Two weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon as another hectic week at Citizen Matters had wound down, we received a phone call from one Mr G (name held back) asking us whether we could distribute the Citizen Matters print magazine in the Vijaynagar area of the city. He spoke in fluent Kannada and English, and from his voice it seemed he was in his late forties. At first it was not clear why we must take him seriously, since the only thing he would give away about himself was a first name, and that he was an ‘IT consultant’.
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Let’s cut to the chase: Mr G, it turned out, was not a regular ‘IT consultant’. He was representing a political party and candidate for the assembly bye-election in Vijayanagar constituency. He was urging us to launch an edition of Citizen Matters with his candidate on the cover page in that area for one simple reason: that his candidate get more visibility. On being pressed, he gave in a little bit with “okay, you could cover other candidates too”.
Amongst other things, we let him know that Citizen Matters’ coverage on politics is not oriented to favour specific candidates. We’re independent and we want both our journalists and readers to cherish that. Clearly confused about the reply, he asked for a ‘yes/no’ and we said ‘no’.
This is not the first time. Several times in the past, secretaries and ‘handlers’ of MLA and MP candidates have asked our journalists about what our ‘fee’ was to interview their candidate.
In each case we’ve taken a simple line – we don’t take money.We cover politics because it must be covered, not because a candidate or two bankrolled us. Despite our own socio-economic and intellectual biases, we’re as independent as a media outlet will get in these parts.
One thing is clear: a number of newspapers are taking money from politicians in return for coverage. That’s why candidates are taken by surprise when Citizen Matters pushes back.
We sign off with this sobering note on our 62nd Independence day, a day we are to cherish the political freedoms our nation’s founders won for us: A press that charges for its articles isn’t really ‘free’. That won’t do, and must change.⊕