In recent times Herman Cain, an Afro-American candidate, pulled out of the race for the Republican party’s nomination for US Presidential election in 2012. Three women from his past had alleged sexual harassment by Cain which eventually forced him to abort his campaign. In contrast, Abhishek Manu Singhvi (AMS), MP and Congress spokesman, resigned on April 23 from various posts after his alleged sexual adventures were leaked through a video on the internet. That was enough for the Mainstream Media (MSM) and even PCI Chairman, Justice Katju, to start screaming for controls over the social media. The sex CD which involves AMS and a female lawyer was reportedly made by AMS’s driver and according to AMS was “fake, doctored and morphed”. How a driver went to Darbangha (Bihar) and found enough money and support and morphed a tape will remain a technological wonder for a long time. His alleged motives are “dog-bites and low pay”. Seriously, many of us may complain about our salaries but going to the extent of morphing our bosses into sex videos is taking even revenge too far. Tsk, never mind!
The case was brought to public light not by the driver or by the MSM or by the social media. It came to prominence when AMS filed a police complaint against the driver and got an injunction from the Delhi HC against airing of the CD. On what basis the HC gave the injunction is another mystery and it almost sounds like pre-screening. Naturally, people wanted to know what was on the CD and what the facts were. This is where the MSM failed as it completely blacked-out the story. The court had stayed airing of the CD and not the reporting of the story. It was then that the story spread like wildfire on Twitter, Facebook and other social media and finally parts of the CD were uploaded by some on the internet.
In response to the public clamour for the story Rajdeep Sardesai even responded by calling them “Eternal Voyeurs”. Such is his disdain for ordinary people. Rajdeep also asked why the Opposition was silent over the issue, as if they, or any political voice, should determine what the press or media should be reporting and discussing. A dead give-away.
Even so, when the cookie finally crumbled, the MSM wasn’t discussing the AMS sex incident, they were busy debating whether ‘Internet is above the courts’ (For uploading the CD against the court injunction) and some like Justice Katju and Sagarika Ghose were discussing ways and means to ‘check’ the social media.
Nothing would please our MSM (and some politicians) more than to see the death of social media. It has come to challenge their monopoly, their bias, their spins, their lies, and their selective reporting. In the US the Internet media has seen the death of many newspapers and quite a few TV channels. Some 300 newspapers have died in a small country like UK. Unlike print and TV, social media requires the regular MSM and public figures to be interacting with people sensibly which is where they have failed in India. Public opinions can be suppressed in newspapers and TV but not on the social media. So while raging against the people on the social network and wanting to desperately ‘check’ them the Indian media really needs to understand the way social media works and harness it productively and profitably. Comments under the post “Media as cover-up artist for Seedy Singhvi” will reveal how even keen news-watchers were totally unaware of the AMS incident. That is how successfully the MSM blacked-out the story.
The Internet wasn’t created in India. The Internet didn’t evolve in India. None of the major social media engines were created in India. For all its other problems the US still remains a country with absolute freedom of speech. President, Pope and even religion are no exceptions to such freedoms. Books are not banned and books can be burned. Nazi group marches through Jewish localities to offend them is allowed. Protests at funerals against dead ‘gay’ soldiers, in bad taste, are allowed. Bad taste is not a crime. Therefore, for Internet and social media to thrive in the US environment wasn’t as big a challenge as it is in India. Mind you, the same laws that punish defamation or illegal activities otherwise also apply to social media in the US. It does in India too. It is just that in India free-speech is largely reserved for the powerful and the MSM. Now that the situation is changing it’s causing unease among many in the media and politics. US citizens over many years have grown used to and cherished their freedom of speech. Most of them know what to believe and what to ignore. The Indian govt and media simply doesn’t trust ordinary people to have the good judgement over issues.
If the AMS CD was uploaded on the net it was because the media didn’t discuss it. It got uploaded because people generally believed that this level of gagging by a court and black-out by MSM can only mean there is truth in the story. That a prominent lawyer like AMS would seek an injunction and instead of continuing the FIR against the alleged conspirator reach a settlement with him further reinforces the belief that the CD is neither morphed nor doctored. Apart from the frivolous discussion; “Is Internet above courts” on CNN-IBN (who else but Sagarika Ghose?) and other channels, NDTV even discussed if ‘India is going the US way’ on the media issue. Among participants on NDTV was Shoma Chaudhury, editor of Tehelka, a near-gossip tabloid, and the same tabloid that famously used call girls to do their jobs. That is enough said for morality in media.
If there is evil in the social media, it is prevalent elsewhere too, particularly in the MSM and politics. It is how we respond to it that counts. It is not easy for someone to survive in the social network by constantly peddling lies and misleading information. In Indian media it is definitely possible and sometimes it even seems they are paid for it. For those screaming about morals so much in the MSM there is an example of a prominent journalist Keith Olberman who was suspended from his channel, MSNBC, for a small but undeclared donation he made to politicians. In contrast people like Barkha Dutt are celebrated in our media despite established wrong-doings. In the US Barkha Dutt would have been permanently trashed and out of the media for good. So people like Rajdeep Sardesai would do well not to sermonise on morality, which he often does. The likes of Shoma Chaudhary, Sonia Singh (NDTV), Sagarika Ghose should also be frequently reminded of the sordid NOTW affair in UK. That tabloid is what much of Indian MSM should be compared to and not values of ‘Freedom of speech’.
In the last US presidential election Youtube was successfully used by CNN to allow ordinary people to put questions to the candidates and have them debate the issues. Many other clips from Youtube are also used by US news channels in their reports. Why Indian media cannot find productive use for social media other than promoting egos of individual journalists is simply the fear of sharing their turf. Forget harnessing social media productively, the frequency with which our news channels twist and manipulate tweets to suit their agenda actually amounts to abuse of social media by them.
The MSM perceives a loss to the social media on the issue of AMS, his sexcapade and his final resignation. This is hardly the truth. Social media did not bring AMS down. In the final scene of the movie ‘All the President’s men’ WaPo editor Ben Bradley chides Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein thus: “You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit”. That’s right half the US didn’t know and didn’t give a shit till Nixon finally resigned. That was despite tremendous coverage by the Washington Post and a few more newspapers. Here we are, an entire MSM blacking out the AMS story and they want the world to believe it is the evil of social media that has to be ‘checked’.
Social media didn’t bring AMS down. He brought himself down with his dirty deeds, social media just showed the courage that MSM did not just as Woodward and Bernstein didn’t bring down Nixon on their own. MSM, and Justice Katju, would do well to partner social media rather than try to check it. If ever ‘Power to the people’ made sense in a democracy it is Social Media. Celebrate it!