We have often felt short of realizing a democracy that let its principles be practically embodied in the functioning of its organs. Public discourses in India have often voiced dissent of various degrees against the arbitrariness of the executive, partisanship of the legislature and the lethargy of the judiciary. All this while we never would have imagined that the media, proudly ordained as the fourth pillar, would be brought under the scrutiny of the widely believed standards of ethics.
Sadly, the media stands in the dock today. And there have been various unavoidable facts to back the reasoning for the same. As a country that faiths itself to democracy, a fair and transparent review of the functioning of an institution should not be prejudiced in favour of any lobby – let alone media. However, it is the different layers of this newly founded criticism that should raise eyebrows about how media is principally scrutinized by the challengers.
The unfortunate aim of this criticism is focused more towards demonizing the media houses and the associated journalists instead of challenging the content on reasonable grounds. The frenzy is more concerned with the sources of funds, identity of sharers and the personal interests of the journalists rather than what is the factual or contextual anomaly that the house has actually committed. The reporting voices are put under colorable perceptions that are made viral on social media to seek a validation for a perception through cheap thrills, no matter how absurd it may be.
The witch hunt does not end there. The most dangerous aspect of this growing, or rather ‘manufactured’ criticism is the divide it is aiming to create within the fraternity. The horrors of this creeping into the realms of journalism itself has become a reality and it is deeply concerning. The already existing competition between the media houses that is often tussled through TRPs and stakeholder lobbying, is now provided with another flesh to feast upon – ideological differences. Every media house is associated with an ideological tag which is reasoned by their frequent ideological stances in the past. And such tagging has engulfed the journalists too. The problem in this case emanates from the fact that this process doesn’t end at just ideological bifurcation. The sinister strategies tend to field themselves through these bifurcations only.
This brings me to the second fundamental challenge – the selective targeting. The narrative that prevails in the nationwide criticism towards media is not a blanket scrutiny for the profession. It has been focused quite keenly on the news channels, magazines and journalists that are described as leftist or left-liberal. This is generally instigated by the pseudo-nationalist sentiments that are propelled in the urban middle class by brazenness of government ministers and right wing sympathizers. The façade of false patriotism is evoked among the public conscience that melts the boundaries between nationalism and neo-fascism. This artificially generated criticism gets murkier and unprincipled in its application which does raise questions about the rationality of it all.
Journalists who dare to dissent or disagree with the stance taken by pseudo-nationalists are harangued and abused on social media platforms. Not only this, their families, allegiance and character is also tossed and twitched amid public deliberations. Most of these journalists and their supporters also get death threats and perverted phone calls and emails from their frenzied opposition. Is this the idea of ‘One India’ that our honourable Prime Minister talks about? If it’s true, then I want ‘azadi’ from this idea as in a country which prides itself of diversity and plurality, such occurrences destroy the very fabric of the society and serves to refute these tall claims
The most concerning feature of it all is the role played by certain media houses that I would call – populist. These journalists use their position as ‘beholder of truth’ to just pander to the irrational or half-baked public opinion that further muscles up the hate brigade on social media platforms. On their prime time noise pollution portals, these populist media houses use fine rhetoric and populist diction, with the help of loudly motivated panelists, to exaggerate an issue out of proportion and try to camouflage the other side of truth with blatant blame games. Anyone who wishes to disagree with this populist opinion is firstly silenced and subsequently tagged as pseudo-intellectual or anti-national on national television by these self righteous patriotic journalists. The irony is such that the profession that advocates free speech and thrives on it has a section of journalists that ask people to apologize to the nation for what they genuinely believe in and have set of rationality to back it.
So aren’t we being unprincipled in our criticism? Who gives us the right to hold one style of journalism as the only standard of good journalism? Is the aforementioned profession reduced to be the mouthpiece of only the middle class patrons from the fertile mainland and not the oppressed and deprived lots of valleys and forests? We need to make ourselves uncomfortable to reason the authenticity of our criticism. Voices can never be chorused into a unitary propaganda. Voices need to be heard in their diverse tones, textures and melodies. That would make us gain the moral ground. Instead of bifurcating the country into us and them, we must foster our imaginations to the plight that exists at both the ends but due to the apathy of the each other.
If the criticism of media was expected to revitalize the ethics of the profession, the outplay of the same must be carefully constructed. We shall not attack the very foundations of journalism for it to suit the whims and fancies of ‘public convenience’. If the malaise of selective media targeting is not identified and cured, the fight against unethical practices would itself become unethical, making the future a far more dangerous alternative than the status quo we had sought to amend.