mention above (I wear jeans sometimes, I am an academic, and I often sign – and sometimes draft – statements condemning the state) – I declare my income to the Income Tax Dept every year, as do most of the people I know who fit your categories, and I am certain that we are all perfectly happy to declare our assets.
    Why does the idea bother you so much? It should be the basic responsibility of every citizen with any sort of regular income. Particularly citizens who participate in and attempt to shape public debate.
    Meanwhile, I found a link to Peter Singer on the ethics of buying expensive shoes, that kb mentioned above.

  5. Kumarpushp permalink
    September 11, 2009 2:57 AM

    Editors and journalists in Indias are having cosy relationships with corrupt policians and become part and parcel of corrupt systems.you will find they are getting free plots for their private schools even free land for housing states.most of editors are becoming rajya sabha members and getting dual salary in corrupt systems.some of these so called jounalist becoming marg darsak for their political party even these jounalists are worst then prostitues who donot have any moral and characters to defend the Aam admi in india ,so why they will declare their assets which was collected by corrupt ways.

  6. Sunalini permalink
    September 20, 2009 8:47 PM

    Arre I wear jeans sometimes and sign statements, and am an academic…and I am dying to declare my ‘assets’ (read: meagre income), so that everybody can know that despite all the hype about the sixth pay commission, young lecturers like me are still getting paid a pittance. But nobody seems to be interested in my financial secrets…damn, I guess everybody’s guessed that jean-wearing academic/activist types don’t have much exciting going on with their bank accounts…

  7. Manash permalink
    September 21, 2009 2:29 AM

    Kumarpushp,

    I always thought pimps, and not prostitutes, are devoid of moral standards. Though there are all kinds of pimps. I also don’t think the moral standards of your mother or mine is greater than the morality of prostitutes. So please leave them alone.

    Your middle class angsts and sentiments shouldn’t compel you to become so easily and unthinkingly, sexist. You should know, even Gandhi had called the British Parliament a “prostitute” and had to regret the usage later.

  8. Kumarpushp permalink
    September 22, 2009 3:55 AM

    Dear manash ,you are correct that i would have not used the word prostitute.My sincerely apologizing for using above mentioned word ,thanks million for correction.

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