Media

State and Indian media: The gloves are off; Where are the arbiters?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I am in the middle of writing a book on World History where I show strands where the reality is vastly different to the narrative we have been fed through newspapers and academia. My compass is big, covers all continents, and this endeavour would take up my four years by a modest estimate.

One of the problems I am confronted with is references. Most books I pick have references which appear untrue. For instance, Pyarelal Nayyar, the personal secretary of Mahatma Gandhi mentions an incident from Second Boer War (1899-1902), quoting Natal Mercury where the date is before the event happened. It’s not typo, there are several such instances.

We are not talking of biases here. That is given in most cases. You pick facts and incidents to your liking. My issue is with “creating” those facts and incidents. People in social media, newspapers, TV channels are doing it all the time. These “fakes” are repeated, read or seen by millions and shape people’s opinions—and actions.

This is the background in which I want the present issue of journalists in India being hauled up be seen. Two prominent names, Sudhir Chaudhary and Arnab Goswami, are such. The are perceived to speak the Centre’s line and it has put them in crosshairs of opposition states. In Himachal Pradesh, 14 FIRs have been filed against five reporters. This is likewise in UP, Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan and in many other states. Indian Express is moving heavens on one of their reporters facing action for what Delhi Police believes to be “fake news” on Tablighi Jamaat’s head, Maulana Saad. Is media’s freedom a thing of the past?

There are no clear-cut answers and there would never be. None of us can expound an opinion and say: Yes, that’s it. How can journalism survive if State is the Big Brother watching them all the time? How would State function if media is like an ass in a pottery shop, to borrow a metaphor from Aesop’s fables.

None of us would deny that State is prejudiced; and media is biased. Or that we don’t live in the world of corporate media. Power and money, the two essential evils, are working all the time to grow bigger today than they were yesterday. It could only be at the cost of citizenry, the sheep to be sheared, Where are the arbiters in this toxic, noxious air?

There could be many arbiters but let’s begin with judiciary which has the final word. What do they go by with? Our Constitution doesn’t provide freedom to press as an enshrined Article. Most of it is presumed under Article 19 (1-a). This is the Right to Freedom of speech and expression to individuals. This is Liberty, the root of democracy.  Ideally, media shouldn’t be interpreted from this prism. Unlike individuals, media is a “watchdog” for public interest which gives them privileged access to men and matters.

Yes, there is Press Council Act of 1978. It’s to ensure freedom of press as well as pull up media if untruthful. In essence Press Council is just a talk shop. Most members are hand-picked. Editors’ Guild of India and News Broadcasters Association (NBA) are no better. Their credibility is zilch. In essence, it’s a Big Boys Club who keep public interest out of their rounds of drinks.

Ombudsman, a neutral voice of credibility, was once deemed an important self-regulatory organ, to keep the content truthful. It has been a joke on us for last two decades if not more.

Then there are unseen arbiters, we the readers, the citizens, the suckers. Both the State and media would prefer us to be blindfolded, to be goaded into alleys of their own mischiefs. We don’t get the truth from either; yet we tilt one way or the other. An irony: Those who can’t do without us, have little of our interest on their minds.

The time has come to draw a line in the sand. Ambiguity must give way to well-defined laws. Journalists must follow the time-tested dictums: Present both sides of story; name your source who wish to be quoted or don’t use it at all. I agree it’s not possible in political reporting but don’t let a good story come in the way of a patient’s good who is on a ventilator.

I also know it’s easier said than done: your editors are mostly handpicked by your employers to serve their business or political agenda. That “little journo” on the desk, the sub-editor, also is prone to rejig your story in a manner which could induce a saucy headline and cause you embarrassment next morning. I doubt if there is any reporter who hasn’t muttered a swear to an editor/sub-editor on the final output.

State, on their part, must not allow mischief by press. But it also shouldn’t use the long arm of law to settle personal scores or come down on an investigative story. Mostly, States should limit itself to denying a news or offering a clarification. Or be a mouthful like Trump is to despicable US media. But state action or imprisonment isn’t on. Individuals could evoke defamation suit: Like Sonia Gandhi should have done against Arnab Goswami. It was shameful to involve a state machinery for her personal score.

Press is the breath of democracy: All you need is a strong filter. Putting a lid would suffocate it to death.

Express on JNU: Where’s video?

If you are an Indian Express reader you have just been told: you are the dumbest, stupidest, bumpkin, buffoon, idiot, thick-headed, retarded, imbecile reader on this earth.

It’s your choice to live with this tag, readers.

Or why would their lead story of today (February 28, 2016) “VIDEO IS OUT: Kanhaiya assaulted, breaks down, police duck for cover” has no relation at all with the real report, smug as they are with the pig that they believe you are, readers?

