Friday, April 29, 2011

Tangential journalism

You would think that when a political party assumes power promising inclusive growth with a human face and fails miserably to do so, the media would hold those failing their promises accountable. You would think the media would ask tough questions and demand explanation of the party’s leadership for its failures. But apparently that is not the right way to think. Instead we are lead to believe the entire political class is a failure. The ruling party could not be held accountable because, again, all politicians are bad. What are we to do in such a situation? Apparently we must watch prime time TV news shows disparaging all politicians. We must light candles at national monuments to show our disgust. We must write lengthy columns expressing similar sentiment. But what we must absolutely not do is politicize any issue in an electoral democracy. We must not encourage people to be more aware politically and urge them to participate in the electoral process. This logic is at play in large, influential sections of our mainstream media.

Every time there is a raging issue confronting the nation we find our newsmen asking exactly the wrong questions. Rather than question the ruling party for their failures, political opponents are pitted against each other and we are expected to watch this believing this is serious debate. These scenes are repeated with unfailing regularity each day. A typical scene involves a newsman posing cagey questions to a member from the ruling party. The ruling party member promptly shifts goalposts to the opposite end without losing any time and the opposition party member is left defending himself.

This script works very well in a wide range of situations. It is a template that fits everything. Take terrorism for example. The perpetrators of terror harbor no illusions on what and why they are doing. They are quite upfront and candid about it. But it would be unsecular and inhumane of investigating authorities to carry out any profiling, to carry out any serious investigation simply because it involves a disproportionately large number from a certain religion. It is only a minor inconvenience that perpetrators of terror happen to be in disproportionately large numbers from a certain religion. But prime time TV newsmen tell us it is abominable to carry out logical investigation and that we must feel guilty for doing so. To drive home this point shows are conducted posing such existential questions as “are we unfairly targeting minorities?” or “has the majority failed the minority?”.

Lets take corruption. That the issue has hit the roof is an understatement. And again here a certain political party has a disproportionately large share in it. Now see the questions being posed by our newsmen. See the pattern?

But it should not surprise anyone who has observed the media and our homegrown opinion makers. Over the years a convenient equation has been bandied about. A certain political party by the virtue of a certain type of characters being at the helm are automatically secular. Something very desirable, something young people should aspire for we are led to believe. And then of course what is left is very undesirable. A certain other political party naturally falls in this category. A very communal party, highly undesirable trait, we are told. Now when you have your very desirable, very secular political characters getting caught in seriously compromising cases it becomes well nigh impossible to criticize them squarely having cheered such characters for decades. Thankfully we have the other undesirable party to direct all the public anger at. So we have this strange situation where the secular party - in face of never-before-seen-in-history mismanagement - claim the moral high ground and question the communal party for its failure to check all ills while it was briefly in power. While all this happens almost none on the media puts things straight.

One cannot help but notice that most of our star journalists seem to consistently miss hitting the mark. Instead our media is a willful facilitator helpfully taking viewers and readers on the tangent lest logical questions be asked leading to obvious, inconvenient answers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sonia Gandhi and her carefully crafted saintly aura

Sonia Gandhi entered politics with a touching story of how she could not let herself escape the inevitable responsibility of leading the Congress party. After all it was crying to be led by the only family divinely ordained to do so. The way in which her declaration as party high command came about and what happened to the immediate predecessor is but a matter of fine print.

Her being a rank outsider, both in politics and nationality, a woman, widow of the assassinated Rajiv Gandhi meant she was the proverbial underdog in Indian politics. Thirteen years later she has proved she is no underdog. In fact she is in the top 10 of the world's most powerful list. Nine places ahead of the Prime Minister (PM) of the world's largest democracy. And the political opposition could only be wishing if only it did not make the mistake of underestimating her.

One would think that after having been at the top of the Congress party for over a decade and having manufactured a convenient power center for herself under the United Progressive Coalition (UPA) chairmanship for about 6 years now, our media would take some time to evaluate her leadership, her politics. But try as you might an honest, independent review of her years in public life is impossible to come across. Instead what we have is some fawning soft focus features in mainstream media commemorating such momentous occasions as her 10 years in politics.

