With journalistic integrity, both individual and institutional, increasingly under question with the spurt of paid news, private treaties, mediating, brokering and other wheeling and dealing, there have been growing calls for journalists to also declare their assets and liabilities, much like politicians, judges and bureaucrats.
Ravi Belagere (in picture), the colourful and sometimes controversial editor of the Kannada tabloid Hi Bangalore!—whose ad-free menu is a heady cocktail of crime, cinema, sleaze, politics and literature—has been doing just that on the pages of his paper for years now.
Every September, the popular and prolific Belagere, who also writes and publishes books, hosts television shows, acts in movies, and runs a school on top of his journalistic duties, publishes not so much a list but a confessional of what he holds and what he owes.
This is Belagere’s deeply personal “P&L statement” for the year gone by (translated from the original Kannada), published in the October 7 issue of Hi Bangalore!.
If nothing else, it offers a start.
By RAVI BELAGERE
“It is account-giving time once again.
“For someone who rode to Bangalore on his motorcycle with Rs 380 in his pocket, if I am anything today, it is because of Hi Bangalore!. For 15 years, I have been a humble servant of you, my reader, and it is my duty to present my accounts before you, my master.
“Except for two buses which I purchased for Prarthana School, I did not obtain any moveable assets this year. For my personal use, I have a Skoda and Volkswagen, with the Skoda being put to greater use. But, as you are aware, in the second-half of the last year, my movements were restricted [due to an illness].
“There is a Maruti Omni in the garage for the use of the office staff. The Ind-Suzuki and Bullet motorcycles that are so dear to me, continue to remain parked there.
“I did not buy any new clothes either but I did buy books as if they were going out of fashion.
“I purchased a house-site in ‘Karishma Hills’ on the outskirts of Bangalore in the name of [third son] Karna and work on a new house has begun. I have bequeathed my Padmanabhnagar house, Amma, and a flat to my daughter Bhavana. The other house in Seshadripuram is already with my other daughter Chetana. At the moment, my wife Lalitha, mother-in-law, children, grandchildren, me and the dog stay in our Banashankari house, Ammi Jaan.
“Last year, I had purchased a house that [woman Friday] Nivedita had bought and donated it to Seena (nick name of Srinivas), who has been with me and been my shadow for nearly 30 years.
“As for my office, my friends keep teasing me, ‘This is your Brindavana’. In Brahmin patois, Brindavana means final resting place. This office is my own.
“I have only one bank account, at Karnataka Bank, and have debts of nearly Rs 4 crore.
“Last year, I paid income-tax of Rs 54,44,450.
“Both the newspaper and the publishing house are in the black. The monthly employee costs of Hi Bangalore! is about Rs 4,20,000, and Nivedita is the highest-paid employee.
“There are 349 employees in Prarthana School which has 5,900 students. Their annual wage bill is Rs 2,00,82,000. Prarthana has four buildings of its own, and a small playground. Besides, I have rented two rooms. This year,too, principal Sheela was honoured by the government for the 100% pass-rate in SSLC.
“As you are aware, I devote a portion of my profits for poor students and the sick and ailing. Several children, all the way up to engineering and medical students, are availing the scholarship instituted in the name of my friend ‘Sitanadi‘ Surendra. The good news this year is that one of the girls is appearing for the IAS. Tens of heart and kidney patients, cancer victims, HIV-afflicted are benefitting from the donations.
“All the money for these ventures comes from you, the reader. My task is merely to distribute it.
“This year, thanks to my laziness, I did not write a single book. The publication of O Manase suffered hiccups for the same reason.
“From the moment Hi Bangalore! was born, my friend R.T. Vittal Murthy has been with me through thick and thin. He is my biggest asset.
“After this declaration, what more is there to admit?”
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News
Complete coverage: Editors’ Guild on paid news, private treaties