OPINION
ETHICS OF JOURNALISM & CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Who pays for that English muffin? The Tribune and Narendra Modi now share a man in Kashmir
- kanwar manjit singh
Who pays for that English muffin? The Tribune and Narendra Modi now share a man in Kashmir



SLOAN SABBITH, the financial journalist in Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom meets up with a corporate honcho at a sidewalk cafe for breakfast and pow-wow but insists on paying for her own muffin. Her reason? She reports on these corporates, and can't allow a billionaire to pay for her breakfast.

"Come on! All you had was a muffin," the billionaire protests. But Sloan Sabbith understands a conflict of interest when she sees one.

Olivia Munn's character of the very qualified economist with great legs explains the Glass-Steagall Act in a prime time television show, but it really takes far lesser intelligence to explain conflict of interest.

The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-Ram Madhav trio has handed over Kashmir to Narinder Nath Vohra, a retired 1959 batch IAS officer of Punjab cadre. Presently, N N Vohra, as he is more popularly known, is the governor of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and also the President of The Tribune Trust.

The Tribune Trust runs the very influential, multi-edition mass circulation English daily, The Tribune and its sister publications, Punjabi Tribune and Dainik Tribune, apart from a significant online presence in the form of www.tribuneindia.com.
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J-K Governor & President of The Tribune Trust, Vohra hasn’t addressed the elephant in the room: how will a serving governor of a strife-torn state guard against a situation where day-to-day journalism and his gubernatorial duties represent a frequent situation of conflict of interest?
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The Tribune is one of the foremost newspapers in northern India that reports on the trouble-torn Kashmir Valley. In fact, the newspaper has a Jammu and Srinagar edition.

Front page of The Tribune's Jammu and Kashmir edition of the day it reported the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government, a move that made Vohra the executive head of the state for all practical purposes.

 
N N Vohra assumed the Presidentship of The Tribune Trust in November last year when Justice (retd) S S Sodhi was eased out in the wake of an abject frontpage apology published by The Tribune, giving a certificate of utmost honesty to Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia. 

While Vohra told staffers in a message that "The Tribune Group of Newspapers must remain totally committed to the pursuit of highest journalistic values," and referred to the high "ethical standards,” he did not address the elephant in the room: how will a serving governor of a strife-torn state guard against a situation where day-to-day journalism and his gubernatorial duties represent a frequent situation of conflict of interest?
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That Vohra knew how to work with powers that be, and Khare knew how to speak truth to power, are the twin truths known only too well to anyone who spends Rs. 4.50 on a copy of The Tribune and has a casual acquaintance with the happenings in the Valley.
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Reporting the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a very political act. Even regular news headlines can have hugely loaded political nuances and implications. Journalists in the Valley walk a tight rope, and the commentary in the wake of the most tragic death of most respected editor Shujaat Bukhari has brought it out only too acutely.
 

Then, how have the management in the form of The Tribune Trust and the editorial leadership of The Tribune and sister newspapers resolved the issue of conflict of interest when their Trust's president is the governor of Jammu and Kashmir?

So far, the newspaper has not addressed the issue in any shape, form or fashion. In fact, the only public event known so far in this respect is that after Mr N N Vohra took over as President of The Tribune, its editor-in-chief Harish Khare, known for his fiery sense of independence and a fiesty anti-establishment tenor, quit in a surprising manner. If it happened in spite of Vohra’s strong opposition, it remains a fiercely guarded secret.

That Vohra knows how to work with powers that be, and Khare knows how to speak truth to power, are the twin truths known only too well to anyone who spends Rs. 4.50 on a copy of The Tribune and has a casual acquaintance with the happenings in the Valley. Incidentally, and very significantly, The Tribune now does not have an editor-in-chief. The new head on the editorial side, Rajesh Ramachandran, has been given the designation of just "Editor,” an arrangement which clearly leaves the room wide open for the Trust to have even more say in the day to day running of the newspapers of the group.

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The Tribune now does not have an editor-in-chief. The new head on the editorial side, Rajesh Ramachandran, has been given the designation of just "Editor,” an arrangement which clearly leaves the room wide open for the Trust to have even more say in the day to day running of the newspapers of the group.
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Now that N N Vohra will be running the state following the BJP's sudden-and-yet-expected move to pull the rug from underneath Mehbooba Mufti, The Tribune has a job on its hands: explaining how The Tribune Trust plans to pursue objective journalism while reporting the state of human rights and power play in Jammu and Kashmir while the Trust is run by the man to whom reports the joint command of security forces as well as the civil and police brass of the insurgency-hit state.

Quiz Question: On a scale of one to ten, how independent do you think the reporters and editorial staff of the Jammu and Kashmir edition of The Tribune will feel — while reporting the incidents of stone pelting, use of pellet guns, all out operations for dominance launched by security forces and any possible use of Kashmiri citizens as human shields trussed up on vehicles —if they know that they work for a newspaper whose managerial head is also the ruler of the state of Jammu and Kashmir?

Well, they know now. So, tick your choice on a scale of one to ten.

Readers of The Tribune and those who track the state of ethics in journalism remember that if The Tribune had published the apology ("No evidence of involvement of Bikram Singh Majithia in Drug Racket: All allegations unsubstantiated and incorrect; Page 1, The Tribune edition dated October 29, 2017) under its Trust president S S Sodhi, it took an even braver decision of not withdrawing the apology all through the time that the Trust has been under the tutelage of N N Vohra. 

As of date, The Tribune has not withdrawn the front page "unconditional apology” that gave the most pristine clean chit anyone in politics can ever get. With N N Vohra at the helm, the newspaper did not retract its claim that it has verified and found that Majithia was completely innocent.
 

Any newspaper needs to explain the dire circumstances in which its top policy setting body's head has close linkages with not just the government but the deep state. When it involves a clear case of conflict of interest, it amounts to an elephant in the room.
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Quiz Question: On a scale of one to ten, how independent do you think the reporters and editorial staff of the Jammu and Kashmir edition of The Tribune will feel — while reporting the incidents of stone pelting, use of pallet guns, all out operations for dominance launched by security forces and any possible use of Kashmiri citizens as human shields trussed up on vehicles —if they know that they work for a newspaper whose managerial head is also the ruler of the state of Jammu and Kashmir?
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Incidentally, The Tribune Trust also includes Lt Gen SS Mehta (retd), former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, and Gurbachan Jagat, a 1966-batch Punjab-cadre Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, who headed the Jammu and Kashmir Police and retired as the DG of the Border Security Force (BSF). 
 

In Vohra's own words, "The Tribune Group of Newspapers must remain totally committed to the pursuit of highest journalistic values and ... ethical standards.” 

It starts by not allowing someone to pay for your English muffin, but when you run a restaurant and employ the food critic also, taking the reviewer's word on the quality of the muffin comes with a generous helping of salt.

That's what ruins the dish.

 When a journalist refused to allow a corporate honcho to pay for her muffin.

But this is fiction. You think journos are as ethical in real life?

 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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