Now what this headline tells you: It is that there is video which shows Kanhaiya assaulted, breaks down, police duck for cover, isn’t it?

And what does the actual report tells you?: The report tells you that this video is a deposition of Kanhaiya before the Supreme Court panel.

Spotted the difference? (don’t tell me you are really what Express thinks you are).

So,

The Headline tells you there is a video of “Kanhaiya assaulted.’

The report tells you the video is of “Kanhaiya’s disposition” and not of assault.

In other words, Express believes that you stupid readers wouldn’t go beyond their headline (they actually know their worth, folks). Even if it is the lead story!

Now the next question which crossed my mind was how did they get hold of the video? A smart piece of journalism? That made me look for the SC panelists. One was Kapil Sibal (a multiple minister in the previous Congress government); another lawyer Vrinda Grover who is a board member of GreenPeace whose license to collect foreign funds has been cancelled by the Modi government. Actually Sibal has also been in the programme board of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has been hauled over to Supreme Court by a writ petition.

I might be suggesting a NGOs+Congress+Marxists+Media collusion here but so dumb are you readers that I am confident I could get away with it without you suspecting anything.

There are usual suspects littered in this edition of Indian Express: Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Admiral Ramdass, Sharad Pawar, Chidambaram, Nitish Kumar, our revered academic institutions voices (this time it’s missionary college St. Stephen’s principal), going after government on JNU issue. (Actually you must admire Mulayam, Jayalalitha, Mamata, Lalu, Shiv Sena to hold their tongues so far). Central minister Uma Bharti is actually lucky to get two paras in support of Modi, buried many pages deep inside the newspaper.

It’s a rogues’ gallery with Express passing the board-room bulletin as news for us asinine readers.

And don’t you believe anyone loves cricket in this country. On a Sunday edition, there is no front page mention of India beating Pakistan on a cricket field. Never mind this was India’s only seventh T20 match against arch rivals this millennium and that Virat Kohli played a knock which Sachin Tendulkar would’ve been proud to own up. (May be, showing Pakistan in a losing, poor light would’nt suit the agenda).

Fortunately, inside there is a full page interview of about-to-retire Delhi police commissioner, BS Bassi. He has replied on relevant issues but newspaper won’t put a word of it on the front page.

Bassi puts it as it is: without any spin, full of logic and reason. All those reporters and editors who have been baying for his blood, beat a hasty retreat. All that posturing went out of the first window. So here’s what Bassi said on key issues (it’s an abridged version of his quotes):

On The Actual Sedition Case: It’s an open-and-shut case (wow). Under section 124A of the IPC it’s a grave offence. It’s been declared valid by the Constitution. (For police) It’s an extremely easy case.

The law says: “bringing in hatred or contempt or exciting disaffection towards state by words or signs or visible representations.”

I am going to crack this case because I know these are the guys who have done it.

Please read the Kedar Nath judgment of 1962.

Country has to deal with issues in Northeast, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and J and K. We have to have a law to deal with anti-national activities.

Debate happens within constitutional norms. But if it’s an anti-national activity, then it doesn’t remain a debate. Society survives because we respect our Constitution. If all of us start disrespecting our Constitution, the country will be destroyed.

Nobody is letting police do the job. Society as a whole should’ve cooperated with us.

On Kanhaiya, Journalists Beaten Inside Court:

Patiala House is a confined place. Use of teargas, lathi etc would have turned Patiala House into another Jallianwalla Bagh.  It’s a prudent practice which police followed. My prudent policing practices also tell me I should have some space to chase away trouble- creators…If I have no such place, it will turn into nothing but Jallianwalla Bagh.

No footage is available of Kanhaiya being beaten. Journalists were still able to cover the event.

I would call it a technical riot because a real riot means arson and people’s heads being broken.

On Journalists Being Questioned:

It’s our job to ask involved persons and seek their reactions (as part of investigations). The thing has been made bigger than the actual event.

There, you have it.

The thing has been made bigger than the actual event. A case under trial has been considered bigger than over two dozen lives lost in the Jat stir. The Jat Stir case that has an aide of ex-Haryana Congress Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, in an audio, apparently egging on a Jat community leader to escalate the violence.  But that apparently doesn’t deserve any space in our beloved newspaper.

Don’t you think the front page deserved this headline (or even in inside pages):

JNU: It’s an Open-and-Shut Case, says Bassi

So we now know the devil who has been quoting from the scriptures. Who thinks bark is bigger than the bite. Who doesn’t know that it’s truth which can set it free.

So Shakespeare wrote:

The devil can cite scripture for his purpose;

An evil soul producing holy witness

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek

A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

In today’s world of deception and lies, truth is a revolutionary act. It’s up to us readers to hold the flag of truth high. And don’t be the fools that our newspapers think we are.