Editors say headlines should catch the eye. I’m one of those editors who says things like that. Here is one from CNN-IBN that caught my eye: “Editors call for media regulation after arrest of Zee News journalists.” Why would they ever want that?
We call those “man bites dog” headlines because they’re unusual, and that makes them news. Journalists are supposed to resist government attempts to control the way they do their jobs. If you make the government one of your minders, supervisors or shareholders, the argument goes, you compromise your journalists’ abilities to report on the government. If editors call for more regulation of themselves, no matter the country, this is the risk that they run.
Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of the Outlook Group, which publishes Outlook magazine, was the editor quoted in the CNN-IBN article who said the press needs regulation. He said this in response to news that police arrested two Zee News editors after Congress Party parliamentarian and industrialist Naveen Jindal said they tried to extort money from him in return for not airing a negative story about his company.
“I think there is a very very serious need for external regulation. I think internal self regulation has failed and failed lamentably, at least television has your national broadcasters association. In the print media, we have absolutely nothing because all editors say that we don’t want external self regulation because we can do it ourselves. I’ve got a corrections page, I’ve got a clarifications page, and therefore, we don’t need it.”
It’s not surprising that Mehta would say this. Outlook cracked open a scandal in 2009 in which a bunch of Indian newspapers charged politicians for coverage packages, not just positive coverage, but any coverage at all. If that’s not a kind of crime already – some kind of bribery would be my guess, or reverse blackmail (we ignore you if you don’t pay us) – there’s probably a way to make it fit a crime already listed in the books.