Reflections on the Bigots of Embedded Media: Biswajit Roy

Guest post by BISWAJIT ROY

Now that the xenophobic and paranoid big media clamour for slapping sedition charges against Arundhati Roy and others for speaking up their mind on Kashmir, has temporarily subsided, it is time for some reflection.  This clamour has only underlined the increasingly shrill bigotry of a section of Indian journalists who are deeply embedded in the right-wing statist mission, a la Arnab Goswami. Their stakes in the race for Padma awards or Rajya Sabha nominations may be one of their personal motives for behaving the way they do – baying for the blood of the dissenters and whistle-blowers while ignoring the ground reality in Kashmir valley today. But there may also be corporate institutional compulsions. However, they are espousing bigotry at the expense of the media’s role as the protector and disseminator of dissent in public life as well as watchdog against excesses and abuses of power by the government and other wings of the State in the name of national security and national interests. As a media professional, I would like to share some of my encounters with these self-proclaimed guardians of Indian nationalism in media and frontiers of mainstream journalism.

The Kargil War: the self-proclaimed guardians of national interests I was working with a TV News channel in Delhi during Kargil war. The latest Indo-Pak hot war over Kashmir was the first televised war in the subcontinent. Caught unawares by Pakistani covert moves to control commanding heights beyond the Line of Control in Kashmir’s Kargil and Drass sector that threatened India’s strategic positions, BJP-led NDA government launched an orchestrated campaign promoting plastic nationalism. It was primarily aimed to deflect the domestic Opposition and secondly to rally the public opinion in favour of the government’s war-efforts. Mainstream Indian media lapped it up as an unforeseen opportunity for multiplying their TRP and circulation.

Soldiers have always been made the most revered heroes when a nation is at war, though they are usually forgotten in peacetime. So frenzy of hero-worshipping drowned the concerns about Indian army’s lack of operational preparedness that turned them into sitting duck for Pakistani artillery positioned at better heights in the first part of the war. Imitating a catchy Cola ad campaign, young middle class army officers made a war cry—‘Ye Dil Mange More’. They became nation’s real-life macho action heroes. Media willingly collaborated with the propaganda blitz on glorification and mystification of soldiers and war.
Footages or sound-bytes of those instant celebrities of the nation’s first televised war were used deliberately as the ammunition of the TRP war that was raging parallel. The big media’s cocktail of elite patriotism of our political class and page- three glitterati that blended with rhetorical praises and promises for common soldiers was selling high. Its feverish marketing blurred all lines between the Cola war and another gory battle for Kashmir.
In this backdrop, I was trying to do some journalistic reality check on some aspects of the war, albeit, within the patriotic parameters. I tried to expose the hollowness of plastic nationalism that flooded soldiers at the Kargil front with tall promises by governments, parties, politicians, corporate groups and civil society organizations including media houses. They promised to take care of post-war needs of bereaved families of fallen soldiers and look after the war survivors with amputated limbs.
I tried to unravel the myth of nation’s gratitude by little investigation into the status of the promises made to common soldiers during the earlier wars.

I interviewed some family members of the fallen soldiers settled in Delhi and its suburbs who had lost their breadwinners during 1965 and 1971 wars as well as some surviving infantrymen. They revealed that the politicians and bureaucrats and corporate honchos did not honour the pledges made to the families of the forgotten heroes of earlier wars. The piece of farmland or homestead, government or private jobs, fund to open food kiosks or telephone booths, vehicle permit and gas stations as well as admission of their orphaned children in government school and colleges—most of these promises were never fulfilled. They were left to fend for themselves. I thought people have the right to this information and let them know the plight of the former heroes when government and media joined hand to create hype over the new generation of cannon-fodder.

I also found that situation was far better for the families of educated and middle class officers. Many of their families had contacts in army headquarters and defence ministry. They also enjoyed social and political connections to pull the strings in government babudom. The Indian army, despite being described as a great melting pot of multi-ethnic, multi-religious Indian society, never really had shed off its colonial legacy of class, caste, religious and gender biases. The contrast between experiences of the better-connected officers’ families and the common soldiers only underlined that reality.

My second story was on the inadequate war preparation that compromised the lives of soldiers. The government was busy in drumming up supports for its ‘befitting reply to the betrayers of Indian goodwill’ while claiming recapture of one or other strategic heights. But soldiers were freezing to death due to inadequate supply of proper winter cloths, shoes and other provisions needed to survive on the frosty heights. Secondly, the lack of night-vision glasses and other equipment needed for nocturnal moves turned many of them sitting ducks for Pakistani artillery and machinegun positions located at better heights.
This story was based on the interviews with the injured soldiers who had been brought down to army hospitals in Delhi from Drass and Kargil sectors. I also incorporated opinions of some retired generals and defence experts on these shortcomings and their effects on battle-preparedness of the soldiers and their morals.

My boss, a pro- RSS media celebrity, who was not in the town when I had planned and executed the stories with the nod of the next man in the hierarchy came back and previewed them little before they were about to be aired. He immediately spiked both of my stories and summoned me.
“Yab sara desh sarkar or armyke sath hai, tum donoke piche chhori goph ne ka kam kar rahe ho (You are back-stabbing both the government and army when people are supporting them), ‘’ he yelled and threatened to fire me.
Nevertheless, I tried my hand in ‘subversive journalism’ again by highlighting the contrast between the Vajpai government’s policy on the use of nuclear weapons and RSS campaign on it. Buddha had smiled at Pokhran desert few months ago. After India had conducted its second series of nuclear tests, RSS was demanding that time was ripe for teaching Pakistan a nuke lesson ( Ab sabak sikhane ka samay aa gaya- said an editorial of Panchayanya, the RSS organ). But the government was keen to follow the ‘no first attack’ policy, presumably under US pressure, though its claims of securing a ‘credible nuclear deterrence’ had already been deflated following government’s failure to stop Pakistan’s retaliatory nuke tests and its subsequent surreptitious moves in Kargil and adjoining areas.
This time I was not lucky enough to complete my interviews. As soon as I began interviewing RSS leaders at their headquarters, I got a call from my office ordering to me pack up and rush back. “Now I realize that you work for the CPM. Henceforth you won’t file any story without discussing it with me,’’ ordered my boss. Next week, he fired me on the ground of my ‘incompetence’.

