No seductions please!
We need a journalism free of all corruption and fraud
GUEST COLUMN BY SEEMA MUSTAFA
Media in India has come a long way. And certainly not for the better. Shorn of values and ideals and even idealism, media has become a money churning machine driven entirely by ratings and advertisements. Working journalists are but a cog in the huge wheel that is turned by hands that are invisible to the common man perhaps, but well known in journalistic and government circles.
Of all the political parties, the BJP and the Congress are particularly adept at managing the national media. For reasons of space one will have to keep the regional media out of this column, but the big newspapers and television channels are particularly susceptible to government charm. The Left is not even able to compete with the two big parties, largely because it is caught up in its own ideology and is particularly suspicious of non-comrades. The regional parties, suffice it to say, focus on the media more in their home states and even so their levels of enticement fall far short of the more sophisticated Congress and to just a slightly lesser extent, the BJP.
Journalists do rub shoulders with the rich and powerful. But they are also supposed to be in far closer contact with the poor and the marginalised. They are supposed to report the truth as it is, they are supposed to be the voices for the oppressed, and they are supposed to ensure that nothing comes in the way. No Prime Minister, no party President, no industrialist, no conman. Courage, honesty, fearlessness, idealism, commitment, dedication are just some of the requirements of journalism, so that it can indeed help change the world.
It has all changed. And the advent of television, the ultimate money spinner has contributed tremendously to this. There were the 1980’s when journalists, at tremendous personal risk, rushed from Punjab to Assam to Kashmir to the backwaters of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to report on violence, on militancy, on state terror, on communal strife. They were in the midst of chaos and a violent decade but newspapers of that decade are testimony to the dedication with which reporters did their job. No one was a star, everyone was a journalist proud of this or her ability to communicate and bring truth to the people. There was no applause from the powers that be, just fear tinged with respect for the journalists total independence.
Television brought in the stars, the drama, the sensationalism, the loud decibels as news became theatre. Respect for privacy was thrown out as fast as respect for facts. Big money acquired legitimacy regardless of where it came from. Mediocrity acquired stardom in several cases, and the television reporters were seduced by the rich and powerful to become players in the circuit. I have watched how those who toe the line set out by governments are selected for special privileges, notice, awards, and are brought effectively into the system from which of course, there is no escape. Life becomes easy, news a phone call away and so what if it is all about how well the government, or the industrialist, or the crony is doing and not at all about those at the receiving end.
The poor have disappeared from the media and are only dragged out for a little airing by television in a special reference or a special show. Globalisation and growth rates that drive the government and its industrialists, are also the mantra for the star driven channels. One remembers how a little fixer (who is now a very big man these days) got a car from AICC. This obvious bribe was so unheard of that we all came to know within minutes of his getting the keys, and at the Congress headquarters that day every reporter accosted him with taunts and jeers. Today that little Maruti looks almost innocent as the same reporter is a big man in the Congress, a “friend” of everyone who matters.
But to be fair he took some time to rise, unlike the meteoric rise of many in television who learnt the ropes as toddlers in journalism. Editors must declare their assets, and be open to full scrutiny. We have been talking of politicians, of judges and others but it is time that journalists open themselves for scrutiny, perhaps by a panel of honest and eminent citizens, to ensure that powerful lobbyists, governments and industrialists are not able to purchase their souls. Journalists who should be reporting now host shows for big business for a huge fee of course, and it is only a matter of time before they are used by the industrialists, to act as conduits with politicians.
The Press Council of India is a useless body as it is semi-government and the Chairman, except occasionally, is a person who does little for press freedom and accountability. Both the BJP and the Congress, in their years in power, have managed to ensure that those who are purchasable and talk sweet in the media are hailed as stars, while those who do their duty as journalists and insist on reporting the truth without fear or favour (an important phrase that) are dubbed anti-national. Nationalism is defined now by puny politicians and their cohorts in the media, and not by the nation of one billion people. Much weight is given to the phrase ‘integral part of India’ by overzealous nationalists masquerading as journalists, but no one bothers to raise questions about the freedoms and the rights that are required to justify the use of the word “integral.”
Journalism has to be freed from the shackles of money and power. It is a great profession that used to make those in power cower and run for cover not so long ago. Journalists were regarded with respect as they commanded it. Today they are scoffed at, ridiculed, and treated as dirt. Politicians and industrialists own the media, and all in it are regarded as little employees. Some share the high table on occasion, and are described as ‘friends’, others are not even allowed to stand at the door.
All in all the fear and the respect that we commanded has disappeared, more so as one by one like Dominos we fall under the combined onslaught of big money and seductive power.
Lastupdate on : Sun, 21 Nov 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 21 Nov 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 22 Nov 2010 00:00:00 IST
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