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No beating about the bush.
While paid news is being discussed since the last election, for the first time we saw there is no wall between news reporting and sales, as Zee News’ editors Samir Ahluwalia and Sudhir Chaudhary are also business heads of the channel
The episode between Navin Jindal and Zee News is becoming murkier every day. Jindal, the Member of Parliament (MP) belonging to the Congress party and chairman and managing director of Jindal Steel and Power-part of the $15 billion diversified OP Jindal Group-had filed criminal extortion case against Zee News and Zee Business channel.
Following a formal complaint by Navin Jindal, the Broadcast Editors' Association (BEA) suspended its treasurer Sudhir Chaudhary, who is also editor and business head of Zee News. Even the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) headed by former chief justice of India JS Verma has said that it would inquire in to the complaint by Jindal. While both Zee and Jindal are sticking to their own stands, the entire episode raises more questions on the ethics of news reporting and business.
Jindal, in a dramatic press conference on Thursday, also released tapes showing the conversation between his team members and Zee News reporter, who allegedly asked for cash to stop the TV channels sting operation. "Media in our country has to be above suspicion. Media has played a crucial role in our country. Jindal Steel and Power has faced an incident on which I want to give a pure version. The way Zee TV has carried the news, it has become important for me to share," the Congress MP said.
Earlier, Jindal had filed a first information report (FIR) against Subhash Chandra, chairman of Zee group, Punit Goenka, managing director of Zee, Sameer Ahluwalia and Sudhir Chaudhary, both editors and business heads of Zee Business channel. In the FIR, Jindal said that Ahluwalia and Chaudhary demanded "certain advertisement commitments" worth several crores of rupees (Rs100 crore, according to media reports) for not broadcasting a story about the Jindal group's alleged involvement in the coal block allocations.
Jindal in the FIR said, “...the said three officials (Ravi Muthreja, head for corporate communications, Sushil Kumar Maroo, director and Vivek Mittal from Jindal) met with the aforesaid Sameer (Ahluwalia) and Sudhir (Chowdhary) at Polo Lounge of Hotel Hyatt Regency, New Delhi on 17 September 2012. In this meeting Sameer and Sudhir claimed that the deal amount will be Rs100 crore and not Rs20 crore as same was a communication error. They further said that if our company agreed to pay their company a total sum of Rs100 crore, they will not telecast any program concerning us and further they will improve/repair damage already caused to our company and its management due to the said programs.”
The complaint also blames Zee group’s head Subhash Chandra. It says, “Aforesaid Sameer and Sudhir further informed us that a vilification campaign against our company is under instruction, consent and full knowledge of aforesaid Subhash Chandra and other officials of their top management. They further informed that Subhash Chandra Goyal was fully aware of this. In fact this whole thing was his plan and each step had his concurrence”.
The Zee group, however, denied the allegations made by Jindal. According to a PTI report, Punit Goenka, managing director and chief executive, Zee Entertainment Enterprises has said, “This kind of allegation has happened in the past and may happen in the future. It doesn’t make any difference to us and we will stick to the truth. These are all pressure tactics.”
Zee News also alleged that Jindal misbehaved with a team of its reporters after they sought clarifications from him on the allegations levelled against his company for alleged irregularities in allocation of coal bocks.
This case highlights the effects of the diminishing wall between news reporting and sales and marketing. Renowned media critic Ken Auletta, while writing about Sameer Jain and Vineet Jain, the Times of India brothers, in The New Yorker has highlighted the question about news and paid news. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/08/121008fa_fact_auletta ). Auletta says, “India is one of the few places on earth where newspapers still thrive; in fact, circulation and advertising are rising. In part, this is because many Indian newspapers, following an approach pioneered by the Jain brothers, have been dismantling the wall between the newsroom and the sales department. At the Times of India, for example, celebrities and advertisers pay the paper to have its reporters write advertorials about their brands in its supplementary sections; the newspaper enters into private-treaty agreements with some advertisers, accepting equity in the advertisers' firms as partial payment.”
Unfortunately, more and more media houses in India are using the same method to churn out news and earn profits. While it is no secret that owners of several media expect the editorial team to provide some ‘benefits’ to them either through some deals or advertisements, Zee has gone one step ahead by merging the two posts, editor and business head.