I was really not a communist mole in the RSS den. The mainstream lefts never really opposed the nuclear arms race in the subcontinent. In fact, I did not find a single leader of Indian mainstream communists issuing a statement opposing the second series of Pokhran blasts in unequivocal terms. They joined some other anti- BJP parties in congratulating Indian nuclear establishment for their feats but criticised the BJP-led NDA government for the n-tests. Similarly, they were hardly serious in organising the public opinion against the war mongering by joining hands with anti-war forces at both sides of the border. Instead, they stuck to the Opposition dharma by pulling up the government for its failure to stop the Pakistan army’s surreptitious moves into Indian Kashmir. “We cannot risk political isolation by going against the tide, let the popular emotion subside,” a senior Left leader had commented in private.

Renegades in the army of patriotic journalists

It was not only my channel boss, a pro-government journalist, who found me lesser Indian. The capitulation of almost entire Indian liberal media along with almost the entire political class to the Hindu right-wing jingoism was evident. All sweet talk of civil society initiatives for people- to-people relations between India and Pakistan, all pangs of peace-loving doves and exponents of regional co-operation were suspended at both sides of the borders once the guns went galore. In this scenario, journalists too were engaged in outsmarting each other in the game of patriotism. “Brigadier Sab, bahot ho gaya. Aab Lahore par atom bomb gira do (Sir, enough is enough. It is high time to nuke Lahore),” said one of my peers at the sidelines of the army briefing during the Kargil war.
I tried to douse her flames of avenging zeal by reminding that Amritsar would also be scorched in case of Lahore being nuked. Nuclear fireballs and radioactive clouds would not bother to stop at the border. It only provoked a barrage of invectives from a group of fellow journalists, mostly from upcountry states. “You Bongs have a holier- than-thou attitude. You never know that what India needs to solve this nagging problem over Kashmir – a nuke bomb on Islamabad,” shouted one of them. It was not politically incorrect Bongs alone, but Biharis and Mallus or Sardars, for that matter, anybody considered ‘peaceniks’— faced same kind of innuendo from their hyper-patriotic superiors and colleagues.

When a group of us met the army public relation officials to expedite our turn for visiting the war theatre, a friendly official told three bearded guys like me to change our ‘Mullah look’ before leaving for Kargil. Taken aback, we wanted to know whether it was the part of any dress and appearance code mandatory for visiting journos. “You know, war has now reached a crucial stage. Uniformed men at both sides are fighting at positions which are often stone’s throw away from each other. They are engaged in exchange of dirty invectives including no-holds-bar religious hatred. This is a part of psychological warfare where extra shot of adrenaline is needed to keep ‘esprit de corps’ at freezing heights. You guys are looking like Mullahs and our boys may not like it,’’ the officer said.
As we argued that this kind of communal profiling of the ‘enemy’ was not befitting with the image of secular Indian army, we were shocked to learn the reaction of some of our colleagues. “Why the hell you guys are lecturing on secular niceties. We are fighting against Pakistan and Pakis are Muslims,’’ one of them said.
On another occasion, some of my friends drew flak from their superiors as they wrote about a young Pakistani army officer whose body was found close to Tiger Hill after Indian army recaptured the strategic height following a bloody battle. A letter was found in the wallet of the officer in which his wife requested him to take leave and come home to attend his toddling daughter’s birthday. “Tumhari Ladli guria rahe dekh rahi hai (your beloved little doll is waiting for you),’’ his wife had written to him. We heard it from an Indian army official and immediately lapped it up as a ‘good human story’. Some made it politically correct by attributing the death of the young officer and his family’s misfortune to the bloody misadventure launched by war-mongering generals and bigot politicians of Pakistan. Few others thought of lamenting on the tragic loss of young lives at the alter of avenging nationalism or wounded national pride across the battle-line. We have already witnessed and covered many such heart-wrenching last journeys of fallen Indian officers and jawans across the country. But that angle to story of the fallen Pakistani officer evoked derision within the fraternity, high and low. “You can’t equate the Ourbani of our martyrs and fallen dushmans. They attacked our land and paid the price. That’s all,’’ said one of the newspaper bosses while spiking the copy of a friend of mine.

