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.


Just another guy said...

Awesome is an under-statement! Just too articulately written. Keep up the good writing, good Sir.

Prashant said...

You have neatly pointed out what many of us observe and discuss.

A well-written post like this contributes to a better understanding of Indian media's sad state.

Thank you!