While responsibilities for both these posts are different, merging them would be only disastrous as can be seen by the Chaudhary episode. Being an editor, Chaudhary may plant stories for and against, let’s say, Jindal, and at the same time as business head may, directly or indirectly, approach the business group for advertisements.
Last year, after the screening of the movie “Brokering News” by Moneylife Foundation and vCitizens Action Network and MxM India, a member of the audience asked the panellists, “When I see a movie getting good ratings, I go watch it. If it turns out to be bad, I lose Rs150 for the ticket. How does ‘paid’ news affect me then?”
The movie, directed by Umesh Agarwal, showed how, mass media, which is responsible for reporting correct information and mould public opinion; has started to act as mouthpiece of corporate houses, power lobbies and politicians—misleading the people and redirecting public opinion for their benefit.
While there is no doubt that the electronic and print media need an introspection, on the other hand enquiries also must be launched against publishers who come up with suspicious-looking content or articles that engage in adulation for an organisation or persons. The Zee News and Jindal episode, probably is pointing towards this direction.
The lessons we can learn from this great man are simply invaluable
How often do we come across a person before whom we like to bow our head even though we are neither related nor connected to him in any manner? A person who was neither a religious head nor a political leader. A person who had opportunities to opt for a cushy career in the corporate sector but did not do so. A person...
If there were a definite set of rules, duly framed as per the legal provisions, there would have been much lesser chances of such huge discrepancies and anomalies involved in the transfer of IAS/IPS officers
This is not a travel diary of a police officer but they are the details of my postings during 2006-07. Eight postings in two years and one can easily understand the various accompanied issues related with these transfers. My children, Tanaya and Aditya, had to get shifted from one school to another every few months and my wife Nutan got so fed up with this that she almost declared to live separately.
Hence, Ashok Khemka of the Robert Vadra fame is not the only officer who got 42 transfers in 21 years of service. I have a batch-mate in Uttar Pradesh who was posted to three places within three days—he remained on road all through running from one place of posting to another till he finally got settled to a district for the next few months.
What could be the reason for this? May I venture to say that the reason for such abrupt and rapid transfers has to do with the lack of definite rules in this regards. If there had been well-specified rules for transfer of IAS/IPS (Indian Administrative Service/Indian Police Service) officers after a definite time period, such a thing would not possibly have taken place.
I present another aspect of the way different conclusions are derived regarding the suitability of an IPS officer. In his case, in the meeting of the Selection Committee held at time A for promotion of IPS officers of his batch to next grade, the Selection Committee concluded that he was fit for promotion, saying—“Based on the service records of Mr X, he has been categorized in the Fit category.” But quite strangely, in the next meeting of the Selection Committee held at time B, the Selection Committee for the same post made a completely different conclusion that the applicant was not fit for promotion again basing on the same Service records. Thus, within a period of six months, this officer’s position changed from being fit for promotion to becoming unfit for promotion, while getting quite decent remarks in the Annual Confidential Records between this period. Two exactly opposite conclusions within a period of six months could be made possibly because of the lack of specific “Rules and Regulations” where adequate discretion has been granted to the Selection Committee. It is quite obvious that if there were a definite set of rules, duly framed as per the legal provisions, there would have been much lesser chances of such huge discrepancies and anomalies.
These issues related with the internal problems associated with these elite government services like IAS, IPS, etc have come into wider public discussion, giving perception of these All India Services being left at the mercy of the government of the day, after the case of senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka who was abruptly transferred as managing director, Haryana Seed Development Corporation, came into the limelight.
But even otherwise, these matters have always remained there and the time seems to have come when we have to give greater attention to end any discrepancy and discrimination related with the service conditions of these services.
Here I would like to dwell over the issue of there being no specific rules and/or regulations for promotion related to matters under the All India Services Act, 1951. Why is it so, we don’t know. It is just that it possibly missed the eyes of the policymakers. Yet, such small errata have the possibility of having extremely critical effects on any structured service.
