A pinch of cynicism, please!

07 Sep,2011

Instead of raising awkward questions, theIndian media went along — and encouraged — with the wave of emotionalism which took over some of the country during Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign… introducing a new weekly column by Editors tracking news across the country

By Aroon Tikekar

It is distressing to see the Indian media print as well as electronic- going berserk at the slightest provocation. Has the constant fear for survival affected the healthy vision of the Indian media? Why have the tried and trusted tenets of the profession been disregarded, intentionally or otherwise? These are some of the questions that demand a discussion.

First and foremost, do the new brand of journalists sincerely believe that a demonstrative approach to solving social problems can and does help? Coming out on the streets shouting slogans can highlight political issues. Pressure put on the powers that be may help hasten a political process. But mere highlighting of social issues does not ensure their solution, as essentially it requires a change in social mind. Obviously journalists are not so nave as to believe that the Anna Team is not going to wipe out corruption from the Indian scene at one go. Then why did they not educate their readers or viewers to doubt the efficacy of any such attempt? Without a pinch of salt called cynicism, media ceases to be the Fourth Estate in a democracy.

Indian media should raise awkward questions on the right occasions. Joining the bandwagon would have been considered in the past as bad journalism and an affront to the calling. The editors do have a right which is ex-officio to criticize the high and the successful. Reporting on the news and analyzing it for the benefit of readers or viewers as the case may be, is one thing and creating news by emphasizing unimportant aspect and commenting on it is another.

Today’s Indian media, while fighting a battle of survival, is creating news unworthy of reporting and repeating it ad nauseum, much to the chagrin of readers or viewers. Supererogation of emotion has become willingly or unwillingly the hallmark of our electronic channels, but why should the print media too compete with the electronic media in sensationalizing or pandering to emotions? Whenever we, the people become victims of emotionalism in any large democracy, it becomes the prime duty of the media to educate them. The gullible masses are prone to seek and expect miracles to happen and can easily be tricked into accepting an apparent solution. The media has to come out to warn that miracles are not possible by emphasizing need to be cautious, even cynical of quick successes.

Secondly, it may sound strange but the media, by definition, is supposed to be critical and is duty bound to take a negative stand by pinpointing weaknesses and lacunae in any proposal or happening which the gullible and innocent person may accept without complain or questioning. Social responsibility is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact it is expected that a newspaper editor or channel editor be so detached from the theatre of activity that he should be able to swim with ease against even torrential current of people’s emotions. The editors should not ride waves of emotionalism. Such objectivity is a pre-requisite in journalism.

Thirdly, why do the media fail to grapple the historical fact that a political revolution is possible almost overnight but there cannot be a social revolution? Social change can take place only on evolutionary lines. History has shown us time and again that change for the better by slow absorption, not by convulsion, but by assimilation this is the only formula for social change. There are no short cuts to social change, no miracles, and no magical remedies.

The same newly cropped up weaknesses were displayed by our journalists when the Anna phenomenon was taking shape in Delhi. Society should have been warned that wiping out corruption is not an easy task. Team Anna has only made a beginning. The entire country is aroused and is up in arms against corruption. All these are good signs, but nothing much per se is going to be achieved by the mere introduction of Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament. The roots of corruption have reached deep within our system. Again, on the issue whether the electorate is sovereign or the Parliament, the media should have brought out that our Constitution-framers have taken care to see that no section enjoys absolute sovereignty.

Even while appreciating the novel idea of distributing caps with I am Anna written on them, the media should have warned the agitators about the limited use of such symbolism. It was on the contrary seen going overboard and was quick to call Anna Hazare as the Second Gandhi.

The catapulting of Anna Hazare into a national figure is largely the media creation. Media is responsible for creating his larger than life image. One is not even sure whether he has the qualities of a national leader. But media called him as the second Gandhi. Let’s face it. To compare Anna with the Father of the Nation is a cheap gimmick. Comparison of the two is odious. Anna lacks vision. He also lacks wisdom, one doesn’t even know how much the Gandhi literature he has read. The original Gandhi did not even approve of the ways of revolutionaries as he believed that to assassinate is the highest kind of censorship, but Anna does.

Aroon Tikekar is former editor of Loksatta

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