What would have happened if media had not covered the K. M. Nanavati case? Would the jury still have made their decision in favor of Mr. Nanavati? These are the sensational questions that still come to my mind. That’s what legal journalism is and the power of journalism is. At the workshop – “The Art of Reporting: Legal Journalism and Career Prospects” organised at ILNU on 27th August, 2016, these points were illuminated by our honorable guests – Mr. Somashekar Sundaresan, Head (Securities and Regulatory Practices), Jyoti Sagar Associates (JSA), Mumbai; Mr. Ajay Umat, Editor-in-chief at Navgujarat Samay and Senior Journalist, Mr. R. Prasannan, Chief of Bureau at The Week .
These three speakers are a symbol of fearless journalism. Mr. Somasekhar Sundaresan, talked about his journey from a law graduate – to a rookie reporter – towards being a journalist. He talked about how with the coming of modern era, the scope and freedom of journalism has changed. There is a completely new market orientation in journalism. How journalism prevailed in the 1980s in India and how it is in this modern era and how despite internet and technology, mainstream journalism has been compromised like never before.
With increase in scope of journalism, simultaneously there is an increase in paid news too. News can now be officially bought in the market. Every law student and lawyer would agree that there is nothing like absolute freedom and someone needs to speak about the issues related to press freedom. But on the other side, we have someone like Arundhati Roy writing long 10000 word long article about these issues. Can we find a middle ground? Also, is it right to repress the media during the times of emergency? And where will be the true spirit of journalism be taken in this hyper-nationalistic environment around the world? Would now a journalist or news reporter be jailed just for speaking against the state? These issues definitely need to be pondered upon.
Mr. Ajay Umat talked about his journey with journalism. In his early days of career, with his urge to do social work, he spent much time with drug abusers, drug peddlers and drug addicts. He shared his experience on writing an investigating story about the “Addavalas” in Baroda, gaining his way to promotion and discovering that sometimes, while working for a social cause one has to face much criticism and disapproval from the society itself.
Secondly, he talked about the famous – Media Trials. Should a journalist write about the cases? The Article 19 of the constitution gives freedom of expression to the media. But, Article 20, imposes “reasonable restrictions” on freedom of expression. What would have been the verdict if media trials had not been conducted in cases like Aarushi Talvar Case or Jessica Lal Case? And if the decisions were influenced by the media trials, should there be a media trial? Or, should a lakshman rekha be decided for the journalists? Well, the answer remains disputed.
Thirdly, he talked about the professional hazards one faces in the field of journalism. If we write our opinion against any political party or minister, we may face defamation case filed against us. Or, for instance if we write anything against the Judiciary of India, we may be liable for contempt of court. He made sure to share the professional haphazard that a journalist faces every day, apart from all the glam and glory. Questioning the judicial system of India, he asked that how law is helpful to Salman Khan and not to the poor people of India. It is surely becoming easy for the upper class to obtain justice.
The third speaker for the workshop was Mr. R. Prasannan, Chief of Bureau, The Week. What would you do if you’re a news reporter, but nobody reads your column? Yes, that’s exactly the topic Mr. Prasannan discussed. Writing Skills of a Legal Reporter, and how you can hook the reader. Remember your one favourite column in the newspaper that you’re addicted to? That’s precisely what he talked about, how to gain interest from the reader. And according to him, the key was: “Writing with a human touch.” Because, people like reading about people! He said – “Everyone reads the first paragraph of your article, but it is an art to make the reader read the second paragraph”. He gave some valuable tips and specifics to make a news story simpler and better.
The opening of the story, that is, the introduction should be short and startling and drama can be added to it to make it more interesting. The art is to choose words which evoke feeling in the minds of the readers and as if you are talking to the readers. For instance, if we write about the infant mortality rate, many readers don’t understand its meaning. But, if the same is written as the number of babies that died in a year it would be more understood and connected to. And he also suggested –“Try avoiding as much legal jargons and official language as you can because, people are more attracted towards simple yet interesting language”.
The question-answer session that ensued afterwards saw the enthusiastic students eager to learn and know about the future scope in the field of Legal journalism to which the speakers suggested taking up media internships and starting blogs in the college days. The workshop ended on a happy note with the students eager to learn as much as they can from the honorable guests. I am sure that the discussion would have gone to other more interesting topics about legal journalism, had the time was not against us.
(Social Media Committee Corespondent)