The Indian media often refers to the 21-month ‘emergency’ (1975-77) to demonstrate the consequences of a government clamp down. The heroic fight back of some of the media houses is shown as having brought ‘freedom’. Four decades have passed; the society has changed and so has its media. But as we say, history repeats itself, and certain things like another clamp down on the media, seem to come back to everybody’s mind. Will it happen? The government posturing sometimes seems to suggest so; but at other moments – as the prime minister does when it comes to interviews – the media is ignored.
To avoid another government clamp down, many media bodies – like the Press Council, the Broadcasting Association etc. – suggest that the media should try to develop ‘self-discipline’. This has led to the creation of a media ‘ombudsman’ in some organisations, peoples’ editors in others; but nothing seems to improve the self-disciplining process: the media owners go their way to increase revenue, and the editors and reporters hardly care to introduce a system to overcome their ‘biases’. So the fear of a clamp down remains.
An introspection within the media is a must. Now is the question of survival. The social media has taken away the wind from the news hunters. The ‘breaking news’ now comes from the Tweeters rather than from the television screens. Even the government prefers to tweet official news than send a detailed hand-out. The reader decides to read what he will read from what evidently goes ‘viral’, rather than what the editor or news editor decided was news as the traditional ‘watchdog’.
In recent times, however, the social media too has become suspect (after the episodes of ‘paid news’ and ‘lobbying’ by traditional newspapers and television) with the plethora of fake and tendentious news being promoted by different political parties and vested interest groups in the cyberspace. This gives an opportunity for professional journalists to pause and ponder on what should be the way out to regain credibility.
First things first. The journalist needs to do a self-analysis. And that is not easy. We need to learn to laugh at ourselves too – not always at others (which we journalists usually do). The trend is beginning to set in. A noted journalist, Gujarati by birth, laughs at the ‘banal’ way the election campaigns are being conducted by the politicians and covered by the media. He is embarrassed at himself for once being a ‘cheerleader for a team of ordinary performance.’ There is no Gujarat model – what was supposed to be the Gujaratification of India has become the Indiafication of Gujarat. “It is a product of the same second rate stuff that defines the rest of India,” he adds. He is proud to be a Gujarati (obviously he should) and believes that Gujarat effortlessly producing leaders like Gandhi, Jinnah, and Patel was no accident. But now as a journalist he tries to disassociate himself from what is going on as the ‘Gujarat model’.
Similarly, another Bengali journalist has recently written a book as portrait of the Bengali community. He writes about the Bengali ‘cultural conceit’ which permeates in all his actions. He remains argumentative as ever but perhaps, like Rip Van Winkle, forgets the reality of a changed world.
Yes, the media people have started laughing at themselves too – and that is a positive sign!