The only image of her that is allowed is that of a suffering, reluctant person who was forced to bow to public pressure to lead the nation. Election posters of course follow a carefully crafted image. But what has happened under her command, what has transpired in both the UPA governments is completely ignored by opinion makers. That cronyism, nepotism is prevalent in Congress party culture is not news but one of the identifying characters of the party. Sonia's leadership since 1998 has done nothing to change that. Instead she appointed her son, Rahul Gandhi, to important post in the party. The son too has been lending sound bytes of trying to change the rotten system of ours but little has come of it since his entry into public life seven years ago.

Under Sonia Gandhi's leadership we had the bad precedent of the unelected Manmohan Singh being appointed as our PM. Our democracy is being subverted ever since. Playing with gubernatorial appointments in states ruled by opposition parties, intimidating non-Congress rules states through the federal government, using extra constitutional routes for law making have been happening since 2004. Analysis, scrutiny of such acts however is missing. Instead we have the curious coincidence of only benefits accruing to Sonia Gandhi and all criticism being absorbed by other Congressmen. When the erstwhile "honest" Manmohan Singh was chosen for our PM, Sonia Gandhi was hailed for her sacrifice and excellent choice. Now that Manmohan Singh is being severely criticized for raging scams on his watch no questions are being asked of her. When her appointees like ex Chief Minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan get caught in scams, again no questions must be asked of her. When UPA coalition partners are accused and being investigated for severe scams Manmohan Singh should shoulder blame. No blemish should ever reach Sonia Gandhi.

Then we have the case of her being personally involved in scams. Bofors is perhaps the longest running scam story. The brazenness with which Bofors cases were closed was open for all to see. Personal allegations against her may have been in the realm of conspiracy theories in the past but that may no longer be the case. Almost every major scam hitting the headline these days has some link tracing to Sonia Gandhi. The Commonwealth Games scam has a Robert Vadra link. The 2G spectrum scam has links going to her. Yet stories in media on such links are no where to be found.

The other image of Sonia Gandhi is that of a caring, sensitive leader who has the aam aadmi's interests close to her heart. Yet victims of the horrific 2008 attacks on our soverignity on 26/11 are yet to see justice being done to them. PM Manmohan Singh promised that to the nation in his televised address immediately following the attack. But now we have him trying to make peace with the nation that blatantly refuses to take responsibility in face of a mountain of evidence. The UPA power center is unmoved. A nation housing vast numbers of poor people suffers continued price rise burden. Inclusive growth promise that apparently has a human face is not questioned here.

Sonia Gandhi herself and her inner circle seems to have carefully crafted a certain image of her. She has the habit of maintaining complete silence when the going gets tough, instead letting some members of her inner circle do the dirty job of discrediting all criticism. But when there is a slight opportunity for media worthy sound byte we have the benevolent, saintly Congress high command get out of her meditation and let a few words of wisdom out. When more questions are raised she conveniently goes back to her meditation.

No opinion maker worth his/her salt has shown the courage to question and hold Sonia Gandhi accountable of all that is wrong in the Congress party and the UPA government. She is allowed to enjoy leadership without the accountability that should go with it in a constitutional democracy. This continued mismanagement is doing incalculable harm to our nation's interests. But when wanting to be seen on the right side of power holder trumps need for honest scrutiny, such abominable cruelty will go unnoticed.

"Internet hate" label misses the point

Cries of "internet hate, abuse" are being heard again. But such arguments miss the point completely. First of all this "hate phenomenon" is not exclusive in "right wing circles" as is being insinuated. It happens outside such "circles" too, so such convenient label pasting is unimpressive to say the least.

Secondly Twitter, Facebook, blogs, discussion forums and the internet in general is akin to a street corner. All kinds of folks frequent this place, as they should and one hears all kinds of voices here just like one would in a street corner. Including the downright ugly ones. But internet is a place where people should come to listen to voices. If one does not like the abusive ones, and no one does, they must be tuned out if they don't add anything to any debate. Why insist on exercising editorial control over the internet? There are other well established forums for that.

It would be unwise to call for moderation or regulation of voices on the internet. The aam aadmi is not always nuanced or articulate in making his point. Which is exactly why he is not an influential member of opinion makers. But the internet allows him the space and freedom to rave and rant on everything under the sun. Listen to what he has to say. If you don't like it, tune it out. Opinion makers have their pulpits to make their points. Calls for moderation on the internet deny the freedom of voice. It defeats the purpose of an open, free from rigid editorial controls medium.

Opinion makers have their TV studios and column spaces to make their point. Leave the internet free for the aam aadmi to rant.

See earlier post on similar topic here.