This is a continuation of the article that I wrote titled “On Media and Activism“. This article will continue on the same question: “Is media activism necessary?” I will be taking a diversion from the topic earlier discussed, to understand the role of the media.
What exactly is the role of media? Is it to report? or to inform? or to create narratives, to campaign, in an effort to influence public policy ? The role of the media as a conductor between the State and the people has declined substantially since the beginning of the 21st century. As I had earlier discussed, Social media has been an extremely effective tool to expose the hypocrisy, stupidity and idiocy of many journalists.
At this point, I would like to elaborate on the role that a journalist plays in a democracy. As is the case in every other profession, Journalists are firstly acquainted with an inflated sense of importance. (“The mind of a Journalist” by Jim Willis) This display of superiority, and arrogance and entitlement can be seen in the behavior of the “Senior”Journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarikha Ghose, Barka Dutt and so on. They honestly believe in their role as “protectors of democracy”. Their assumed self importance is nauseating, to say the least. In a democratic system, the citizens, the ordinary public is the “protectors of democracy”.
When Indira Gandhi declared emergency, most of the media “crawled, when asked to bend” as L.K. Advani once remarked. The constant interaction with power seems to corrupt, almost always. These “Senior Journalists”, who are cozy with power, become “wheeler-dealers” who use their power to write a column, to write reports, to influence public opinion to their own advantage. There was much shock among the general public when the Radia Tapes were made public. It showed the unholy nexus that existed between the media, lobbyists, Industrialists and Politicians. The facade of a neutral media was completely and utterly shaken. One can say that trust in the English mainstream media never recovered from that point, and those who were named in the tapes – such as Vir Sanghvi, still hosts a TV show in National Television, while others, such as M.K. Venu, have gone on to found “The Wire” which stylizes itself as being run by “Foundation of Independent Journalism”. More on The Wire later.
It is very very apparent to a regular user of (Indian) twitter that the bias of the journalists play an active role in the narratives they create and their line of questioning. Moreover, there is little to no disclosure ever, about conflict of interest when a journalist is reporting on a story. I had earlier dealt with the question of journalistic ethics in “Journalism Ethics & the media” and in the “Open Letter to the Editor of the Hindu“.
Journalists also have the constant habit of writing their opinion on topics and subjects of which they have no comprehension. Take for example, Nidhi Razdan’s attempt to tarnish the results of the Pew Research firm in assessing the Public support that Modi enjoys. It smacks of arrogance and illiteracy of the worst kind, of statistics and of sampling techniques. Another more illustrious example is this article in The Hindu, which was given a brilliant rebuttal by two scientists. The first article was meant to show how “Genetics” was settling the debate of Aryan Migration, while the rebuttal clearly showed that there was much to go before such a question could be answered. But why the interest in the “invasion” of a certain people millenia ago? Because of the obvious political mileage that one could derive from it. This is the same paper that discontinued with the coverage of the Bofors scam after adequate pressure was applied and the same paper who changed its editorial line to suit the political requirements of a irrelevant political party, enough said.
This being said, I return to the question I posed at the beginning: What is the role of the media? Can such an obviously biased and sometimes ignorant lot of people be accorded such importance in our democracy? It seems that that Social media is entirely necessary to expose the mainstream media, to keep it in check. The media may not entirely lose its relevance in a democracy, but its reputation has almost invariably been tarnished by Social Media, and hopefully forever. What its role is – that is not something that we can put a finger on. But it is not to obfuscate, to perpetuate ignorance, to create narratives for political masters, or to misinform. The media ironically seems adept at doing what it is not supposed to do.
To be continued.