The idea of India and nation-state’s perpetual war at its margin
I still remember the poignant scene that I had witnessed at Moirang in Manipur, close to Indo-Myanmar border, in early nineties. I was working for a Kolkata-based vernacular daily at that time. It was one of the war theatres in Indian North-East during Second World War where Indian National Army led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Japanese army combine breached the British defence at several places during their Kohima and Imphal campaign in 1944 that coincided to formation of provisional Indian government. INA unfurled the national tricolor in Moirang on their way to Imphal. An INA memorial museum now stands at Moirang with an imposing statue of Bose in front of it reminding the tragic battle that ended in heavy casualties and torturous retreat of the INA.
But the irony of history struck me when I found a heavily armed column of Indian army stationed opposite the memorial, to protect the statue and the museum from the militant secessionist attacks. As the INA veterans, gathered to commemorate the history, saluted the iconic statue of their former supreme commander with choked voices, tears rolled down from the wrinkled face of one of their Meitei comrades, Bir Nilmani Singh. I asked the frail, spectacled old warrior later about the tragedy of the tricolor which he and many of his Meitei, Naga and Kuki friends held high but now hated by a good section of their children or grandchildren. “Don’t ask me why our children now hate to be called Indians or consider tricolor as the symbol of their subjugation. Ask the leaders who rule from Delhi,’’ the Meitei elder said with an unmistakably anguished tone.
Recalling his fond memories of Bengali delicacies during his fugitive years as an Indian freedom fighter in different parts of Bengal, he took to me his ancestral home where INA said to have founded its brigade headquarters before being forced to retreat through Burmese and Malay jungles. In his accented Bengali, he insisted that Bose himself had come to his place. The old man who himself became a convert to the dream of legendary Manipuri communist leader Hijam Irabat Singh that envisaged an independent republic of Manipur  within an USSR-type India reminded me that the father of Naga freedom movement, Angami Phizo was also an INA veteran.

The disjunction between the Indian mainstream nationalism and the ‘sub-nationalisms’ at its periphery was more appalling when I visited Kangla palace at the heart of Manipur’s capital town, Imphal. Local journalist friends reminded me of the import of the place in the history and culture of the state as well as its link to the Indian epic Mahabharata and Vaisnavite movement in Bengal. Bhavrubahana, the offspring of the romance between the Manipuri princess Chitrangada and Arjuna, the wandering third Pandava of Mahabharata, is believed to be the mythological progenitor of Meitai royal family.  The cultural meaning of the romance between the Center and the margin of ancient Indian civilization, immortalised by Tagore in his dance-drama, Chitrangada, may be explained in terms of ‘Sanskritisation’ of North-east India. Kangla, being the temporal abode of Meitei serpent God as well as the home of the royal family with its mythological umbilical cord connected to mainstream India, is central to the Manipuri consciousness and identity. Social historians and culture theorists have underlined the political significance of the mythologies, metaphors and memories—the role of past in the making of present ‘self’, both collective and individual. Kangla is one of its best reminders in postcolonial India.
It was wedded to the history of Indian as well as Manipuri freedom struggle against the British imperialism. Manipuri prince Bir Tikendrajit Singh and his Naga minister general Thangal went to gallows in front of the palace after they had killed the British officials leading the raid of Manipur by Assam Rifles. The colonial army captured Kangla after a gory battle and turned it into a strategic garrison of Assam Rifles.

India attained freedom but Kangla continued to be the garrison of same Assam Rifles. The government of India refused to demilitarize Kangla despite popular local demands, on the ground of its strategic importance for the armed forces in their fight against secessionist insurgents. The central government officials rejected the local sentiments and movement to restore Kangla to the community as ultra-instigated. But this rejection only helped the secessionists who turned it into the rallying point for the campaign against Indian state and military. Kangla became the ‘epitome of Manipuri subjugation and Indian imperialism’ for new generations of Meitei who have been easily drawn to the movement for ethnic revivalism denying its mythological and historic relation with India.
As a result, Bengali script for Manipuri language, which was adopted during the heydays of Bengal’s influence on Manipuri court after the royal family had converted to Vaisnava cult of Sri Chiatanyadeva. I found many non-insurgents sympathetic to the ultra views. “ If Jorasanko Thakurbari (the ancestral house of Tagore’s family in north Kolkata and one of the cradle of Bengal renaissance) was turned into a garrison, what would have been the reaction of the Bengalis?” asked a student of Manipur university when I met the student leaders in search of the roots of secessionism and insurgency.

Immediately I recalled the question I had encountered in another ‘disputed territory’ with divided history. “I have read Tagore. But have you read Bhanubakht, the great Nepali poet,’’ a young teacher asked me in Darjeeling hills during the Gorkhaland agitation in late eighties. Neither the relevance of the historical analogy between Kangla and Thakurbari nor the comparative literary merit of Tagore and Bhanubakht are pertinent here. But the political import of cultural referral points in the construction of ethnic identity and the poignant role it plays in triggering the discontents against the state-sponsored discourse of Indian nationalism was unmistakable.
I tried to write on my understanding of Mairang and Kangla in the newspaper I was working for. But my bosses chided me for being ‘swayed by the insurgent propaganda’ and hacked my pieces making them ‘hard reporting copies with balanced views’. “More you listen to them, more you become sympathetic to their cause. Don’t waste your time and our space by writing on Naga, Mizo, Meiteis or Bodo history. Better you focus on Bengali issues since they are our readers. A career is waiting for you in Hindi heartland. So concentrate on mainstream journalism,’’ a well-meaning boss advised.

A few years later, the gruesome incident of rape and murder of young Manorama Thangjam by some army personnel in Manipur reminded me of the tears of Bir Nilmani Singh. As a professional journalist and an Indian, I felt ashamed of the nationalist silence that became the part of today’s newsroom consensus, imposed and instilled through carrot and stick policy of the institution and State together. The mainstream media’s silence on Monorama episode broke only after the images of the naked Meitei mothers protesting against the army atrocities shocked the world.