Bureaucracy, as we all know, is characterized by hierarchical organization, delineated lines of authority in a fixed area of activity, action taken on the basis of and recorded in written rules, etc. Max Weber, the father of bureaucracy, believed that here rules are implemented by neutral officials and most importantly career advancement depends on technical qualifications judged by organization, not individuals. We can say that the basic requirement of a bureaucratic set-up is to have value neutrality, to have as pin-pointed rules as possible, to have as less discretion and scope for manoeuvring as one might and to impersonal atmosphere and conditions. As Max Weber and so many other administrative thinkers rightly perceived, any system can run with greatest efficiency only when there are more of rules and less of discretion. The lack of specific promotion rules for the All India Services (AIS) needs to be seen in this perspective.
AIS have been framed under Article 312 of the Constitution. Today there are three All India Services—the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFS). The cadre controlling authorities for these three services respectively are the ministry of personnel, public grievances & pensions, ministry of home affairs and ministry of environment and forest, Government of India.
In pursuance of Article 312, an All India Services Act, 1951, was promulgated to regulate the recruitment and the conditions of service of persons appointed to the AIS and as per Section 3(1) of this Act—“The central government may, after consultation with the governments of the states concerned (including the state of Jammu and Kashmir) and by notification in the Official Gazette make rules for the regulation of recruitment, and the conditions of service of persons appointed to an All India Service”.
A very large number of rules and regulations have been framed in pursuance of power conferred by sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the AIS Act, 1951. Some of these rules and regulations are common to the three All India Services, while there are other specific rules and regulations for each of these three AIS. Thus the central government has framed rules and regulations for all kinds of matters related with these services.
At the same time, there are no specific rules for promotion of these services. Instead the promotion of IAS, IPS and IFS officers is being regulated by three separate government guidelines passed by their cadre controlling ministries. The home ministry’s Letter No. 45020/11/97-IPS.II dated 15/1/1999 outlines, “Principles regarding promotion of the members of IPS in the state cadre”. It merely states, “In order to ensure uniformity of procedure in the matter of appointment and promotion to various grades in the Indian Police Service in all the state cadres in the country, it would be desirable to adhere to the revised guidelines and follow and impose stricter standards of selection as envisaged in the revised guidelines.” There are similar letters for the IAS (No. 20011/4/92-AIS-II dated 28/03/2000) issued by the ministry of personnel, public grievances & pensions; and for IFS (No. 20019/1/2000-IFS-II, dated 18/11/2002) by the ministry of environment and forests.
These guidelines do not have the legal sanctity under Section 3 of the All India Services Act. What is more noteworthy is that they also seem to be in contradiction to some of the rules already passed for these officers. While rule 2(a) of the IAS Pay Rules, IPS Pay Rules and the IFS Pay Rules say that there shall be a benchmark score for promotion, these guidelines negate any such benchmark for promotion. These promotion guidelines still talk of Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) as the basic inputs for assessment while ACRs have got replaced by Performance Appraisal Reports (PARs) since 2007. It needs to be noted that the basic concept of ACR and PAR are completely different. ACRs were by nature confidential documents while PAR is much more open and transparent. PAR is more concerned with performance appraisal than writing confidential report about the officer. Hence, with the change from judging performance through ACR to PAR, there possibly was a need to make suitable changes in the promotion guidelines as well.
The present guidelines also seem to have many provisions where the scope for discretion seems immense. The guidelines say—“Each committee should decide its own method and procedure for objective assessment of the suitability of the candidates” which naturally means that there is no uniformity in this regard. Similarly, the guidelines say—“The committee should consider ACRs for equal number of years in respect of all officers falling within the zone of consideration for assessing their suitability for promotion.” What this means is that the number of years for which the performance of the officers of the AIS need to be evaluated/considered has not been specified but has been left on the discretion of the Selection Committees. Similarly, the present guidelines say—“in the case of each officer, an overall grading should be given which will be either Fit or Unfit”. But these rules do not ask the Selection Committee to specify the reasons for coming to such a conclusion. This naturally gives scope to the Selection Committee to conclude in any particular manner it feels like. My personal opinion is that wherever there is discretion, it always has the possibility of being misused.
Recently I filed a petition (Petition No. 418 of 2012) in the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Lucknow praying for framing definite promotion rules for these services and for eliminating such provisions in the guidelines which prima facie see to leave scope for discretion or are against the existing rules. I consider this a part of my small contribution towards a more transparent and accountable governance and a situation where rule of law actually prevails in its letter and spirit.
(Amitabh Thakur, an IPS officer from Uttar Pradesh, is also working in the field of transparency in governance)