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When i wrote the previous post, i hadnt read or seen, one of the biggest reports in the news, about the media. In the previous post, i had only highlighted a visible malice, related mainly to the culture of 24×7 TV news. While the observations were focused on news as it unfolds in India, it was merely a local flavor of a global problem afflicting news media, particularly 24×7 news. And today the Indian news media, has shown that they are not far behind the advancements in the 4th estate across the globe. Namely, corruption and the collusion of corporates, media and government in furthering a business and individual monetary situation, at the cost of many, through unfair means. Just another small step in the integration of India within the ‘developed’ economies of the world.
The latest exposé, now known as the ‘Radia tapes’ that brought out recorded telephone conversation between Nira Radia, and some famous, probably now infamous, personalities. While exposé is common, and we have come to stomach some big names every once in a while. What was uncommon about this time? A whole different genre of people were involved, people that actually make the news. I mean literally. Barkha Dutt (NDTV), Vir Sanghvi (Hindustan Times), Prabhu Chawla (India Today), MK Venu (ET), Ganapathy Subramaniam (ET), R Sridharan (ET), among a list that is still expanding, with every read of the pages on the internet. Outlook has published an entire tape set (a small portion of the bigger set), consisting of conversations that covered areas of telecom, ministerial berth, HC judgement and involving corporates like Tatas and Reliance, etc.
Among the heads that may roll eventually as a result of this, includes two faces that were commonly seen on TV these days – Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi. Barkha a newscaster, editor, journalist all rolled into one had been enjoying a reputation as the leading TV news personality in India. Not completely free from controversy, even before, she was still admired and commanded some respect. Vir Sanghvi, one time editor and a senior journalist for the Hindustan Times, is a commentator on TV, offering his opinion on the different facets of daily news. The images of both these personalities have taken a severe beating. The news channels were reluctant to talk about them, but were forced to by the newer media – social media. Twitters, Wikis and Blogs appeared in thousands to keep the issue alive and finally extorted the 24×7 news media and the print media to pay attention.
Just as the acts of these journalist were not respectable, the process of witch hunting carried out in the social media was not very admirable either. Social outlets like twitter and blogs kept the pressure on the media to react. It focused specifically on the weakest links in the armor. As is common in a mob culture, character assassination, personal accusations, unauthenticated allegations and more importantly indictment, soon started becoming the norm on these outlets. Where have we seen these before? It played out just like it does in the TV news, judgment without a proper hearing. Twitter was aflutter with tags like #mediamafia and #barkhagate trending and topping the charts. Twitterati soon started mixing issues by bringing religion, class, political leaning, association and quoting blogs offering motley viewpoints often unsubstantiated and more importantly singularly one-sided stories. And soon people we involved in updating wikipedia pages. I guess in the end, everyone is paid in their own coin. That is the biggest irony of it all.
It is getting all murky. As it did, the focus and purpose soon started diverging from my beliefs and views. While i am quite dissuaded to offer any further support, i think keeping quiet about what these two journalist and others did, is improper too. Hopefully sanity will prevail, and some good will come out of all this. If nothing, images of these journalists are tarnished to an extent, and their names will forever be associated to these tapes. Their years of effort to cultivate a following and good work done till date has been tainted. That is fair punishment, and i hope they are able to redeem themselves in the future.
Given my travel schedule, its difficult to track news from the beginning to the end. I mean a particular story, from the first time it is splashed as a breaking story, as it unfolds, till it eventually results in some common good. Well, that was the news of the old. Or supposedly. We always tend to compare our current state to a known state before. In that context it might appear that news was intended for common public good.
My last trip in India, i was fortunate, as it was an extended one, and this helped me to acclimatize to news media there. Not that they are foreign or different. Well, on second thoughts make that the first problem, they are not different. But that is topic for another discussion. This trip was also exceptional, from a news media standpoint, because we covered some major ups and downs. So one did get the feeling of watching the Iraq war live on TV. There was the outbreak of the CWG Scam, 2G scam, CWG Games, Ayodhya verdict, test match with australia, big boss, Obama’s visit, Karnataka Assembly, B’lore land scam, Rathore case and so many more.
My dth provides me with four english news channels, NDTV, CNN-IBN, Times Now and Headlines Today, apart from numerous hindi and other regional language news channels. For quite sometime, watching news has become more interesting than watching reality tv shows. I think i picked that habit from the US, during the Clinton time, following his public trial on news. So, while not averse to watching it, i am slowly weaning myself from this addiction.
The TV news channels in India during this period, rivaled each other to break the next story. Each claimed exclusivity on the story and or to the cast of actors. I did spend a few times flipping between the main english channels to see if anything more was revealed in another one. One of them in particular was so familial that they even called their channel as ‘Your Channel’. So night and day, they hopped from one story to another. Each day started afresh, because the current story was old and dead, and needed to be replaced with a new one.
And i found a new meaning for 24×7, like a day where the hours repeat twice, story and news repeats itself many times over during the day. After being first broken on TV, it is repeated in the closest news hour, by the next hour, there are few opinions from the near and dear, and by prime time, the experts are in from everywhere. So finally, you have Javed Akthar (poor man is not to be faulted, except for speaking), Jethmalani, Jayanthi Natarajan, Mani Shankar Iyer, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and a host of others talking about everything, anything and nothing.
The climax is the weekend specials, where they bring it all together. The fatigue is visible even on the newscaster and editors eyes, as they long to move on to the next story. And many times, that is the que to quickly wrap the current scam or a daily high and shift the focus to ‘developing story’. It is like a roller coaster ride, that is 2 mins of fun, that requires you to endure two hours of pain. In the end, the biggest casualty is the common good. All of this serves to educate us. But what good is an education, if you can not employ it anywhere.