As the Imphal valley erupted in flames, the so-called national media started beaming the images from the volatile margin of the nation. National media maintained balance by focusing on the unrest and the spirals of blame-game. But it hardly endeavoured to investigate independently into the army’s role in the murder of Monorama and expose its denials. Neither had it taken the opportunity to highlight the plight of the civilians who had been caught in the crossfire between the ultras and security forces. Nor it probed into the impact of draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Power Act that had licensed the army to kill suspected militants and their supporters with all impunity. Even today who cares for Gandhian fight of Irom Sharmila Chanu who continues her fast demanding the withdrawal of AFSPA for a decade only to be interrupted by force-feeding by the government.

The stone-pelters and my friends from the Kashmir valley
I did not cover Kashmir as a journalist. Watching the young masked and unmasked stone-pelters on the streets of Kashmir valley and listening to their hate and anger-filled slogans against anything Indian, I think of the smiling faces of the Kashmiri Shawl and carpet-sellers of same age who used to descend like the angels from the heaven on earth during the short-lived Kolkata winter with their sack of colourful products slinging on their back.
Many of these boys and young men were so handsome and charmed the local girls so easily that it caused heartburn among us who had grown up under a fierce sun and sultry weather. Some of them became friends with us and maintained contacts until we lost track over the years. Now I wonder whether Bilal is still there in Sopore or Asfaque in Baramulla, both must be middle-aged now, as and when I read of a police firing or clash over funeral procession in those places.

We shared misgivings against governments, politicians over jobs, lack of business opportunities and corruption from Kashmir to Bengal as we grew up in early seventies. But we hardly spoke of religion and ethnic identities and their clashes. We were neither ‘Indians’ to Bilal and Asfaque even when we visited them later nor they were ungrateful separatists, lambs following the dictates of Pakistani fifth column or Laskar-suspects to us as the valley people are now considered by the mainland public perception. I wonder whether children of my yesteryears’ friends are among today’s stone-pelters facing the ‘Indian’ bullets and what have led them to imbibe a self-consciousness that is different from their fathers.

But as an anguished Indian, not in the sense of being part of the caricature of Westphalian notions of a nation-state, I need to fathom the sense of total alienation and hatred against India in the valley while critically factoring in all complexities of its troubled history and geography. I refuse to mortgage my Indian identity or professional creed to those who are justifying the military occupation-like situations for decades in troubled margins of the nation, be it in Kashmir valley or in the north east, and the killings of young men and women with impunity under the Armed Forces Special Power Act. All in the name of greater interests of Indian democracy, national security and sovereignty.
We have seen boys in uniforms have long been dispatched mainly from the Hindi heartland to pacify the prodigal ethno-religious communities at the rim of the nation-state or the rebellious fragments of the nation inside its heartland like tribals of central India. The margin’s refusal to accept the Centre’s straitjacket notions of nationhood and citizenship, tailored to suit the myopic visions of rulers of divided India, always met by state’s violence which in turn legitimised the secessionist and sectarian violence among a large section of local population.
We need to know what went wrong with the idea of India and Indianness from the perspective of those who refuse to call themselves Indians anymore. While doing so, we don’t need to condone the crimes of those who kill or terrorise the people of other communities or regions in the name of freedom or deny religious, ethnic, political and social plurality in the name of ethnic, community or nationality cohesion or the latest version of two-nation theory of SA Gilani.
But there is no denying of the painful fact that we, the fellow travelers among scribes belong to a minority in mainstream media, for that matter, in the larger public discourse as Arnab Goswamis (I still do not believe how an amiable, soft-spoken and well-measured colleague can morph into such an aggressive, hysterical xenophobe) have almost hegemonised the media scenario. In a sense, it’s a desperate, Quixotic battle to save the liberal tradition of Indian journalism that was endowed by our most enlightened, openhearted and non-statist strand of our nationalism. Rooted in the history of pluralist tolerance and inter-community, inter-region, inter-culture civilisational bonding, it was far more cementing than the blood-stained fetters of reigning paranoid and autocratic nation-state.

18 thoughts on “Reflections on the Bigots of Embedded Media: Biswajit Roy”

  1. “I still do not believe how an amiable, soft-spoken and well-measured colleague can morph into such an aggressive, hysterical xenophobe.”

    If you want to understand Arnab’s of the world, please study a few business management books for a change. Partha Chatterjee’s and Noam Chomsky’s are fine- but they have their obvious limitations.

    Arnab had a challenge after quitting NDTV. He had to establish the TOI’s business supremacy in electronic media space. He had a ruthless employer-TOI and a tough incumbent rival- NDTV. Along with it, another ambitious kid was making noise- CNN-IBN. NDTV was representing mainstream liberal chatterati. CNN-IBN have been more street-smart than NDTV but not much different in their brand positioning along the political spectrum. So there was an empty space- the space occupied by FOX in US- a space catering to the right-wing jingoistic section of the captive audience. And that’s a huge market, probably the biggest within the consumers of English Language media. So Times Now built their USP in a way to cater to this market. I tend to think that this is is a well-crafted business strategy by the TOI business team and Arnab is only the most visible accomplice. That’s always TOI’s mantra in post-Samir Jain era- package it, market it and beat your rivals hands down. Please read Ravi Dhariwal’s interview in The Outlook- they don’t think that selling newpaper is any different from selling soaps or selling condoms. Please note that the TOI in print edition is more nuanced than the electronic version because there’re already enough competitors jostling in that space.

