VK Singh and the P-word: Media should learn to take it on the chin

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by vikas_g, Apr 10, 2015.

  1. vikas_g

    vikas_g Regular Member

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    "There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with... The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting (of) an independent press?"

    The above quote of John Swinton, former chief of staff and columnist of The New York Times in the 19th century, is possibly an exaggerated version of the limits to media freedom and independence - or even Swinton's own views. But few journalists today - in India or elsewhere - will fail to recognise some elements of the truth in the statement, some 145 years after Swinton is reported to have made it.

    One quotes Swinton here because there has been a hullabaloo over Minister of State for External Affairs, VK Singh's tweets about "presstitutes" in the media. Swinton would probably have agreed with that term in applying it to at least sections of the media. Recently, Singh appears to have taken on Arnab Goswami of Times Now, as well as his old bete noire, The Indian Express, which put out a damaging - and questionable - story a couple of years ago on how the UPA establishment was spooked in January 2012 when there were army movements near Delhi when Gen Singh was Army Chief. Just as the Express invoked the "C" word (coup) to damage Gen Singh when he was fighting with the government over his retirement date, the latter invoked the "P" word against Express and Goswami.


    While there is no gainsaying the fact that the ex-general need not have waged verbal war that could only have dented his own reputation and that of his government - which anyway faces a hostile or distrustful English media - the fact is the only people who should really protest against the word "presstitute" are commercial sex workers. They have been trying to put the pejorative term "prostitute" behind them before Singh coined a similar cussword to describe sections of the media who he considers to be compromised.

    That said, the media should grow up. When the media has the right to criticise any public figure and damage his or her reputation in the name of free speech, it should be equally willing to take some criticism - even verbal abuse - from those who are at the receiving end of its unwelcome attentions.

    The reality is that the media is not always above board when it comes to fairplay. In many ways its biases are not only not apparent, but seldom disclosed. I am not someone who believes that there can be truly neutral journalism, for media institutions, owners, editors and even journalists come with their own ideological and personal biases and baggage. For example, a third of media houses has political linkages. Others are either owned by corporations (Firstpost publisher Network 18 is owned by the Reliance Group), or are dependent on advertising for survival - which makes them extremely careful about what they say about some big corporates, though this bias may not always be obvious. Over and above this there is editorial orientation and predilection.

    Just as in the US there are Right-wing and Left-wing and centrist publications, in India too journalists have to learn to accept the reality that they are not always neutral - however high an individual's personal standards may be. At best they can try and be a bit more balanced - and be humble enough to accept that they may not always be doing what is right. After all, they have jobs to keep, EMIs to pay and families to feed.

    Like commercial sex work - where some do it because it is easy money and others because they have no other way to make a living - a significant part of journalism in India (and also abroad) is slanted one way or the other. So when we hear accusations of paid media, we have to acknowledge this reality even though a journalist (or his publication) may not actually accept direct bribes in lieu of coverage - or non-coverage.

    Then, of course, there are truly larger than life editors who are on their own trip. A certain Goswami comes to mind. Having adopted a populist approach like the Christian right-wing Fox channel, Goswami seems to decide in advance who his target (or victim) for the day should be and goes after them. Is this journalism? Certainly asking tough questions is. But Goswami goes beyond that and is not above name-calling once he has chosen his victim for the day. So VK Singh calling him names is par for the course. Goswami's show is about him, and his style is inquisitional. He would have been a huge asset to the Catholic Church's Spanish Inquisition.


    Times Now's superstar anchor seldom asks open-ended questions - or waits for answers he does not want to hear. Its more like: "Have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or no?" All answers are self-incriminating so its best to talk about the weather and watch the fun on his shows. Goswami's journalism is a form of vigilantism and voyeurism - and will probably die a slow death once people wise up to it. It should be seen as part of Bollywood entertainment where the hero gets to rail against the injustices of the world, rather than just journalism. Whether this makes him eligible for Singh's P-word, of course, is a matter of opinion.

    Going beyond Goswami, the point to underscore is that bias and tendentiousness are omnipresent in Indian journalism - as it is in the west. The difference lies is how sophisticated you are in putting out bias without making it seem like one. The gratuitous writing on India's societal problems - patriarchy, caste, gender oppression - by eminent publications like the NYT, WaPo and The Economist can only be read as bias masquerading as concern for the unfortunate. The anti-BJP (or anti-Modi) bias of the west is also obvious when rape, racism and killings are as rampant in the US as in India (Thursday's papers talk of a white US cop killing a black man and an Indian being shot dead by unknown assailants).

