CNN-IBN finally broke its silence on the Radia-Barkha-Sanghvi tapes on Monday, November 22 on their program “Face the nation”. While the discussion was sober, one must compliment CNN-IBN for finally taking the initiative to do the right thing. Only yesterday, I had posted the article “Hammam mein sab nange hain” referring to Rajdeep Sardesai’s favourite line. So it was pleasant to see them talk about the Radia tapes on their evening show.
One can be “neutral” about news but one cannot, or at least need not be “neutral” with his opinions. This is what the news media needs to differentiate. I am quite comfortable if both CNN-IBN and NDTV openly admit their loyalties to the Congress (I) party. That would be an honourable thing to do as against frequently touting oneself as “independent”, “unbiased” and “non-partisan”. It is common in many countries for media houses to endorse candidates in elections.
To ensure the muck stops here with this current scam, here is what media houses need to do:
1. Stop giving out awards like “Indian of the year” etc., especially to politicians. It is unbecoming of a mainstream media organisation to be rewarding the very people whose actions and inactions it is supposed to watch over. It becomes all the more intriguing when the same government rewards media persons like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai with government awards. A peer-group or industry award is worth far more.
2. Stop excessive activism. “Lighting candles”, “Petitioning the President” and such actions for victims like Jessica Lall and many more are not what the media should be doing. Yes, reporting on miscarriage of justice and focussing on it is an absolute must. On the other hand also stop conducting media trials. Sagarika Ghose questioning Ram Jethmalani defending Manu Sharma is absurd and uneducated to say the least. Every criminal has a right to defence, its a lawyer’s sacred duty. This is a democracy and that’s the law.
3. Stop trying to influence major foreign policy decisions and actions by running spurious campaigns such as “Aman Ki Asha” by the Times of India. Of course, the TOI has many other dubious innovations to its credit – Private Treaties, Medianet and what not.(Read the Aman Ki Asha crap here and here)
4. Stop the practice of “paid news”. There cannot be any bigger malpractice by the media than this. The PCI’s final report on paid news (even the watered-down version) was totally ignored by the media and hardly received any coverage.
5. Stop jumping the gun for sensationalism. The humiliation handed out by the media to the parents of Arushi (the teenager’s murder case) and the victim herself is a lesson by itself. No one has forgotten the indiscriminate conduct of the media during the 26/11 attacks.
6. Stop being “communal” and “politically correct”. These are domains for politicians and not for the media. The mainstream media’s unwillingness to accept the Ayodhya verdict and painting it as a victory for “religion over law” or “panchayati justice” are not stands that the public will gloss over.
7. Stop hounding politicians like Narendra Modi. The more you hound him the more popular he becomes with his electorate. You have unwittingly conferred upon him “victimhood” ! Ever heard of Mark Antony’s speech? The public tends to react in the opposite when you excessively bash or boost someone.
8. Stop sympathising with separatists and anti-nationals. Sure, give their voice and opinions adequate space on your channels but do not appear to become one of them. Stop campaigning for them.
Of course, you, the media, have the complete freedom to carry on in your merry ways.
NDTV and CNN-IBN might well ask themselves why they are considered Congress puppets. The Cash-for-votes scam of 2008 is not too old for CNN-IBN to have forgotten. But here’s another test. When was the last time either channel or any newspaper ran a critical piece on Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. Is questioning them blasphemy? My own opinion on Sonia Gandhi runs like the one Jack Nicholson uses to describe how “he writes women so well” (in the movie “As good as it gets”) and he says “I think of a man and take away reason and accountability” (I intend no offence to women at all) But here is a woman who is supposed to be the most powerful in India and one of the most powerful in the world. Yet the media simply doesn’t get it that she neither has any “responsibility” nor any “accountability”. She dictates the course of this nation and the media doesn’t find her responsible or accountable for anything. In the last few days the media didn’t spare even the Prime Minister, which the SC has strongly condemned. Yet the real power behind it all, Sonia Gandhi, seems untouchable for the media.
It is an irony of sorts that the very media channels that appear to be puppets of the Congress were trapped on phone conversations monitored by a government agency under the Congress government. Instead of phoo-phooing the tapes or threatening “appropriate action” both Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi would have redeemed themselves by stating “it was an error of judgment” and that would have been honourable. That is exactly what it is, an error of judgment, they are no criminals.
On being asked “Where do you see the biggest gaps in news gathering and reporting in India and what recommendations would you make to fix these?” noted media person Sevanthi Ninnan responded by stating “.....Basically each news organization has to make sure it has a seasoned, sharp, and ethically oriented news editor or resident editor as a gatekeeper. And it’s time everybody had a readers’ editor who has the independence to do his or her job well”. (Read the full interview here.) That’s when the Muck might really stop.