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With More Than 15 Journalists Booked in 50 Days, Politician-Media Nexus Tightens Grip on Karnataka Press

In today's time and age where it's becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between fake and real news, questions on journalistic integrity are being reiterated all over again.

Stacy Pereira | CNN-News18

Updated:May 13, 2019, 3:14 PM IST
With More Than 15 Journalists Booked in 50 Days, Politician-Media Nexus Tightens Grip on Karnataka Press
A News18 Creative by Mir Suhail

Bengaluru: In what can be dubbed as a reflection of the growing chaos in the field of journalism, at least 15 journalists in Karnataka were either booked or arrested on charges of blackmail, forgery, extortion, fake news among others over the last two months.

For those who are in need of a refresher, here are some of the cases that were highlighted.

City-based journalist SA Hemanth Kumar of 'Uday India' was arrested in April for allegedly circulating a fake letter written by Home Minister MB Patil to Sonia Gandhi that pushed for a separate Lingayat religion. Kumar is a BJP sympathizer and he was backed by several party leaders, who condemned his arrest on social media.

In another instance, a Suvarna News Reporter and camera person from Vijaypura district were arrested for blackmailing a doctor. When this incident was highlighted by other media outlets, the channel head Ajit Hanumankanavar admitted that "there was a thief amongst us,” adding that he has been sacked “without hestitation”.

Hemanth Kashyap, the Input Head from another Kannada channel, Public TV, was arrested for trying to extort money from a famous doctor, who is also a Padma Shri awardee.

Kashyap allegedly demanded Rs 50 lakh to keep a video of the doctor under wraps. Though the doctor had initially paid him Rs 5 lakh, the demand for more money led him to lodge a police complaint. Kashyap reportedly said that other journalists who were also in possession of the video clip needed to be paid off.

These reporters are also under the scanner now. The Public TV employee was sacked and its editor went on air and said they would cooperate with the police probe in every way.

Another ex-journalist with TV9, Kiran Shanbhag, was arrested for blackmailing an ayurvedic doctor.

Then there was the infamous audio-gate scandal, when Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy submitted an audio clip which was allegedly a conversation between a JDS MLA and a BJP leader, where the former was trying to woo the leader to defect to his party.

The ‘Operation Kamala’, as it was called, was done to topple the state government and was orchestrated with the help of a journalist from Raichur. The journalist was named in the FIR which was lodged against BJP President BS Yeddyruppa in the incident.

A journalist was also booked for photoshopping images of the CM with an actress and the CM's media secretary filed an FIR last week in Bengaluru.

Karnataka has seen a slew of Kannada channels being launched over the last year, with half of them being politically funded.

In a blog post written recently, senior journalist and former editor of 'Outlook', Krishna Prasad points out 'How Kannadigas should be concerned about the news and views they are consuming.' Prasad spoke about how the politician-media nexus has always existed, but has reached a 'stratospherical' level in Karnataka. "With the entry of cable and satellite news TV channels, there are far too many players all eyeing the same slice of the pie, many of them ready and willing to bend the rule book for cash flow purposes," he said.

Prasad also goes on to suggest a few tips that can help keep checks and balances. Firstly for institutes like the Press Club and Editors and Reporters Guilds to evolve a common 'Code of Ethics'. Secondly, for the Press Council of India to hold an enquiry into what's happening in Karnataka, so that corruption in media is deposed. And most importantly, for citizens to call out and name and shame such practices through social media as that could restore some degree of respectability.

In today's time and age where it's becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between fake and real news, questions on journalistic integrity are being reiterated all over again after these incidents.

While such cases are reported from across the country, and some may dismiss them as one-off incidents, the sheer number and frequency of such incidents is alarming. Perhaps, the rise is because more people are filing police cases, and the police have started cracking down on social media warriors for fake news.

Senior journalist and Editor of Karnataka's Deccan Herald newspaper KN Shanth Kumar, who has earlier been a chairman of the Press Trust of India too, said that it is not a problem restricted to individual journalists, but runs deeper. "Many local news channels are set up with the intention of political patronage and not the intention of good journalism. These mediums are then used for the highest level of misuse -- from blackmail to extortion,” he explained.

Under-reporting of such cases is another dilemma. Kumar, suggested that self-regulation could be the key in cleaning up the system. "There is no point in not disclosing the identity of the individual or the organisation. At Deccan Herald, we have taken a conscious decision to call people out, hoping that it could instill some bit of responsibility, if not fear,” Kumar said.

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| Edited by: Zoya Mateen
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