The eyes and ears of the public as “guests”

RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: The on-again, off-again Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC), linking Karnataka’s two most prominent cities, has been mired in controversy and litigation for over a decade now, and polarised political, bureaucratic and public opinion, often on caste lines.

On the one hand, there are those like former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda who believe the project should in its current shape should not go through as it allegedly tramples over farm lands. And on the other hand, there are those who contend that the objections are afterthoughts of vested interests seeking to extract a bit more from the project’s promoter, Ashok Kheny.

The Bangalore media has been a bit-player in the drama, some sides covertly supporting the project and some overtly opposing it. But yesterday when Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE), the company promoting the project, held the inaugration of a “Freedom Park” at the Peripheral Road at Somapura in Bangalore, the company’s PR machinery went into overdrive.

The invitation cards that were sent out to all media organisations in Bangalore sported the names of 23 journalists from 17 media organisations who had been invited as “guests”. Journalists of The Hindu, Deccan Herald and Praja Vani which have not hesitated to ask questions of the BMIC project and have put out the “other side” of the story, were prominently missing.

Some key questions emerge here:

1. What was NICE’s motive behind inviting “select” journalists from leading newspapers and TV channels and using them as mascots? Is it to suggest that they approve of the project?

2. Did the “select” journalists give their consent to their names being used this way by NICE on the invitation card or was this done without their knowledge? If so, has any of them objected?

3. Can the reading and viewing public expect fair reporting from media organisations, whose journalists were guests of NICE and enjoyed its hospitality?

4. Should journalists who are expected to be the eyes and ears of the public, be “guests” of an organisation undertaking a controversial project, notwithstanding its own legitimate case?

5. Does it mark a new low in ethical journalism? Or does it mark a new high in commercialisation of journalism, where public opinion is the privilege of the highest bidder?

Cross-posted on sans serif