During our advertising days, we swore by ethics. It was our responsibility to ensure that what we did was as good as how we did. We could not dither because playing by the rules was a norm and not an exception back then. That was a fair and straightforward way of how we operated, come what may.
With time, values change, and it saddens me to write this, but ethics have been the first casualty in today’s cut-throat age and across the board. People and organizations want to stay ahead of each other; they push and shove to be in the reckoning, and it is justified by one statement – all is fair in love and war.
But if you are thinking, why am I beating around the bush with all these words like advertising, ethics, rules, exception, values, competition, et all? let me tell you that it is all because of my newspaper, my morning tea companion. The humble newspaper has made me ponder and broach this topic here with all of you today.
Akbar Allahabadi had once famously said,
khīñcho na kamānoñ ko na talvār nikālo
jab top muqābil ho to aḳhbār nikālo
It means that one requires neither a bow and arrow nor a sword but publishing a newspaper alone is the best ammo against the firing of a cannon. Yes, that’s the power that a newspaper wields. With great power comes great responsibility, and as a reader, it hurts when a newspaper loses track of its responsibilities towards its readers, which is, unfortunately, a rule with a few exceptions hither and thither.
Today, a full-page advertisement about the importance of vaccines in combating the anticipated third wave and the ongoing vaccination drives in a faraway northern state here in Mumbai greeted me as soon as I picked up my copy of the leading newspaper. I was put off by the advertisement and kept aside my copy aside in disdain. As I slowly sipped my sugarless tea, one thought kept stirring in my mind. I wondered the purpose behind a pompous full-page devoted to harping a state’s vaccination drive and then anointing oneself as the real winner in the fight against the mighty coronavirus when the truth is miles and miles away from this, and we all know this very well. How does this advertisement serve the readers in Mumbai? How is it going to help the state government in its outreach plan? What irked me further was the line at the bottom that proclaimed that this is a joint initiative of XYZ paper and ABC Govt. That perhaps sums up how a sacrosanct newspaper space, its Page 1, has been traded off for pelf. The irreparable loss of the sanctity of the printed word hurts me most.
The newspaper’s front page is the face of a newspaper, and it belongs to the reader. It usually is read first. It draws attention, which makes it a coveted space for advertising as well. No doubts about that. But an old school reader like me would like more news and less advertisement on the first page, at least. I feel shortchanged and let down by the leading newspaper’s politically correct move.