“A shoe-thrower; a swami who wants to raise a private army; a national debate over whether dancing is decorous and a government that went from supplication to abrupt scepticism all in the span of a week…… Oh yes, the circus has come to town. It has plenty of clowns, acrobatics, tight-rope walking, the juggling of balls, fire-eaters and indeed a few lions too. But what it's sorely missing is a Ring Master. It's stuff made for satire. Remember Alice's conversation with the Cheshire Cat? Lewis Caroll wrote in 19th century England, but in the Blunder-land that is today's India, his words would be just as apt. "What sort of people live about here?" Alice had asked the Cat. "In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad…..but I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
If you think I wrote all that, I’d be flattered. But I do not possess such writing flair. Do I even sound like a sweet-smelling, flowery-language, literary type to you? No, I didn’t write that. That was Barkha Dutt in her article ‘The circus must end’.
Well if I were to write such crap the only Alice that would come to my mind would be from a song. But here is a line I would have used: “We are all innocent in here…” from The Shawshank Redemption. Over the next few years you are likely to hear that line frequently from members inside the Tihar jail.
And then Barkha goes on to define civil society in LSE terms and even adds “And it has long been pointed out that it was the Congress that set the precedent of giving sweeping powers to voices outside of Parliament, with the creation of the National Advisory Council”. Oh yeah? I would like to know who pointed that out. I cannot recall one media shopkeeper even remotely discussing the NAC or pointing out that it consisted of ‘civil society’, and even some members of dubious background. The NAC coterie didn’t come up for discussion till the ‘civil society’ discussions started. And it’s not the regular media but stray bloggers, like yours truly, who raised the issue of the NAC. Some members from the NAC coterie have frequently appeared on EnditTV but no one has ever asked them about their legitimacy. Well, that is just some trivial detail that I wanted to point out to Barka Dutt.
Here is a quote from an article by M.V. Kamath (former chairman Prasar Bharati and ex-Journalist with the Times group) from March 2003. This is titled Prostitution of Journalism in India:
"The truly insidious thing about accepting bribes to carry news stories is that the reader doesn't know that he's being taken advantage of. When he reads that a newspaper regards a new car as being the best in its range, he has no reason to suspect that the paper has accepted money to make this judgement…….Proprietors who don't tell their readers that they take bribes to manufacture news stories are like thieves who pick your pocket...”
|Send in the clowns!|
Guess who said that! Well let me help you out. That was the famous Vir Sanghvi being quoted. I wonder where he is now. His statement is quite reflective of the double standard that pervades current journalistic practices. So when an ‘eminent’ media celebrity talks about ‘circus’, ‘ringmasters’ and even ‘lions’ all I can think of is “Send in the clowns” from the media. More than anyone else it is the media that has turned this into a circus by clowning around. For a start Barkha should understand that civil movements, public mobilisation and agitations are bound to be chaotic, disorganised and sometimes even unruly. They are not as well an organised force like the state machinery. One has to carefully read the words of some media celebrities these days (no, I wouldn’t dare call them journalists). Sanghvi’s statement I quoted is a classic example of sweet-smelling double-talk.
So where exactly did the media fail? The media failed in bringing out the truth and the underlying currents behind these agitations and movements. They failed in exposing the insincerity of the government in tackling corruption and black money. Time and time again when issues of corruption are discussed on TV channels the media has basically acted as a platform for the government defence. The fourth estate is supposed to be on the side of the people but instead they have delivered platforms for people like Digvijay Singh to spew venom on people and organisations.
In management there is a principle that is often accepted as a starting point to analyse failure: “The bottleneck is always at the top”. Yes indeed, figuratively and literally. Extraordinary levels of corruption do not come to pass without the participation of top management. Remember Satyam? Remember Enron? Remember Bear Stearns? Remember AIG? Well, it is no different in the government too. That is where the media has been an absolute failure. Failure apart, their silence has been very much like that of a co-conspirator.
The top management in the UPA has to be undoubtedly Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. There are many allegations against her of having stashed away black money in Switzerland. There are allegations of Quattrochi (of Bofors) being let off. Subramanian Swamy has sought sanction to prosecute Sonia Gandhi. Do you find any of this in our mass media? Like Barkha Dutt all the journalists do is to wax eloquently using Lewis Caroll language to talk about imaginary circuses and issues. Sonia Gandhi is a person who has not responded to any allegations and never spoken to the nation about these issues. She speaks to rural electorate seeking votes. She speaks in places where no questions will be asked. That doesn’t mean the media cannot or should not ask those questions. Zero tolerance for corruption is as sweet as Indira Gandhi’s Garibi Hatao slogan. That zero-tolerance is probably for not tolerating those who run a crusade against corruption and black money and beat them up in the middle of the night. And all Barkha manages to do in her article is to swing from one swinging bar to another like a well-dressed up acrobat. Do you feel entertained?
I guarantee you. The day the media honestly raises questions about Sonia Gandhi, the UPA will have to bow down to demands on action against the corrupt and all the skeletons will start tumbling down. Barkha talks about the blunder-land that is India. Well, she lives close to the epicentre of that blunder-land and given that she lives next door to Alice, she might want to start doing some real journalistic work for a change and start asking real questions to and about the people at the top. Till then “we are all innocent in here…”!