When the pen becomes the sword!

The news wires have been buzzing about Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose resigning from Network18 post the Reliance Industries takeover of the media house.  In his farewell letter to his staff, Sardesai is reported to have said, “Good journalism makes a genuine difference to the world by offering a mirror to society. Our stories have exposed corrupt netas and forced ministers to resign; we did stories that got jobs for the disabled, land to the landless, justice to acid attack victims…. Yes, putting news above noise, sense above sensation and credibility above chaos must remain a credo forever: else journalism will lose its moral compass.”

While I will not dispute that the Indian media has helped in blowing the lid apart on several grave issues that ail the very idea of India, the question I want to raise here is who will blow the whistle on the issues that ail the media itself? I am sorry, Mr. Sardesai, but it’s easy to hold up a moral compass after throwing in the towel! For, there can be no denying that in many ways, the pen has become the sword!

As an ordinary consumer of news, I have been idling with the thought off and on that one needs to file a Public Interest Litigation against all the major media houses for causing mass mental depression. While I am not even sure that this is a possibility, the action I have taken to save myself, is to virtually stop consuming news pretty much altogether! These days, I read only The Economist and sometimes, Mint and The Hindu – publications that still command my respect.

Open any newspaper or switch on any news broadcast channel and one is inviting depression these days. The media, no doubt, will point out that ” we only mirror society.” Perhaps. But I think it’s a distorted mirror angled deliberately to reflect only the sensational and negative news. That’s what sells, right? Especially when it is recounted in excited, verging on hysterical, voices. That includes you, Mr. Sardesai!

The question I have for all journalists is this. Why is it that the positive news is relegated to the inside pages of newspapers? Why is it that the ‘Real Heroes’, who are toiling to make India a more tolerable place for the have-nots and future generations, are walked across the stage to receive an award in the full glare of media spotlights, making the act part of some great Indian tamasha (a Hindi colloquial term used to describe a form of entertainment). Ah yes, it’s for the sponsorship and advertising revenue!

Why is it that columns such as those penned by Rahul DaCunha for Sunday Midday, which comment on social ills and more important, decry the erosion of social values, are not given front page status?

Why is it that even when the media does comment on social ills and values, it is done in the form of talk shows where everyone is rushing in to get their two minutes of imagined fame?

Why is it that the leading editors do not feature serious opinion pieces alongside news items that, for instance, report on the gruesome murder of a Pune techie of the Islamic faith by the Hindu Rastra Sena? Why is it left as mere reporting? Oh yes, I forget. News reporting has to be a mere reporting of the facts in order to be objective. And oh, there’s the question of driving up circulation and television ratings. After all, the depraved public out there gulps down news of gore and lasciviousness with glee. And does not want to be preached at!

Mere reporting of facts might have been okay in a day and age when we were not beset by a growing tide of social and religious intolerance; a tide hiding dangerous eddies of political, legal and business corruption. Eddies that are acting as poisoned swords, influencing and cutting swathes of intolerance across large sections of society. Eddies that explain why large business houses are buying over media houses or agreeing to let media houses take an equity stake in their businesses. Talk about cosy bedfellows!

I would like to remind the media that there was a time when the pen was seen as mightier than the sword. A time when the public could believe every word that was printed because journalists were revered as intellectuals and critical thinkers. That then was a time when the media played a role in actively moulding public opinion and values. If you ask me, that was also a time of real corporate social responsibility. Not the travesty that is being played out today in the name of being socially responsible corporate citizens!

One final point while I am on a roll about a subject that has bothered me for sometime now. What are senior leaders in the media industry doing to bring up a future generation of responsible journalists? I am asking because I am aghast at the poor calibre of journalists who I happen to meet during the course of my work. They are ill-prepared and have little or no clue about the subject of interview. Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of misreporting, not to mention misquoting as most, if not all, are hell bent on skewing facts to suit a sensational headline.

If the promoters and senior leadership of media houses do not shoulder the responsibility of bringing back the days when the pen was seen as mightier than the sword and ensure that the young turks in the profession wield the power of the pen responsibly, increasingly the pen will become the sword! If it hasn’t already.


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