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  2. BC, do you understand the word ‘understand’? Its one thing to understand that something is a fact, a piece of reality. And quite another to understand it ethically. What I find amazing is your ability to bend over backwards to ‘understand’ something conventional or mainstream in all its ‘nuances’, to use your word for the print edition of TOI. And your attendant refusal to make such an effort with something unconventional or anti-mainstream. What do business and management schools teach but the nuances of strategy, in an abstract and apparently amoral, extra-ethical universe. When in fact the morality exists, and it is business morality. And nothing you’ve said here – the post-Samir Jain era in TOI, equating soaps and newspapers, and the trajectory of Arnab’s descent into lunacy…is news to many of us. That doesn’t mean we understand it at an ethical level. Fact is, given the exact same conditions, many in Arnab’s position would turn out to be completely different individuals journalists. I know so many who have, and paid a price for it including the author of this piece, probably. That ’empty space’ that you claim was filled by Fox and Times Now didn’t just get created as a force of nature, as a cosmic law. It was put into place by deliberate human action.

    So thank you, I’ll stay with my Parthas and Chomskys, because I’m not ready to evacuate my moral universe by ‘understanding’ marketing styles in all their humdrum, boring, repetitive ‘nuances’.

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    1. I don’t understand why you need to be so vitriolic if someone dares to engage in an “amoral” fashion, or if someone tends to offer a perspective, which is “humdrum, boring, repetitive” to you. If studying multiple disciplines leads you to “evacuate your moral universe”, then the problem lies with that fragile universe itself. As eclecticism is obviously not your “understanding” of “understanding”, let’ not continue the conversation.

      But yes, I definitely prefer Paul Erdős’ “amoral” world of numbers to Luce Irigaray’s “moral” world where E=mc2 is a “sexed equation”

      (Disclaimer: examples cited here are “amoral” and there’s no need to understand to understand what Paul Erdős or Luce Irigaray stands for)

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    2. A small ‘moral” footnote: being a grandson of an editor to be charged with sedition and jailed by the British, I empathize with the moral imperative of opposing Fox-brand of journalism. But that in no way deters me to look at it from multiple perspectives- moral, amoral and immoral. And I’ sure my grandpa wouldn’t have objected because the moral universe of early 20th century India was much more robust.

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  3. Very nice piece. Although the first thing that a student of journalism learns at the journalism school is to be objective, i.e. not to favour any party while presenting a news report; journalists all over the world have a problem being so. Either one should scrap this idea of ‘objectivity’ from journalism as it is obvious that anyone who speaks or writes only enounces a certain a point of view which he or she strongly believes, or sincerely make an effort to make a balanced point of view taking into account the what all parties have to say. The latter, in today’s age is diifficult , considering that the media has become nothing but a medium of venting out one’s personal frustrations and biases.

    In the USA, there is a culture of hate radios, wherein any individual trained to be a radio journalist can launch a series of accusations against an public figure they don’t like on the radio. But considering the diversity of the population in USA, I wonder how much these radios actually facilitate the spread of ‘hate’. But if a similar culture existed in India, by now the whole of the country would be at war with each other.

    Journalism is not just strategy, but also human beings, minds, emotions and I don’t think, as BC said management and strategy books should have much of a say there. I mean, look at the “strategy” that the media launched in the wake of Arundhati Roy’s comments, they published only a morsel of what Roy whipping up anger and protest against her.

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    1. Yes EM, I completely agree that management and strategy books should not have much of say. But what I wrote about is the “is” part, and not the “should” part. But it seems there are people who are more interested in protecting their surf-white moral universe than identifying the roots of the malaise. Best of luck to them!

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  4. Dear Biswajit,
    I enjoyed your nicely written article.
    About Arnab Goswami: Although,i am not a psychologist who can read mind and body language of people but i feel that Goswami has gone into wrong profession. Had he opted to go to hollywood or bollywood he would have become more famous. He seems to me a natural actor. He charges the atmosphere in his news room according to situation. Anything against india,you will find he makes his face stiff and utter words in high pitch. Then he tries to make his emotions evident as if he is the only ‘DESHBAKHT’ in this country. In fact,he knows indian public like to listen this anti-india news like that.

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  5. BC, for all the gloss you are putting on it, in your first comment you offered a superb example of what Herbert Marcuse way back in 1961 called the ‘real is rational’ school of thinking. It takes real effort and considerable sacrifice to protect any moral universe, surf-white or rin-white. I think the author of this piece was pointing to those sacrifices and choices. Your condescension towards the author of this piece in fact implies a real slippage between ‘is’ and ‘should’. By the way, moral universes are always fragile, not because of their internal construction, but because its just easier to be eclectic and relativistic, not to mention instrumental, for many people.

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  6. Regarding Arundhati Roy :

    Arundhati Roy’s freedom of speech doesn’t protect her from the views of others who disagree with her . She has the right to say what she wants and others have the same freedom to criticize her for it. That does not make her any sort of martyr.