    This attitude permeates large sections of the English media based in Delhi too. Or why would they tom-tom a petty robbery in a church or a nun's rape as anti-Christian attacks? Once it became clear that the rape of the 72-year-old nun in West Bengal may have Bangladeshi linkages, the media suddenly lost interest in the case because it is now difficult to beat the BJP with it. Is the rape now less of a crime since the perpetrator is not your designated villain? Media bias lies not only in how it reports, but what it chooses not to report - which was part of Singh's grouse too.

    The Broadcast Editors Association has blasted Singh's "presstitute" statement as beyond "normal behavioural decency". It should chill. While it is true Singh should mind his language, it is equally important for the media to grow up and learn to take harsh language in its stride. It should not play crybaby when its targets pay it back in the same coin.

    Shorn of its pejorative and patriarchal connotation, "presstitute" is just a harsher word for "paid media" - a term Indian journalists themselves accept as a real issue hampering journalism.
    Those who feel entitled to dish it out should be equally willing to take it in the chin.



    VK Singh and the P-word: Media should learn to take it on the chin - Firstpost
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2015
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  3. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    I am increasingly distasteful of mainstream media all over.
    I prefer taking my news via forums, blogs and social media. Atleast here I have the freedom to sift through and determine the accurate truth.

    Coming to the words 'presstitues' and prositutes; the connotation is important. What message you're implying with the word is to be seen.
    If the word has been used in a derogatory context, it is an insult to the people in this profession without choice.
    But then the entire society has been disgusting prostitution for ages now. Why are we cherry picking VK Singh and why now?

    Lastly, if prostitues were to protest against being equated with the mainstream media, I'd understandably say have a point. :)

    Regards,
    Virendra
     
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  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Good news is no news

    - The Indian commentariat is clearly overstepping its mark

    Swapan Dasgupta
    As a platform, the social media - and particularly Twitter - appears to have been purpose-built for expressions of outrage, both real and fanciful. In India, the past few weeks witnessed an explosion of outrage directed against the media in general and a popular television channel in particular. And both centred on a very emotive issue: national honour.

    The first focussed on the cricket World Cup tournament in Australia and New Zealand. After a few spectacular performances in the group matches and the quarter-final, the hitherto unbeaten Indian team was quite decisively outplayed by Australia in the semi-final. Obviously there was a sense of intense disappointment over India's inability to secure a berth in the final and retain the Cup. For a few, this disappointment spilt over into anger, particularly over Virat Kohli's inability to notch a big score. Yet, overall, Australia's easy victory was greeted with a spectacular measure of equanimity. India's cricket enthusiasts easily realized that Australia was a vastly more talented side and that a semi-final victory was almost entirely dependant on a combination of luck and a few inspired performances, none of which was forthcoming on that crucial day.

    A TV channel thought otherwise. Hoping to tap into the vast reservoir of bitterness that invariably accompanies a defeat, it packaged the Melbourne encounter as a case of India losing a match it was destined to win. The defeat was blamed on bad captaincy, bad performances and the non-application of mind. A rigorous post-mortem may have found elements of truth in all these charges and, in any case, armchair experts are always wiser after the event.

    What was surprising wasn't the TV channel's willingness to play devil's advocate and contest "political correctness" - which it does with unfailing regularity. The real surprise was the ferocity of the anger in the social media over the channel's sheer audacity in suggesting that the Indian team had somehow connived in its own defeat. In a show of magisterial maturity, the TV channel and its star anchor were assailed for their petty, small-minded malevolence. As innovative hashtags acquired currency, the channel that specializes in angry indignation found itself at the receiving end of the very tirades it revels in.

    The ability to be controversial and argumentative make for sticky eyeballs and, consequently, successful TV. For a long time, Indians bored with the loftiness of the stodgy editorial page, delighted in the ability of news channels to be opinionated, brash and even quarrelsome. After long decades of dreary, state-controlled media, they basked in their new-found licentiousness. As the United Progressive Alliance-2 government blundered from scandal to scandal and scaled new heights of ineptitude, the news channels became the focus of political conversations. A new breed of glib-talking, public intellectuals emerged and political reputations were made and unmade by television. It was, unquestionably, the Golden Age of news channels.

