Monday, September 24, 2007

Has NDTV 24x7 breached the thin barrier between editorial and advertisement?

It might look rather silly in this market age to quibble about the sacredness of news and editorial as such. But everyone has been usually paying hypocritical respect to this shibboleth for the last 10 years. When The Times of India put up its news space for sale in its city supplement, there were howls of protest. But the managers of The Times of India laughed it off because they were aware that those who were protesting would like to do the same.

In spite of the pervasive cynicism, it was quite a shocker to find Ms Sonali Chander, the sports editor at NDTV, closing her interview -- shown on Sunday night at 9.30 pm -- with Sachin Tendulkar with a question on the Sunfeast multigrain biscuit. This is almost the first time that a news interview included something about a product, which is endorsed by Tendulkar.

The interview was carried out at Kolkata during the Sunfeast Tennis Tournament in the women's circuit. Perhaps NDTV news managers felt that this was the only occasion to catch the elusive Tendulkar. But since Tendulkar was in Kolkata on behalf of Sunfeast biscuits, the Sunfeast brand managers must have armtwisted NDTV to include a question on their product as part of the main interview.

There is a possible defense that NDTV editorial might want to offer for this. They might say that when they go to launch of brands endorsed by celebrities, they do ask the celebrities as to why they are endorsing that product. And it is indeed news as such. But that would be a weak argument. The interview was not on the occasion of the launch of the Sunfeast biscuit. And even if they want to evince the reponse of the celebrity over the commercial product that he or she is endorsing, then it should be shown as a separate news item covering business. But enough rationalisations can be found for this breach of journalistic norm. And respectable journalists and editors would prefer to politely turn away from the issue.

And the NDTV marketing people must have agreed without much resistance either because it is silly to stand on journalistic norms when the legendary cricketer's interview is coming one's way. The interview itself generates so muh advertisement for the half hour slot.

Now, perhaps journalists in both print and electronic media, must get off their high pedestal of moralism, and stop preaching to others about values and about not selling one's soul for pieces of silver. There is no harm in selling the soul may times over if that serves as a good business model.

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