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  7. I really didn’t mean it to be an Arnab-specific discussion but mentioned his name as the representative of xenophobic journalism. For BC, I admit the reality and agree that today there is huge institutional pressure. The new marketing strategies of media empires have become unquestionable as the post-Samir Jain TOI, for that matter, almost all of the mainstream media barons and their newsroom apparatchiki are rigorously imposing it on subordinate journalists. The latest Outlook issue on media’s crisis, rather the crisis of Indian journalism in the age of so-called market-driven, management-controlled infotainment business as my former colleague Sumir Lal pointed out, delved into the aspects of it critically. But I tried to focus less on the macro media political economy and more on the reigning regime of moral-ethical conformity and its political-ideological underpinnings that journalists are either accepting forcibly or imbibing voluntarily. Yes, I know that the ethical choice is minimal as for most of the media foot soldiers’ survival is at stake. But as Sunalini has pointed out, there is still a choice for us, which many of us decided to foreclose in the name of ground reality, worse, under the guise of new-age professionalism. True, there were always the conformists, self-seekers, sycophants among our predecessors while courageous editors and journalists withstood the pressure both from the governments and management. But never before ethical-moral values/norms of free journalism were under such vicious attacks from within, by the upwardly mobile generals in newsrooms or studios who preside over the daily war of news-gathering, selection, treatment and packaging. Gone are days when the conformists cited the compulsions imposed by an omnipotent and omnipresent ‘system’ for the compromises they made. The new-age newsroom bosses mostly internalised the system, its values and priorities and called it professionalism. I have very doubts whether they are ideological converts to the reigning ‘system’s cause’, though some of them feign to be zealots for the cause of national security, top-down development and industrialisation, market fundamentalism and consumer revolution. Most of them are cynical, care a damn for any cause– right-wing, left-wing or centrist– except their own career and all social-financial frills that come with increasing stakes in the intricately linked power games inside media empires and elite political circle outside, regional or national.
    I can give an example of the growing tribe of such system-insider journalists. I had approached for a job in a pink daily and met its mid-level bosses some of whom I knew for years. The discussion veered around the news and debate on the toxic materials found in Cola drinks in those days. The regional boss said that the media should train its guns on the government for its failure to provide safe drinking water to rural areas before criticising the Cola giants for their callousness and follies. I argued that the issues involved are not mutually exclusive. Media should not condone the Cola crimes on the ground of government’s failure. Citing segment-specific marketing strategies, I said upmarket dailies should rather focus more on Cola crimes because our upper middle class readers, particularly their school-going children have become the obsessive consumers of contaminated fizzy drinks while they are provided with reasonably safe water at home. This discussion obviously ended in larger debates about corporate interests and media. Some days later, I was informed that I missed the job because of my ‘attitude’ to corporate interests. I said, I needed the job badly and would try my best to accommodate their ‘attitude’. But the boss maintained that they would recruit not only those professionals who would not only write according to their ‘attitude’ but also believe in it. ” Otherwise the tension between yours and ours will be reflected in the copies,” he said.
    Going by the trend, the number of these new age organic professionals in the journalistic hierarchy has increased phenomenally in the last decade or so. They can trample even elementary, fundamentals of journalism without a blink of eyes. One of my examples involved a page sub-editor of another English newspaper. My paper has been rooting for Tata’s cause while holding high the banner of corporate ’eminent domain’ in support of the government’s forcible takeover of farmers’ land in Singur. Mamata Banerjee was then staging a prolonged dharna and hunger strike at the heart of Kolkata. My boss told me do a mood copy on her and the people came to see her. I filed the copy with the tenor that though many did support industrialisation and wanted tata motor’s factory at Singur, the vox populi sympathised with Mamata for taking up farmers’ cause and felt government should come out with amicable solution and end her hunger strike. The mood of the visiting women across the class and language-barrier was pro-Mamata, I mentioned. My boss was not happy with the copy. He told me to make it ‘more balanced’ which actually meant to be more anti-Mamata as he found ‘too much pro-Mamata sentiment’. As I said anti-Mamata population was not likely to converge at her dharna place, he dismissed me and handed over the copy to the sub. Next morning I found, aspiring and enterprising sub inserted a phoney man in the copy who had visited Mamata with his child. He was quoted as saying that he came to show a Jurassic politician who was bent on thwarting the state’s development. When I protested against this outright lie, the most unethical spin-doctoring of a reporter’s copy, the sub ignored me while my bosses made it clear they would not take my ‘penchants for arguments and debates kindly. For them, the editorial line/slant have always to be understood and never discussed. True professionals do not invite trouble for themselves and others by questioning the received wisdom and breaking the newsroom consensus. They made an unprofessional out of me in subsequent time.

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  8. Thank you Biswajit for this excellent piece. I think you have shown us what it means to be honest and reflective on one’s own practice. I wish that many more journalists have the courage to talk about their work as you do. Thanks again, and please do keep writing here,

    Shuddha

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  9. Dear Biswajit,

    Some of the tendencies pointed by you are not new. The tendency to defer to the Indian state is not new. During the Emergency, the press with a few exceptions, was mostly pliant — to the extent that L. K. Advani famously said “You were asked to bend but you crawled.” In general, the press has been loath to question the Indian state when “national interest” has been perceived to be at stake.

    Jingoism again is hardly new. Pratap Bhanu Mehta makes the interesting claim that the Indian press, to some extent, was actually responsible for the 1962 war. In particular, he claims that the Chinese read the belligerence in the Indian press (“Drive out the Chinese” and so on) as reflective of the actual intentions of the Indian leadership and this was what lead to the war. I don’t know whether this is right but the point is that jingoism in the Indian press is hardly new.

    Note that even now, the press with a few exceptions has been reluctant to take a detached look at the 1962 disaster and in particular question our role in that episode. The Chinese are guilty, of course, and we are totally innocent. It doesn’t seem to bother our press that few independent observers buy our official version of events.

    The changes since 1991 may have exacerbated the tendencies already present but I doubt they added anything new. I am sure that distorting facts and so on were there even in the pre-1991 era though I can’t point to examples. (There is a PhD topic waiting here for anyone interested!)

    At any rate, thanks for your personal testimony.

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  10. Poverty and the way the state manages things in this country is the root cause behind this jingoistic and double faced journalism of the mainstream media. Most journalists are paid employees who have to cater to the interests of their bosses. Now he would not write anything that goes against the interest of his employer who in turn has to go by the administration of the land. The license permit system applies to printing press also. The govt. has the power to crackdown on anything which it perceives as being anti itself. There fore a form of censorship operates such that the owner/ publisher can be adversely affected economically and in other ways if it goes against the grain. So the journalist being a rational economic man plays it safe and does not do any stories which go against the norms.
    One can find relatively independent views in the international media which however can be controlled by the administration.