    Whether the election of Narendra Modi in May, 2015, has altered public tastes and expectations is an ongoing and inconclusive debate. Yet, there are small pointers to an emerging change. First, having elected a stable, one-party government after a 25-year gap, the public appetite for political jousting on a daily basis appears to have diminished somewhat. The viewership highs resulting from mega-scandals, terrorist outrages and periodic explosions of mass fury appear to have become a feature of the past as India takes an overdue respite from the overdrive of politics. Secondly, while previous regimes found it difficult to keep the process of governance insulated from extraneous pressures, the Modi government has conducted itself with greater detachment. Proceeding on the legitimate assumption that a prying media had become an instrument to stymie rapid decision-making, it shut the Fourth Estate out of the process of governance.

    These trends have had unintended consequences. Proceeding on the basis of a hitherto successful formula but frustrated in its attempts to procure credible information from within the government, the media has fallen back on 'news' that earlier would have been relegated to the gossip columns. Since the dissection of policy has been deemed to be 'boring' and unappealing to a viewership that has been made to believe that news is also entertainment, controversy has come to be manufactured on the strength of verbal slip-ups and tittle-tattle.

    A recent 'controversy' illustrates the point. Last week, in an audacious initiative whose significance has only partially been grasped, the ministry of external affairs in conjunction with Air India, the Indian navy and Indian air force took the initiative to rescue Indian expatriates caught up in middle of a bloody civil war in Yemen. With the minister of state, the former army chief General V.K. Singh leading the operations from Djibouti, the government was able to rescue some 4,000 Indians from the war zone and back home to India. In view of the chaos prevailing in Yemen and other logistical difficulties, the operation was a spectacular success.

    In any other country, a rescue operation on this scale would have been the subject of saturation media coverage. In the past, governments have been berated for not being mindful of the safety and security of its citizens caught up in political turbulence - recall the collective helplessness during Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iraq in 1990. Had anxious and tearful relatives gathered before TV cameras to plead for government action, it would have made for great TV and compelling studio talk. However, since good news is presumably no news, the Yemen rescue operation was relegated to the also-rans. On various days, it was overshadowed by fulminations of road rage in Delhi, a hit-and-run by a MP's brother and, of course, the beef ban in Maharashtra.

    The only occasion the Yemen rescue intruded into the news channel consciousness was in connection with a sarcastic aside by General Singh. This became the talking point of one channel, prompting the General - who has still to acquire the tact of a professional politician - to tweet his exasperation. Arguably, Singh should have found other synonyms for "presstitute" but considering the strains and tensions of the rescue operation, his indiscretion is understandable. The channel didn't think so, but it is reassuring that there was a wave of counter-outrage in the social media questioning the tone and priorities of the sanctimonious media.

    The life cycle of most contrived controversies is less than 24 hours and by next week this storm in a teacup will have been relegated to less than a footnote. However, the impact of India's rescue mission in Yemen will linger and is certain to be amplified in the world of diplomacy. In the political world, too, General Singh's reputation will receive a significant boost.

    What may not happen, however, is any worthwhile media discussion of its priorities and its increasingly bizarre hierarchy of news. Increasingly, there is growing media inclination to see themselves as infallible and morally a cut above the political class. No doubt politicians have their shortcomings but at least they are accountable every five years before a very demanding electorate. In the 1930s, an angry Stanley Baldwin, harassed by press barons who had their own agendas of governance, described the Press as enjoying "power without responsibility", the age-old prerogative of the harlot. In the India of 2015, we are inching towards a situation where a media - cut off from its role as the foremost influence on the government - is assuming the role of a political challenger. In demanding an extra-constitutional role for itself - quite distinct from its position as the commentariat - it is clearly overstepping its mark.

    A public backlash is the only worthwhile corrective. Maybe it is beginning to happen in fits and starts and being wilfully interpreted as a truncation of the democratic space.

    Good news is no news
     
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  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    The media has been hauled up by the Election Commission for paid news.

    Is that not prostituting in a way?

    What did Barkha Dutt and the Droopy Eyed hooded Eye chap of Rada Tape Infamy do?

    Or Shekhar Gupta with the most bizarre story of Gen VK organising a coup with two battalions when a Division was at Meerut, two Brigades in Delhi and the Republic Day Parade contingent with the most modern weapons of the Indian Army in Delhi Cantt which had more punch than two battalions? Wasn't that prostitution of the Truth?
     
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  6. Compersion

    Compersion Senior Member Senior Member

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    is all because that bjp does not have numbers in Rajya sabha ...

    :frusty:
     
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