Journalism on crossroads

Last week was eventful and we came across a few surprises and shocks. On global front, we saw Donald Trump losing US Presidency to Joe Biden. However, on local (national) front, the unexpected arrest of Arnab Goswami by the Raigad Police in Maharashtra was a surprise as well a shocker. Actually, for some in the corridors of power, Arnab’s arrest may be a shocker. But for common masses the arrest may be a big surprise, more because all this happened under the nose of those in the corridors of power.

Before deliberating upon the issue as a student of journalism purely in the context of the profession of mass communication and journalism, it makes a sense to admit that Arnab Goswami over a period of last six or seven years established himself a bigger celebrity than his profession of journalism. He has always presented himself bigger than the organization. That’s why in the opening paragraph of today’s column I didn’t mention name of the television channel of which he is Editor-in-Chief.

Now, without going into the politics of his arrest, let me come to the basics of the profession of journalism, which I was taught and introduced to while pursuing my post graduate degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. Having my journalism lessons from the likes of B. G. Verghese, V. K. Dethy, Mark Tully, P C Chatterji and the likes, I have no hesitation to state that over a period of decade a breed of journalists, especially TV anchors under the garb of journalists and analysts, have been throwing all journalistic norms to the wind. They muzzle ethics and overlook sense of responsibility towards society by projecting themselves as patriots.

It is painful to watch them engaged in a self-styled battle of achieving supremacy trying to project themselves more patriotic than others by killing the facts and vomiting twisted analysis of any event which is sensitively attached to the interest of nation. They act as undisputed authority on situations happening around the country as well as the world when most of them have not even visited the places and are unaware about their geography. Ironically, such breed of journalists have successfully created an atmosphere where even criticizing them for their unethical practices, which divides communities on caste, creed and color, is a risk as they lose no time to dub the person as anti-national. In actual terms, I don’t see nationalism their cup of tea, as instances galore which only makes us believe that they fake any situation just to earn profits like any other businessman.

One is pained to hear people calling them journalists. They are actually in the profession of churnalism where they seem to have mortgaged their consciousness to fulfill their vested interests. What we see today on television news channels is not at all journalism, it’s simply an act of churning out glorified handouts tailored for these specific breed of men on screen (TV anchors). These churnalists are actually the chest thumpers for a particular class of people to gain public faith for them against a cost.

Some may call it journalism of attachment. But it’s not so, because they don’t care or observe moral obligations in their reports and analysis.  Precisely, these churnalists have developed expertise in vomiting their biased interpretation of whatever information they possess for public consumption. Thus, they run the business of misinforming general masses, creating unrest among communities and dividing geographies within the country.

In other words, they unlike journalists are never by the people, to the people and for the people. They don’t speak for the society, but work for better television rating points (TRPs) to earn hefty profits.  Here I am of the view that these ‘patriotic’ anchors projecting themselves as men from noble profession of journalism may have actually been registering highly increased TRPs, but they as individuals and their channels have over a period of time lost credibility. Let them understand, it’s not TRP, but credibility which matters in this noble profession.

It’s worth mention here that very recently fake TRP scandal has also emerged which has caused huge dent to the reputation of some of the so-called reputed TV channels.

Being a student of journalism, I have found objectivity a great journalistic buzzword and we have been taught to give all sides a fair hearing. In a situation where human rights violations have remained a serious concern, the fairness doctrine does not apply equally to victims and perpetrators. However, at the end of the day, it is more important to be as accurate and honest as possible in one’s assessment of a given situation than to pretend that one is being objective.

It has to be understood that when a journalist restrict his role strictly as a form of neutrality, he means that he is in the business of news, not truth. News is what one can honestly find out that day. This is a constant process that bows to reality and doesn’t impose any view on that reality. The view of the journalist as a passive observer is challengeable. But journalists observing passive role in sensitive situations is simply a crime.

In a conflicting situation, a journalist is caught between deep and devil Sea. Emotional pressures mount on them to act as interventionists, as they have been regularly working in a situation surrounded by misery and destruction during the conflict. There they have a responsibility to come to terms with their own responsibility as the eyes and ears of their audience, providing them with the accurate and honest information that will allow them to move from being spectators to violence, to actors in the resolution and prevention of the conflict.

Remarkably, I have come across experts’ arguments that bystanders play a role in propagating genocide – and journalism is, in fact, an institutionalized bystander of the world. If journalists do not act, they are contributing to the violence of the world.

Meanwhile the police action against most powerful Arnab Goswami has a lesson for his fellow powerful breed who have been players of the game by encouraging action against others on flimsy grounds. Let them not be political players and discharge their duties as a neutral journalist if at all they understand the meaning of being a journalist. Otherwise they should quit doing this job.

Precisely, journalists should offer their services with responsibility. They should not allow the lust of power to overpower their sense of responsibility. They should desist to twist the information which they gather on the pattern of their masters and put it to the public with a sense of responsibility and care. Besides, presenting themselves as most important persons than the information will do no good to them.  Precisely, reporting of the incidents should in no case be defamatory, malicious and corrupted.

To conclude, a journalist combines a sense of curiosity, civic concern, idealism, a love of words, and a craftsman’s attention to detail in trying to record human activity in the everyday world. It is imperative that a journalist through his writings makes the world a better place, through honest reporting and writing. They are the people entrusted with defining reality. Their role is as a watchdog or the eyes of the public or a check against the abuses of power.

Meanwhile, can we expect an end to what a fellow journalist says ‘kangaroo courts’ in TV studios where a TV news anchor acts as judge, jury and executioner? Let’s wait and watch!

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)