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  11. Thanks Suddha for encouraging me and Suresh for reminding that there was a history of cowering, crawling before the regimes and voluntary internalisation of state’s lies and prejudices that run parallel to the tradition of resistance in Indian media.
    May be my critical reflection, as an insider, offers nothing new except an online catharsis. The journalists of earlier generation used to do it at press club bars over a few drinks which today’s scribes consider middle class guilt and left-wing hangover, no more fashionable for today’s upwardly mobile globalised milieu.
    Given the fact that celebrities among Indian journalists of yesteryears mostly chose to write memoirs to remind their proximity to the powerful politicians, prime ministers etc and bask under the afterglow of their personal successes rather than delving into trials and tribulations of the profession itself, the task of occasional introspection is left to the marginals of the mainstream who are caught between two generations and two worlds.
    Some of us fondly remember the post-emergency crops led by Shouries and Akbars whom Kushwant Singh called typewriter guerillas. But we are also painfully aware of the demystification of those guerillas who like most of the guerillas of the world, later turned into establishment men serving the cause of one regime or another.
    Like every other profession, oldies like us sometimes feel provoked to write the requiem for the lost idealism and innocence even if we partly experienced it individually and partly inherited it as collective beliefs. But it would be an unhistorical, subjective exercise and worst kind of self-gratification, self-proclaimed martyrdom at the expense of many of today’s scribes who are still taking great personal risks while performing their professional jobs at conflict zones and even in ‘normal’ situations.
    Also it will be an undermining of the truth that all idealism is rooted into prevailing ideologies, world-views, dreams and can’t survive, at least at popular level, without a supportive political culture and social milieu. Without risking any sweeping generalisation, we can say that the nationalist and leftist, broadly socialist, egalitarian journalism were products of anti-imperialist freedom struggle and to the lesser extent, anti-feudal, anti-caste oppression social awakening.
    The emerging idea of India, the mismatches between the dominant discourse of the nation-state-in-making and the counter-narratives by the nation’s fragments in the heartland and recalcitrant communities at the margins notwithstanding, engrossed the post-colonial journalist who largely conceived his role as a nation-builder, a bridge between the rulers and the ruled.
    The left’s class and mass struggle was subservient to the great cause as they hardly questioned the contours of the imagined nation and its state structure after wobbling over the relation between two for a brief period. They criticised the ruling regimes half-heartedly for not being pro-people enough and concentrated on getting their share of power first by riding high on popular discontent against the original rulers in their support bases outside the heartland. They cling to power by lobbing for concessions for their fiefdoms and sleeping with the lesser enemy to keep the greater enemies at bay.
    The left-leaning journalists who considered them as the crusaders for hoi polloi sustained themselves as anti-establishment, different from nationalist nation-builders turned self-seekers and power-mongers, as long as they didn’t became part of the left establishment, the new set of rulers
    Both nationalist and socialist ideo-political discourses and their corresponding idealism, cultural ambience got punctured over the decades. The hiatus between the nation-building project and supportive media practitioners was almost complete with the imposition of emergency as we witnessed the end of handout journalism and emergence of investigative journalism. End of cold war, demise of Soviet Union and more the mass experience of degeneration of left rule not only demystified Left idealism but also made the contemporary generations of journalists completely disillusioned.
    The post-globalisation paradigm shifts in global as well as national politics and economy, the triumphant roar of the conquering Market the god and thumping of his breast over the end of history and ideology hugely added to the growing cynicism and fatalism.
    The new-age carrot and stick policy, the ‘perform or perish’ regime in the form of short-term contract jobs, annual appraisals, retrenchment without notice as well as better pay-packets with fabulous perks and frills, scope for becoming instant celebrity, better exposure to the world of A-listers, corresponding social mobility and power led to new fears and dreams.
    Together, they smoothened the conversion of not only the gullible youth but also many a hard-nut idealists of the yesteryears. Some of my contemporaries have turned into split personalities– conforming to the demands of the media barons and subordinate hierarchy at workplace while keeping ideals, both political and professional, ‘in tact’ at home, in ‘personal realm’—to find peace of mind.
    “There cannot be distinctly separate professional ideals. We are like football players. We play for the teams who have hired us and change loyalties with the change of jersey,’’ said one of my well-meaning colleagues recently. It hardly matters whether the game has some internationally recognised rules irrespective of teams and players too need to follow them or risk expulsion and ignominy.
    But yet sometimes the ‘peace’ is shattered when the reality hits back in different way. At the height of spirals of violence in Nandigram, attack on journalists by the supporters of the warring political camps was such an occasion. The attacks followed the pattern of political polarisation of Bengal media as both the CPM and the Opposition-led Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee accused the ‘enemy’ media of catering falsehood and instigation for more violence while welcoming and helping the reporters and crews from ‘friendly, unbiased’ media in the troubled zone. Worse, the journalists in Kolkata were divided virtually along the political division and failed to oppose all the attacks unequivocally.
    Researching for our book, ‘Nandigram and media, between the battleline’ my colleague Nilanjan Dutta and myself held a survey among the journalists, mostly Kolkata-based, who had covered Nandigram. Our journalist respondents mostly agreed that a good section of local media, both TV and print had covered the violence in partisan manner and instigated further bloodshed by irresponsible sensationalism, if not by deliberate planting of false stories every time.
    They also shared their worries about the loss of media’s credibility as well as media professionals’ security and social acceptability that helped the attackers to justify their crimes. They shared their dilemmas over new professionalism that wanted them to file stories or pick up stories in tune with the employer’s politics. Some said they had filed balanced and objective stories but their copies were deliberately changed or sexed up at the office end. But most of them claimed their own house or they themselves never took a biased position unlike many other competitors.
    Interestingly, later many of these colleagues personally confessed to me in private that they could not afford to be ‘frank and honest’ on their perception about their individual house’s impartiality. Clearly they chose to politically correct in while replying to our questionnaire in writing, as they feared backlash from their bosses.
    This fear, despite our categorical assurance that we would not divulge our respondents’ identities in our book, was telling. It reminds us the almost total lack of democratic space within the media houses as well as in professional forums of journalists, mostly dominated either by the apologists for media barons or political loyalists of different camps.
    Nevertheless, I still look for a silver lining. As Orwell, himself a journalist had once said that a journalist’s ‘emotional attitude’ which actually reflected his world-view as well as the clash between his own class location and media baron’s interests would determine his moral-ethical positions including their swings.
    The lures of upward mobility notwithstanding, majority of us who mostly belonging to middle class, not likely to secure our berths in the post-globalisation paradise. The underdogs, the leftovers would have to negotiate with the other aspects of our professional reality that include increasing insecurity inside the media and outside as well as loss of public credibility and social recognition, both personal and collective. Hope lies in the individual and collective sense of loss and understanding of the challenges we face from within.

