Reporting matka results as part of job
Thursday, December 02, 2010 AT 08:09 PM (IST)
A fortnight after I joined a Marathi newspaper in Ahmednagar district, the editor summoned me and to my astonishment, asked me to include an unusual task in my daily working schedule. He asked me to ring up a local telephone number at the stroke of midnight and get results of the day's matka lottery. The telephone number was of the local matka bookie and my job was to get the two and three-digit matka prize numbers selected by Mumbai-based matka king Ratan Khatri.
I was dumbfounded when I heard my assignment. After my experience of journalism in Goa, I had never imagined that ringing up a matka bookie would be a part of a sub-editor's job profile. In a few seconds I found myself telling the editor that I would not like to do that job, which was against journalistic ethics, I felt.
The editor took out tobacco from a sachet, ground it on his palm with his thumb and carefully put it in his mouth. He then asked, "What is unethical in getting matka numbers and publishing them in next newspaper edition? Most of our readers buy or read our newspaper only for the matka results, they are not interested in the prime minister's speech or other news.”
The editor had worked in senior positions earlier with a national news agency in Mumbai and I had no doubt about his professional integrity. So I listened to what he was saying.
“There is no ethical issue involved here. This is our profession and we've to give what our readers want. Pre-independence era newspapers were run to propagate some or the other cause and did never bother about the financial aspects of the venture. Now the times have changed. And you know too well that even the most reputed newspapers in Pune and Mumbai carry the matka numbers. The media is a business and all of us work for livelihood. Come on, don't be fussy. Here are the local matka "pedhi's" two numbers. Call them at midnight,” the editor said and turned back to writing his editorial.
The editor was not far from the truth. A century back, advertisements were an anathema to journals committed to some missions. Now, not many newspapers have any qualms even about carrying paid news. Is ethics merely a relative concept? Does it change with time, I wondered. I have not found an answer even today.