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Incommensurebile Media: Waiting for a Foreword

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By Sidharth Mishra

The criticism of the present turmoil in the Indian media, particularly the television, comes with the rebuttal of the critic being a Libtard. The next volley is about media remaining sympathetic to the earlier regime and why then no questions were asked for such sympathies. There is no denying the fact that many a present day vociferous flag-bearers protesting the slant being brazenly projected in the media were themselves guilty of enjoying undue access and patronage, blighting the line between honest journalism and patronized pen-pushing.

Having said this, the aforementioned premise cannot be justified merely being a reflection on the mood of the people; it has more to do with the market and the revenue models. This writer worked in The Pioneer in time and era when it was seen as the only major right of the centre English daily. But to the credit of the editorial leadership of the newspaper, despite the slant it never discouraged contrary opinion and gave space to it.

More importantly, it held the ideological position paying a commercial price as many a government agencies and department worked overtime to demolish the revenue model of the newspaper. It indeed was a challenging task to be the paper of the Opposition and also being the paper of the right of the centre thought.

The same cannot be said about the present day votaries of the right of the centre ideology. It’s more a case of being on the right side of the government. Being honest to an ideology demands a price which these present day pretenders did not pay then nor are they paying now as on both the occasion they were on the right side of the government.

Then there is another issue. Does being supportive of a political thought makes a media house mortgage its right to question a government of the same ideology. During the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee there was this instance of a border skirmish in which a BSF officer was killed. His corpse was returned in a most undignified manner. The images made one baulk and at the same time angry even as the government talked of peace.

The front page editorial in the paper said, “Bend, don’t genuflect”. Now this was a startling criticism coming from the newspaper known for its ideological proximity to the government of the day. This must have needed much courage on the part of the editor, and a real large heart on the part of the government to take the criticism in the right spirit.

The current news trend followed by the media houses, of the government cannot be going wrong, should make the government worry. The worry should be on two counts, first the loss of credibility of these media houses and anchors known to be sympathetic to the government, and second by giving no space to the opposition, it has pushed it into a situation where it has launched its own propaganda vehicles expressing distrust in the media houses, calling them vehicles of government propaganda.

Those in charge of the publicity policies of the government by unleashing a vendetta towards critics, realize little that they are instigating an equally vitriolic counter narrative. With social media and technological advancements completely democratizing the media space, a government’s image cannot be lynched-pin on mere whataboutery of prime time anchors.

We live in times where troll armies are ever ready to provide their services at mud-slinging. It’s just the question of who is hiring them. While it has taken more than half-a-century to create memes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being subjected to this obnoxious criticism in his life-time. Nehru and several Prime Ministers after him were lucky that they were subjected to such criticism by erudite scholar-cartoonist like RK Laxman. They were fortunate that the space of social media did not exist then.

Today counter narratives on government claims, make to various social media platforms within moments of it being released in the public domain. Dependence on fake and misrepresented facts has come to create an atmosphere of distrust, where easy acceptance of a news, howsoever true, is not easy.

This situation has given rise to such atmosphere where reason is the biggest casualty. When fake information becomes a marketable commodity, there would not be very many clients for evidence-based well-reasoned information. Let’s take case of ‘infodemic’, a term coined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the surge of information, caused by the Covid19 pandemic.

The pandemic in fact has hit the media hardest both in matters of finances and also credibility. The failure of the journalists, both television and newspaper, to go beyond the government briefings, official narratives and also its opinionated criticism has made the consumer of news have a feel of absolute chariness. Nobody has a clear picture to share on where the virus is making the world head to.

If there is distrust for a product, there obviously would not be a market for it too. The market searches for such products which can be easily consumed. So here is a case of a market looking for news products.

In fact, the present situation reminds one of Luigi Pirandello’s early 20th century Italian play – Six Characters in Search of an Author. The initial reception to the play from the audience was it being incommensurebile (incomprehensible). It was only after Pirandello added a foreword to the play a few years later that it came to be better appreciated. The connoisseurs of news are today eagerly waiting for the foreword to the current incommensurebile media scenario. 

(First Published in The Pioneer: https://www.dailypioneer.com/2020/columnists/the-death-of-a-credible-media-with-a-backbone.html)

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