Inertia is a lot more than an inevitable, insipid physical phenomenon. It can have a definitive effect on the directions our lives take, unbidden and well hidden under the busy layers of daily living. It is quite possible that years may slip past, marching along to music that was little more than the blahs! And then, unexplained, unplanned, quite out of the firmament, there will come a bolt. Voila! A book, a chance conversation, a quotation on some bulletin board, a meter of a poem, some bit from a blaring song and there is a click! A curtain rises, the fog clears and the vantage point shifts.
For half my life I had been a fan of the Indian media. It was the fourth pillar; their brand of investigative journalism the only fearless feature of a toady and mangy milieu. The admiration began with Arun Shourie and the fiery paper that Indian Express was under his executive-editorship. It was almost as though he pioneered the scandal and corruption exposes. Then came Nalini Singh’s “Ankho Dekhi”. I had a fascination for “Newstrack”, the news video journal. Those were the days of Khushwant Singh’s Illustrated Weekly and Doordarshan’s mannequinesque news readers, laden with Lakme foundation and the flower in the hair.
Staid, lumbering and a trifle bland, it was understood that barring the likes of DAVP (Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity) and Doordarshan, the media would function as a watch-dog of democracy, creating awareness among India’s illiterate multitude and fulfilling the responsibility of social development. Those were simpler, if poorer days. The country was not caught up in any great creative spiral and there was a semblance of faith in the distant leadership. I would go so far as to say there was a delusional sense of security that things were being taken care of.
The leaves turned soon and how. The red light came on for me rather late in life, thanks to a continued, if naïve faith in the purpose and power of media. It was with General V K Singh’s saga, the vicious denouement of the Armed Forces in press and on TV that the bile rose into my throat. The hate speeches on panel discussions instead of informed debates, the haranguing of the Chief by anchors who became judge, jury and executioner, the complete disregard for decency and maturity in reporting….my decade long media inertia melted in the blasé heat of breaking news and inflammatory headlines.
I no longer watch news with a sense of awe struck pride. Mine is a jaundiced scrutiny. I am looking for shoddy research, the stakeholder’s slant, tailored views or just plain mischief.
Our media is growing to be the biggest challenge to the idea of a nation, is what I have come to increasingly believe.
There are issues. Is media ownership ever going to be a public trust like it was meant to? Is there going to be some degree of self-regulation on any channel or publication? Is the media accountable to anyone at all, other than the TRP ratings? Is it promoting a public sphere? Is there doctoring of the news going on for vested interest holders? Are the news people creating an atmosphere of suspicion, rather than trust in the democratic institutions of the country?
TV news has had an unfettered run for far too long. It is time perhaps to bring in what they have been holding at bay all this while: the Broadcast Services Regulation Bill.