Express Buzz, July 29, 2010
Is media a mouthpiece?
The Americans coined a phrase during their invasion of Iraq: embedded journalism, which basically underlined the use and misuse of the media by governments. Journalists embedded in the US tanks that rolled into Iraq gave glowing accounts of the war, the massacre of innocent Iraqis, and the terrible adversity of violence.
Since then sections of the media around the world have struggled to keep up with the phrase, working around the clock to please governments and pass on disinformation as the truth. Unfortunately, the same holds true of the Indian media where reporters and publications and news channels have deserted the people, to work for and on behalf of governments. Those who follow the government line well in Delhi are rewarded with trips with the prime minister, with select briefings denied to others, with access to the corridors of power, with planted information, with awards and seats of power at some point in time.
All that they have to do in return is to kill their conscience, report the wrong for the right, ask only those questions that their ‘masters’ and ‘benefactors’ want them to, and make sure that the voice of the people never becomes the news.
This is on a daily basis. And the government uses its television and newspapers in a way officials might term ‘creatively’ but in the book of old, honest journalism can only be described as crafty, devious and totally dishonest. So ministers make themselves selectively available to just a couple of high profile journalists for an ‘interview’ that is actually predetermined, and given on the condition that the journalist will ask only cleared questions. This disinformation then becomes information, and sets the ground for the new debate or discourse to follow government ordained lines.
It is amazing how today journalists accept the government version as the gospel truth. When we became journalists the doyens of the profession trained us to question everything, repeat, everything that the government said. We were told that journalists were not in existence to propagate government views, the government had its own very powerful propaganda machinery to use for this purpose, journalists were in place to speak for the people of India, for the poor, the oppressed, the victimised and the marginalised.
These adjectives are used with a certain deliberateness, as in Delhi as in most state capitals, the people for the media are represented by the glitterati and the flitterati. The rich and the powerful rub shoulders with the politicians and the select journalists to form an incestuous nexus that feeds on power and glory, and has little to contribute to classic journalism. The profession is dead for the reporter who either thinks he is the news, or thinks he is bigger than the news. Both are a death knell for journalism.
The result is that governments then have a field day to manipulate the news. As we know the media condemned certain individuals paraded by the police force for some of the worst terror attacks in the country. It is now revealed that all these persons were innocent and that totally different persons were responsible. That’s fine, but what about those who were arrested, tortured, confined in jails for their innocence? Who is responsible for the fact that their lives were lost? The media is as responsible as the governments, for we are in place to act as a check and as a watchdog on precisely these excesses and acts of corruption. But when journalists become part of the power bloc, there is no one left to speak for the victims.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the journalists who speak the truth are attacked. Stone-pelting youths are described as LeT operatives by a compromised government, and in Delhi the media picks up the echo of a completely wrong claim. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah who also advises the government on Kashmir told NewsX in a recent interview that the young people were certainly not LeT. But that is the claim forwarded by chief minister Omar Abdullah and his mentor Union home minister P Chidambaram, that has been lapped up by sections of the media as the last word. Look at the damage this claim has done, as it is one more bridge of trust broken down and ruined by the government and the media. The same is the situation in the northeast.
And now even in the mainland states. Anyone can be described as an anti-national, a terrorist or a Maoist by the governments, and journalists fall in line to brand and propagate this news from the rooftops. Intellectuals who disagree with the government in its handling of the Maoists and poverty and development, are now being arrested, hounded and even killed by governments without a murmur of protest by the ‘mainland’ media. Is this journalism? Or have we all just become touts, to follow the powerful intelligence and government agencies without even bothering to exercise our minds on the side of truth?
Yes, one knows how powerful weak governments are, where muzzling dissent and implementing draconian laws are concerned. The more distant a government gets from its people, the more intolerant it gets with those who write the truth. We know that the government has all the laws it needs to slap against honest journalists. We know that ‘waging war against the country’ is a charge that governments can use at their discretion and can arrest and detain journalists and others at will. We know that journalists can be made to disappear when required. We also know how governments can embrace, and applaud, and award those journalists who do their bidding, and who write as they should.
But we also know that journalism is a great profession, despite all these odds. And that the people remain on the side of the truth regardless of government and corporate machinations. And that is why governments can cover and distort the truth only for a time, not for ever. A couple of newspapers defeated the Emergency. Truth, as they say, will out.