By Narayanadas Upadhyayula
On May 14, 2004 Piers Morgan was âfiredâ as editor of Britainâs âbiggest selling newspaperâ, âDAILY MIRRORâ over the issue of some pictures he published in the paper on Saturday, May 1. The pictures were of British soldiers of the Queenâs Lancashire Regiment abusing Iraqi civilians, more specifically one of which published on the front page of a British soldier in full modern battle-gear urinating on a hooded Iraqi.
The pictures instantly raised a furore in the political establishment as well as the media. The concern was not only about the veracity of the pictures but their effect on the morale of British soldiers in Iraq already under fire from the Al Qaeda. Alastair Campbell, Director of communications at No. 10 Downing Street advised Morgan:
âWhen you decide itâs no longer enough to be a national newspaper editor, and you want to be a political playerâŠwhen you decide to be a player, then sometimes you have to face up to the rules of the political game as well.â (The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade. Ebury Press, London 2005. p.9)
Fast forward and Campbell could be advising our celebrity journalists caught with their hands in Niira Radiaâs cookie jar in late 2010?
Even after being shown the door Morgan insisted that the pictures he published were real and were in fact provided by a soldier of the QLR serving in Iraq. But Morgan had the candour to confess:
âThere were times in my editing career when I was sanctimonious or hypocriticalâŠJournalists are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to our own failings. But much of what we do is notable for its conceit, moral double standards and occasionally downright nastiness.â (Ibid. p.ix)
DAILY MIRROR may only be a tabloid given to purveying salacious gossip. Still the paper fired Morgan once it became known that the pictures he published were crude fakes.
Morgan says that during the two weeks in which the controversy originated, peaked and climaxed he was constantly stalked day and night by newspaper reporters and TV crews shouting questions like âAre you going to quit Mr. Morgan?â
And that is the big difference between Britain, the âmother of democracyâ and India, still unable to shed its feudal past, where two different standards co-exist: one for the clichĂ©d common man and another for the high and mighty.
Here it is not about an editor paying the price for publishing âcrude fakeâ pictures, probably himself done in and publishing them in good faith.
Here it is about a famous ex-editor and columnist supplicating before a corporate lobbyist begging for instructions on what should go into his next column almost as obsequiously as a waiter in a restaurant taking an order.
Here it is about a puffed-up television diva lobbying for a political crook â whose malfeasance was all too apparent because a number of other journalistsâ exposes in reams of newsprint eloquently detailed it - to be re-inducted into the national government.
All would have ended well and the whole issue sanctimoniously submerged except for OPEN and OUTLOOK which published transcripts of their secret conversations. (Privacy be damned; the only thing private in the conversations was about Niira Radiaâs gown a graphic description of which she delivered to Ratan by golly Tata). And the abhorred Internet Hindus who would not give up! They texted a million (according to some estimates two million) tweets, focused the attention of the worldâs press and brought the demigods down to the earth with a thud.
Morgan was summoned to the Chief Executive Sly Baileyâs office to be informed that it was âno longer appropriateâ for him to continue as editor. His security pass and handheld Blackberry computer were instantly confiscated and he was escorted out of the office by burly security personnel.
In minutes as he was driven home by his official chauffeur for the last time, Morganâs in-car TV crackled into life and he was âbreaking newsâ! He says his phone went into âmeltdown, with calls and text messages pouring in relentlessly from colleagues, other editors, family, friends. Even the odd foe, presumably just to make sure it was trueâ!
Here in India, let alone stalking the two journalists shouting questions like âAre you going to quit?â the media first went into denial and then put in place a massive cover-up exercise.
In the case of the freelancer, he was allowed to withdraw his column on his own volition and escaped to, of all places Bangkok; probably to have a massage to soothe the bruised ego for having been exposed, with hefty wenches holding neem twigs?
In the case of the puffed-up television diva, at whose desk all bucks (including the famed American?) stop, her security pass and handheld computer were not confiscated nor was she escorted out of office by burly security personnel. On the other hand she was allowed to stage her own trial live (and unedited as her chosen moderator-judge claimed and we have no reason to suspect otherwise!) for prime-time entertainment (what else?) with herself participating as a juror at her own trial that was almost surreal if it were not so comic.
For once, on the issue of journalistic ethics (or lack of them!), the âInternet Hindusâ and some of the editors are on the same page. One couldnât possibly agree more with one of them when he says that if these journalists were employed by the âFinancial Timesâ or âNew York Timesâ or âThe Guardianâ it would have been curtains for their careers.
The author is a Hyderabad based freelance writer. His e-mail ID is
Fantastic article with fantastic examples. I wish this is published in some mainstream media
No one quite,"forgets and forgives like we do,!
Brilliant; the context makes the article very forceful - will be learn though? The current climate in India seems brazen and media has become part of the circus. Anup
Excellent article.Exposed the Shameless mediawallas thoroughly.