Friday, September 26, 2008

Judge, Jury, Executioner?

A close friend of mine in a leading television channel was rather bugged recently when he told me that a senior editor of his wanted to cover the release of the suspects of the Arushi Talwar murder as ‘Letting Murderers Get Away’. He was pissed because as he tried to explain, ‘We don’t know for sure if they are the killers!’ I mean, even someone who everybody ‘assumes’ in guilty such as the so-called Doctor Kidney Kumar gets let out on bail, why are we condemning people as guilty in some sections of the media.
This is particularly pertinent in light of the recent encounter in Jamia Nagar. I am no bleeding heart nor do I sympathise with Jihadi supporting elements of the media which refuse to accept that Islamic terror is a problem this country faces. But I do think that all questions about an encounter have to be answered. The Delhi Police, like all other state police forces in the country have a history of dubious encounters none more shocking than the CP shootout. I am no fan of Mushirul Hasan, and I think he has let radical elements run free in Jamia, but I also believe in the premise that people should have access to justice. If they are guilty, hang them, but prove they are guilty first.
Now, the problem I want to get to is the role of the media here. I don’t have any idea why we are taking the word of the authorities, especially investigating agencies as the gospel truth. ‘Sting Journalism’ is not a substitute for investigative journalism and the TV channels in particular, partially in their desire to rush news on air are not doing the basic facts of cross-checking details. A press release is treated as the gospel truth, as if the responsibility for the checking lies with the PR type who wrote the release. I want to give a slightly off-beat example, yesterday the Delhi Airport issued a release saying the first commercial flight that landed on the new runway was a British Airways Boeing 777-300. But BA doesn’t have any Boeing 777-300’s, I know this is anal but BA operates 777-200ER aircraft and I know this because I track the sector as well but I also have more than a passing interest in aviation. Every paper and TV channel went ahead with the 777-300 without cross-checking.
I remember the journalists of the 1980’s and 1990’s, during the political crises’ that faced the country from Bofors and Mandal. There was a level of cynicism, maybe one can argue that some of those guys were too cynical. I also believe that on the whole, both in terms of quality of stories and writing, print has definitely improved at several levels since then. But the increasing commercialisation of news has also taken its toll. Journalists today are far, far, far more efficient than journalists of yesteryear, but given that I don’t have two months to write a magnum opus, and if I did, I would do a brilliant job, things have changed. I have two days to write a four-page 1500-word feature – I can’t go to Press Club at six in the evening to have a few drinks. I work hard and I party hard, a bit too hard on both fronts sometimes, but everybody does. But I also take the time to do a bit of research. Tight deadlines do not mean you submit sloppy work.
The problem is that in certain cases they have become rather bad. Like on television where kids with no understanding of the issues after doing an unrecognised mass-communications course from a media house think that they are experts. No, just because you have a pretty face, straight hair and big boobs and can do a PTC doesn’t make you an expert. So for God’s Sake, go out and find one. You know, we do live in the age of Google and the mobile phone – and now mobile Google too! I know I’m rather irritating but twice or thrice in the recent past I‘ve actually fired off a Google search in the middle of an interview because I think somebody is trying to bullshit me.
But most people listen to the bullshit that is served up to them dress it up a bit and give it to a pretty waitress to serve up as bullshit salad! And you know, that is why this profession is getting more and more discredited. Just like some of us are painting large swathes of people with the same brush, the better ones among us are being discredited by the illiterate PYT’s and idiotic editors in some TV channels coupled with some clowns in print. It hurts.
On another note – I hope ITC Hotels can defeat the Health Dictator!


Anonymous said...

The PYTs and idiotic editors in TV are getting pretty close competition from the print guys. Across fields, from sports to politics to crime, news sense is now nonsense and, somehow, the Indian media, specially in the metors whch, ironically, shoudl be the best since they have free access to that miracle called GOOGLE, seems so hung up on international affairs that local news has almost become a sideshow, unless, of course, it's something like the Arushi murder case, Jamia Nagar shootout or other such gory, sensational stuff.

ekaling said...

Matters of the state
Polarized by the matters of the mind
Diapers on the soul
Wet by uncontrolled—release
Pseudo-responsibility on the run
You make fun
I make pun
But the common man never believes
What he sees
For he has always known–there is more
You do know
I do know
How does it matter?

Anonymous said...

consistently good blog...

Anonymous said...

And how about a lady sports editor from a well known newspaper who once wrote a piece datelined Georgetown Guyana, while sitting in Delhi! But we were warned not to say anything because she was "like a daughter" to the big boss? I did and got a call from a gentleman who told me that she was like a daughter to him too and I should watch my words. Phew, so many fathers! And yup, she's still going strong.

Nikhil said...

Well said K Sir!

It was really the heights(depths rather?) when one such PYT on CNN-IBN said it was Gandhi's Death Anniversary today.

What to say?