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Dog Bites Dog!

By Tushar Charan

To illustrate what constitutes ‘news’ students of journalism are told that dog bites man is no news but man biting dog is—because it is rather unusual. But nothing is said about the more common dog bites (barks, to be more precise). And when this phenomenon concerns the men and women in the media world?

In the old and staid–‘boring’—days of bland journalism it was almost unheard of that two journalists will go after each other like two ‘dogs’ fiercely guarding their territory. This is, of course, not to suggest that fights, physical and verbal, between journalists were unheard of. Quite the contrary. But the ugly scenes were rarely enacted in public view even if it will be an exaggeration to claim that the tribe of journalists in the bygone days was an embodiment of decency and uprightness.

That the past era was lived without the benefit of many modern gadgets and technology, the chief of which must be the mobile phone and the internet, could well have been the chief reason why the ugliness in the media remained hidden behind doors. Now everyone seems to be in a rush to express his opinions unabashedly and without any restraint. In the case of most mortals this activity remains somewhat restricted, not so when it is about media personnel.

Thus almost the entire country appeared to be abuzz after sharp verbal exchanges between two of India’s best known TV personalities—Arnab Goswami of the Times Now, a Times Group outlet, and Barkha Datt of the NDTV, who enjoys almost a cult status among some of her followers.

Not surprisingly, it began with a Goswami programme in which in his typical hysterical manner suggested jail term for media personnel who are not ‘nationalist’ enough, That is to say, those who did not measure up to Goswami’s definition of ‘patriotism’ and tended to question many acts and words of the present ruling dispensation deserved to be incarcerated. It should not matter whether these elements belong to Opposition political parties or were journalists by profession.

The Times Now anchor seemed to be particularly riled by Datt’s alleged ‘defence’ of the ‘anti-national’ acts witnessed in Kashmir during the violence that followed the death of a militant commander. Goswami made it clear that when it comes to Kashmir and militancy anyone who does not endorse his views is ‘anti-national’ and, hence, should be put behind bars.

Datt hit back with gusto, wondering aloud in her Facebook account if ‘this man is a journalist’ and her ‘shame’ of sharing the profession with him. She reminded him of certain ‘basics’ of journalism, including the fact that journalists are not expected to be toddies of the government.

One would expect that in the world of social media, opinions are divided and being expressed with vehemence and without any inhibition. It is possible to divide the two camps on the basis of political ideology: Goswami and his followers wedded to the Right and the Datt camp consisted largely of ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ crowd. In other words the ‘war’ between the two camps was no different from what is commonly witnessed between political rivals.

But it is not necessary to see it with a political prism. When two media personalities have a public spat it is mainly a matter concerning the media and its affairs. That makes it a matter of deep concern because what we have been witnessing of late is an all-round dumbing down of the classical forms of media practices.

This is not an oblique plea for going back to the days of ‘he said here today’ kind of insipid journalism. Rather, media should continue to sharpen its swords when discharging its duty as the primary watchdog of democracy and public life. What leaves a bad taste is when the media, particularly some of its ‘leading lights’, assume partisan role and appear contemptuous of public sentiments.

While it may not be possible to eliminate ‘ideological’ prejudice and bias in the writings of commentators, who are, after all, humans, they should hold no their punches when discussing or writing about issues that concern ordinary lives. For instance, one would have expected the media to be more strict in questioning the government on its failure to arrest polarised politics. What we have observed is that those in the media who should have raised a sustained voice against the divisive politics of today have been content with an occasional comment while showing more interest in some of the esoteric programmes of the government that thrive more on catchy slogans than anything solid on the ground. As an ordinary cash-strapped citizen, it was monumentally disappointing to see that while prices of many kitchen staples, Dal (lentil) in particular, have been continuously escalating for more than a year the media has shown only a minimal interest in it.

Rahul Gandhi, in a rare burst of aggression, perhaps enlivened the issue in Parliament with the ‘Arhar Modi’ slogan, but that will satisfy neither the common man who has to live under the yoke of rising prices nor can it be seen as a winning strategy for the down and out Congress. What, however, is profoundly distressing is the prominence given to a government propaganda line that expectedly sought to blame the previous government but failed to explain how Dal prices jumped virtually overnight by 100 per cent or more over a year ago, and have hardly scaled down since.

Every monsoon—even when ‘poor’—brings misery to most of India: floods in the countryside and floating slush on inundated roads, not to speak of traffic snarls and all that. Has the media lost the power to make the government take such problems more seriously and find solutions?

What we see is almost routine denunciation of the failure of the authorities but never have we been told why it has not been possible to fix the rain-related problems when they have existed for as long as one can remember? Don’t tell us that there is still no technology or method to fix these problems. If instead of wasting time and energy on cacophonous and vacuous TV debates on politics, the Indian media can better serve the people by devoting more time and showing a hitherto unseen seriousness in talking about many day-to-day problems that never seem to go.

The ‘lead’ has to come from the self-styled captains of the newspaper industry who claim to set new norms in news presentation and even the way newspapers should look. The newspapers have to shed their greed for increasing their profit margins at the expense of the reader and his or her convenience. How many readers, for instance, welcome the sight of a newspaper with a flapping half-page as the first page or concur with a newspaper judgement that 91 per cent of Indians go to barbers and beauty parlours is worth the second lead? With that kind of standards you can only expect more of the ‘dog bites dog’ variety of journalism. (Syndicate Features)

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