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  12. One thing that journalists can do is to reject the “patronage” that the government gives them. If I remember rightly, the wages for journalists are fixed with the help of the government. (I believe there is something called Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act, 1958). Some government quarters are reserved for journalists. I also remember noting that journalists have a sort of quota in the matter of Railway reservations. Probably many others too. While the freeing of the economy may have rendered some forms of patronage redundant (the queues for telephones have disappeared, for instance), others are still there.

    What this patronage does to the independence of journalists is a question well worth asking but I am not aware of any such analysis. As I said, I would like journalists to free themselves of such patronage but I am doubtful of that happening.

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  13. In my last post over the trajectory of ideals and ideologies in India media, I forgot to mention the communalisation of a large section of rank and file journalists before and after Babri demolition, particularly in vernacular heartland. The saffronisation largely filled up the intellectual-ethical void created by the botched-up liberal, secular nation-building project and the lost appeals of egalitarian left-socialist ideals.
    The Hindutva ideology won hearts and minds of many journalists because its anti-minority sectarian nationalism and reactionary social views could be dovetailed into the statist, hegemonic national pride and jingoist and paranoid patriotism. The history of Indo-Pakistan wars and proxy wars over Kashmir, rise in Pak-sponsored terrorist attacks, an increasing influence of Talibani Islam in the subcontinent and post9/11 paradigm shifts in Western/American geopolitical game— all contributed in developing a mindset obsessed with national security, both external and internal.
    It manufactured the consent, both in the media and outside, to see Kashmiries and Muslims in rest of India through Pakistan-specific prism, suspect them as a fifth column responsible for a siege within, justify human rights violations and majoritarian conditionalities on minorities to be called ‘good Indians’.
    Given the synergy with West’s Islamophobia and US-run global war on terror, it shaped the myopic world-view of a generation of journalists who condoned the killings of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan (and by extension, in Kashmir) as collateral damage.
    Increasingly identified with the American agenda, ‘imperialism’ has become a hackneyed word for them. So news about any protest against it has to be suppressed as orthodox left and Islamic hate-campaign.
    At another level, the constant fragmentation of the Sangh-constructed Hindu self in the wake of increasing bargaining power of Dalits and backwards, cacophoney of self-proclaimed messiahs and refusal of masses to confer sole agency to any aspirant can only be checkmated by constantly harping on the historical Other and larger danger to the nation-state.
    The upper caste Hindu-speaking Hindu, the educated north Indian male, though not exclusively at all, found a higher moral grounding in this harmonising mission.
    This Hindutva-induced world-view that promotes an avenging Ram at home and supports a retributive Sam beyond our border perfectly gels with the agenda of the governments and media barons in the wake of economic globalisation.
    The heady cocktail has intoxicated a large section of the journalists, partly because this new grand narrative helps to boil down the chaos of the news at home and around the world, thus simplified the politics of editing and packaging. Partly because, it narrowed down the ideological tension in the newsroom and corresponding ethical-moral dilemmas at personal level.

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  14. Any movement in the 20th and 21st century should be striving for more democracy, freedom, pluralism and openness, than the entity against which it is struggling. This is what makes the Kashmiri, Khalistani, Naga and Manipuri movements so obnoxious and repellent. There is no vision of a more free, democratic society. They are just reactive and reactionary, denying the whole concept of India and Indianness, with the idea of promoting their own narrow, bigoted, parochial ethno-religious agenda.

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  15. To the poster who referred to the Sino-Indian war of 1962, it’s one thing to question some of the Indian positions on that conflict; quite another to imply that the Chinese were in the right. For example, did a single Tibetan come out on China’s side during that war? Surely, if India was in the wrong, that ‘wrong” would have been felt most by the Tibetans, not by the Chinese CCP or Red Army, or ethnic Han bureaucrats claiming Tibet to be a part of China. What were the Chinese doing so far west, touching the Indian borderlands? Could Chinese expansionism in this region have had something to do with the Indian forward policy, which is what the anti-India commentators usually cite as the provocation that caused China to attack. What about the Chinese provocation that caused the Indian forward policy in the first place!

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