The auto driver who doesn’t like journalists

Last Saturday I went to the other side of town, to Malleswaram. On the way back I could not find a bus so I had to take an auto. I live in south Bangalore and the distance is quite a lot. It was a long way home and as it happens under such circumstances, almost inevitably, the auto driver and I got talking.

The election fever has overtaken us all and so I asked him if he would vote. Yes, he said. We got talking about political affiliations. To my surprise, he said he would vote for the AAP. As I recall, I think he got Kejriwal’s name wrong (I think he said “Aggarwal” – but that is beyond the point because he was aware of what had happened in Delhi). We, the urban elite, have always thought of AAP as a mostly urban-upper-middle-class phenomenon so that conversation was a myth-buster.

Anyway, towards the end of the ride, the driver mentioned that he was cautious about opening up with his passengers these days. Considering that we had just had a long conversation, I found it a bit odd so I asked him why. The other day, he recalled, an incident happened when he dropped a lady at Malleswaram. I asked him further. “Well”, he said, “she got talking just like you. About life, social issues, politics etc. And when she got down, she asked me if she could take my picture. I was hesitant but she took one and left”.

The lady was a journalist. The auto driver claimed that she asked him questions, got him talking and recorded the conversation without telling him about it. A few days later (or the next day, I do not know) an article was published with his name (and he claimed it carried his picture too) in Bangalore’s Deccan Herald. “My friends saw it and they were laughing at me. I kept telling them – I never said all that”.

I told him, in a way that he could understand, that for a journalist to do that was wrong. He didn’t need much convincing – he already knew that. More than the quotes, which he said weren’t true anyway, he was hurt by the fact that his name was published in a newspaper without his consent. “But I don’t want to do anything about it”. I told him that I can take this up with Deccan Herald. He agreed but later he added, “Sir, I just don’t want my name anywhere”.

I went home and searched for his name at Deccan Herald’s website. I found him quoted in a story, just as he had mentioned. I did not find his picture there (thus, I can’t say if Deccan Herald carried it in the print version).

The next day, I posted a series of tweets – some of them mentioned his name and the link to the article. I was wrong to do that – in my bid to highlight the lapse of ethos, I committed the same mistake I accuse Deccan Herald of – quoting the auto driver despite his reluctance. Moments later, I deleted those tweets. I have taken care not to mention his name and the article link on this post.

What I did was though was this: I tried to contact the author of the article on twitter. I haven’t heard from her. Maybe I will. I also tagged Deccan Herald’s twitter account on my tweets about it (those tweets that I decided to keep) and somewhat conveniently, I haven’t heard back from them.

Apart from the obvious lack of ethos evident here, my only question is this — would this journalist dare do the same thing if she met, say, a CEO of a company? Or anyone who held more influence than our auto driver? Someone who won’t be as helpless and won’t hesitate to go public about it? Would she record the conversation without telling, snap a picture when done and then run the story despite knowing that it is not OK to do it?

Because out there, an auto driver doesn’t want to ever talk to journalists.

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5 thoughts on “The auto driver who doesn’t like journalists

  1. OK, few points here, simply because I felt strongly about it and not because there was a major outburst of opinions (generic/broader ones) on Twitter (definitely not to be counted as ‘so called lover’ of good journalism):

    0 – The urban middle class base of AAP started shifting the moment AK went on shoot & scoot spree against one and all, esp. with “holier than thou” attitude AND doing practically nothing concrete on delivery. Besides, his Delhi experimentation was mostly (if not totally) based on lower strata of society with auto-unions playing major part, it’s debatable though as to how many of them would still vote for him in general election 2014

    1 – Now, ethics of journalism (taking in notes with prior consent of the subject etc.) aside, what’s more worrying (has always been at least for me) is the twisted context journalists put into the narrative, essentially not being able to put themselves above personal opinions/prejudices; thereby changing the entire meaning and import of what was said, so, for me this is a bigger issue (not undermining the importance of generic ethics here)

    2 – The class distinctions in any society are very much there, may be in some cases extreme litigation fears create a false sense of equity, but it’s as far as it goes, humans by nature tend to compare, judge and evaluate, overtly or covertly, there are very few who partially succeed in controlling these urges

    3 – Your tweeting the name onto a social networking platform (apparently) happened when it was already in public domain, however, your suo motto act of taking down the potentially unethical tweets is commendable, albeit not necessary (due to above logic) as your intent was reporting about the report and victim’s perils, to draw attention towards the broader issue. That it could have been done without the identification of some, is another story

    4 – I’d go to the extent of suggesting that you’d not have been totally wrong had you revealed the name of that correspondent, just to set an example and awareness among readers. But as I said, it’s personal choice

  2. Hi, Thanks for the comment. My replies here (in no particular order and starting with the number “1”, in contrast to your starting with the “0”)

    1. There is a possibility that maybe because of the auto-union thing that you pointed out, there may be some influence here in Bangalore’s auto unions? Or it may be a one off thing? We won’t know until maybe May 16. I have always thought of AAP as an experiment in democracy. That it fails or succeeds is another thing but such an experiment is needed for a democracy like ours to evolve to the next stage.

    2. As far as journalism ethos are concerned – well, we both are not trained journalists we know that – but you point out an important aspect of it here which indeed is a worrying factor. However, to me, what you call the “taking in notes with prior consent of the subject etc” point is more worrying simply because it is one of the *very* basic ethos. I also think that the journalist did this simply because here was a helpless auto driver who could not do anything even if he knew what is wrong or right or even if he found this out.

    So if you think about it – the whole idea of putting the auto driver in her story was because she wanted to highlight the woes of the middle class but in the end she herself used their helplessness to her own personal benefit.

    3. The reason why I chose not to mention the auto driver was simply because in our conversation he had told me that while I could follow it up if I wanted to, he needn’t be dragged into this. I decided not to mention the journalist’s name for two reasons. First, it would be easy then to locate the article and by that, the identity of the auto driver. Secondly, I think without hearing her side of the story it would be unfair to her. But what we do know is that Deccan Herald published it and chose to ignore this – Which to me is far more a concern than anything else.

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