Monday, May 9, 2016

As Messenger Becomes the Message ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ May 08, 2016

As Messenger Becomes the Message, Media Must Scrutinise Itself to Retain Reliability

The media is under threat from within. It is no longer seen as a credible medium. Its messages are massacred mercilessly. Never before has its credibility and dependability been under so much scrutiny. Profanities like crooks, paid media, sponsored news brokers, and ‘bhakts’ are heaped on journalists. As competitive and confrontationist politics, coupled with valuation and TRP-driven media organisations, dictates political engagement, the entire tribe has been tarred unilaterally with the black brush of scepticism. Numerous news outfits and prominent journalists are being exposed for their coloured ideological views instead of being lauded for earth-shattering news breaks. They are known for what they speak and not by what they write. Agenda-driven opinion and biased news peddled by some of us as ‘exclusive’ or explosive stories drive the print and electronic media. This has provided political parties and their promoters tactical tools to destroy the fourth pillar of democracy. Are newspersons the most preferred targets because they are asking too many inconvenient questions? Or because some of us do not mind our own business and meddle in someone else’s?

For the past few months, it is not political leaders but the media, which has been targeted by the social media and rampant rumour-mongers to tar and test the image of the journalists as a genre. Last week, over half a million references were made on myriad Internet platforms to unnamed scribes, who are suspected to be involved in defence deals in the past few years. According to media reports, one of the journalists was called for interrogation by investigative agencies. Another is under their scanner for receiving prodigious payoff from defence dealers. The agencies are yet to come to any conclusion. By not naming and shaming the journalists, the ruling establishment and power-seekers are shifting the blame from the real culprits to the fringe players. Journalists involved in shady criminal deals should be treated at par with other suspects. By revealing their names in public interest, the profession’s credibility as a whole will be rescued from ignominious insinuations. Jurists and legal luminaries are convinced that by going public with the names of those summoned for questioning on their role in the AgustaWestland and Rafale deals would only strengthen the case of the agencies and save various institutions from becoming victims of a sinister scheme.

Defence procurements are a major source of tainted money worldwide. Many global leaders have been named in scandals involving defence deals. It’s been proved that loot stashed in tax havens was from purchasing hardly required defence equipment. Over the past four decades, a multitude of dirty deals on Bofors guns, Scorpene submarines and fighter aircraft have been exposed. Since the Congress ruled India for over five decades, most such deals were signed on its watch; hence its leaders and followers have always been perceived as the suspects or beneficiaries. As India spends over $12 billion annually on importing defence hardware and software, this provides enough scope for middlemen, senior officials and their political masters to tailor specifications according to the highest bidder’s wishes. As the market for weapons, including fabulous flying machines, grows, multinationals hustling them use sophisticated skills to influence the decision-making process in the government. Some in the media and defence analysts and security experts have become the most sought-after influence peddlers. These corporations fund a multitude of well-funded think-tanks in the US, Europe and the UK to enrol prominent journalists, opinion writers and retired defence officials as faculty members or visitors. Many of these think-tanks have opened shop in India to camouflage their real mission. According to reliable sources, the government has already started the scrutiny of Indian frequent flyers, who spread their carbon footprint to participate in seminars dealing with defence and strategic issues. The inquiry is also aimed at unearthing the financial supporters of the think-tanks to discover if the defence industry is supporting any of the big fish. Some Indian civil servants, journalists and opinion-makers have been part of these institutions for short or long durations. 

Undoubtedly, there are some bad apples in the media basket. But that doesn’t give the enemies of freedom of expression the right to kill the medium through the massive and ominous use of state machinery, corporate muscle power and a malicious whisper campaign through the social media. With the rise of trolls as the most effective agents to counter propaganda-driven dissemination of views and news, the mainstream media is under pressure to mend the way it reports news. Some of us have gone cyber-active not to give news but unpalatable views against the established political and corporate order. Once journalism was an institution, which encouraged hard news rather than advertising the faces behind it. Young journalists were told to report facts and carry both sides of a story. Now many credible civil society leaders feel that numerous journalists draw conclusions first and use convenient facts to bolster their predetermined views. Many journalists express their opinions on the social media in a way that exposes their ideological or personal predilections. Some names are associated with a leader or a party. As journalists and media owners claim to be serving the  public cause, they are entitled to all the facilities and courtesies available to other institutions performing similar responsibilities. But if the media has to retain its reliability, it has to subject itself to robust scrutiny. All mediapersons should follow the same rules and regulations, which elected representatives do. The declaration of assets, contacts, corporate and political affiliations and sources of income by leading journos and editors would definitely help in restoring the people’s faith in the profession. So far, the media had the monopoly of seeking accountability in others. Times have changed. Now readers and viewers—the real patrons of the media—are asking it to be accountable or perish.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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