The Indian media has come in for a lot of flak in recent times. In Left Liberal circles, this is mostly attributed to a spike in jingoism ever since Narendra Modi rode to power in Delhi. But I’m Right (of Centre) and Liberal, so my opinions have no value—in the eyes of the powerful lobby that creates public opinion in India. But before I give you the most important information, please prepare your salad with a pinch of salt. The Indian media vociferously maintains that it is free, fair and entirely apolitical. All you guys out there who want to do a thesis on how Foucault got it all wrong—and earn a few quick bucks plus experience in (yellow) journalism—please apply to some Indian media houses. Extra points for loud people, never mind English grammar.
What I found curious was the outpouring of support for the Indian cricketers after they lost a high-stake semi final match in the recently concluded World Cup. In a cricket crazy nation, where cricketers have to barricade themselves with state-provided security especially after big losses, this was significant. The Indian team had performed miserably against Australia prior to the World Cup, they were not even expected to reach the knockout stage. But they did, with seven wins on a row, and after they lost to Australia (again, in the semi final), one news channel slammed the team with the choicest (and barely allowed) expletives on primetime national TV and tried to trend #ShameinSydney. Unexpectedly what trended on Twitter for the next 48 hours was #ShameOnTimesNow (the news channel) for gutter-level journalism. Competing channels and journalists bandied about, watched in glee and taunted Times Now for getting roughed up for trying too hard at Twitter activism.
Then this happened. A retired Army General, who is now a Minister in the Central government, has done excellent work in evacuating Indians and citizens of other countries from war-hit Yemen. He’d had no love lost with the media, (“Once an army man, always an army man” is a saying that goes in India) and had been at loggerheads with it a couple of times earlier. And then Times Now (yes, the same channel that got flogged by Tweeples earlier) misquoted him, failing to get his sarcasm right. (I still have some drops of sympathy for the poor copy writers at Times Now. How do you get sarcasm “right” when the joke is on yourself? Or your boss, rather?) And VROOOOm goes the General—he tweets to his “friends” asking them to lower their expectations of “presstitutes” because the Boss at Times Now had earlier got his vowels wrong while reading “presstitutes”!
And here I am, trying to carve meaning out of this ongoing #supermasterchef Twitter broth. And this is how it looks.
It could have been just another day of zany Twitter banter. But then something significant started happening. Late into the night Times Now called up senior journalists and editors of competing media houses and in a neatly fixed match (no pun intended despite the ongoing IPL), got them to slam the General for outraging the modesty of P***********. One very senior journalist, Shekhar Gupta, frothed at his mouth while he called for the General to be arrested under the just-scrapped IPC Section 66A. And soon journalists across the board lamented that the General has washed away all his good work by that one P word. Really? A highly decorated Army General who served the nation as Chief of Army Staff, retired and won the first election he ever campaigned for, and did a splendid job of coordinating Indian evacuation efforts in war-hit Yemen—has washed away all his good work because some journalists say so?
I wonder why is there this burning need amidst media persons to take away the focus from what has been a very commendable operation by the Indian armed forces in Yemen? I wonder what kind of priorities actually work for the Indian media. Which is more important—the thousands of lives saved, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen in which a thousand civilians are getting killed even as we debate #Presstitutes, or the General’s sarcastic aside?
Why do we never get to see Indian journalists doing war reporting from actual conflict zones? Are they afraid of being beheaded by the ISIS and kidnapped by Al Qaeda? Are they afraid that they may receive the same treatment from peace-loving folks out there who killed Daniel Pearl, James Foley and countless others? Or, as I suspect, Indian journalists know that there’s an easier way out. There’s this rather low hanging fruit—talk about match boxes in minister’s pockets, talk about minister’s foot-in-mouth moments and cook up a tempest in an air-conditioned studio with well-oiled panelists paid by the number of hours they put up their idiocy on display on national TV—and Yahooo!—the job is done.
That used to be a successful recipe. Unfortunately, that time is gone. In fact Srinivasan Jain tremblingly reporting about Israel’s missiles in Gaza and (unfortunately for NDTV) chancing upon Hamas terrorists operating out of civilian areas is not enough to fool us. We know that Israel is by far THE safest place for Indian citizens in the middle east. I dare the Srinivasan Jains, the Barkha Dutts, the Shekhar Guptas, the Rahul Kanwals, the Hartosh Singh Bals, and the Arnab Goswamis to prove the General wrong and show us what “journalism of courage” is about—by reporting news from ground zero. By getting there, getting dirty, taking the trouble to interview people in distress and tell us what’s happening in the world. By not footnoting the events with their comments, by not deleting scenes and events that they fear are not going to go down well with whoever controls their purse strings, by not translating first person accounts in a way that news creates more confusion than clarity, by letting all voices be heard—into that heaven of freedom—I beseech our journalists to take their profession. And Tweeples will follow suit.
Buying news from Reuters, ANI and others is soon going to be passe. In the age of social media, no one waits for a Times Now or NDTV or even Al Jazeera for that matter, to show us rented video clipping to know what’s happening. Reuters has a website that everyone has access to. So measure up, my dear friends in the media. You can gang up too, as much as you like, and Shekhar Gupta can use his other mouth to say he wants the General arrested under IPC section 66A (freedom of speech, anyone?) but that doesn’t bother people who rely on the social media to know what’s happening. Measure up or face the hashtag music.
Hi, I'm Sampurna and I'm from India. I love to write, paint, and play with my dogs. Catch up with me at Halfastory's Blog. Happy reading!