Category Archives: Media politics

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Sometimes only a good old cliché can capture the essence of certain things.

How many times in the past few years, while watching television have we wanted to strangle the anchor (“aap ke saath itna na-insaafi hui hai, aapko is waqt kaisa lag raha hai” or “There has been a gruesome terrorist attack at the IISC in Bangalore, dont go away, we will return to the story immediately after out reporter updates you on Aamir Khan’s wedding which is taking place in the same city). And yet while watching what is perhaps the closest televised strangling of a reporter, it was with a strange sense of pleasure and fear.

The interview that I am referring to is Sagarika Ghose’s of Ram Jethmalani on his decision to defend Manu Sharma. Here is a small sampling

Sagarika Ghose: But as a criminal lawyer, don’t you believe there is a lakshman rekha that even all criminal lawyers have to work under?

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry. Please don’t talk of this bullshit to me. I know what my lakshman rekha’s are. I have read my rules of the conduct of a lawyer. It will be the saddest day when a lawyer refuses to stand between the state and the final verdict.

Ram Jethmalani: I have told you it’s none of your business—the courts will decide. And for God’s sake, stop becoming judges and Gods. You are over stepping the limits of your duty

Sagarika Ghose: But why don’t you search your own conscience. A young girl was shot in the presence of a hundred people.

Ram Jethmalani: I am searching my own conscience. All this bullshit won’t convince me at all. My conscience is mine and you are not responsible for it. And I don’t sell my conscience either to you or to anybody else nor will I change my professional etiquette because some chit of a girl comes and tells me that something is wrong.

An absolute demolition and indictment of the media, if ever there was one. I guess the fact that the case deals with Manu Sharma of the Jessica Lal case makes us all a little less enthusiastic about this slap in the media’ s face.

But what is really scary however in the interview is the way that the devil of the day-a lustful and loathsome corporate media is pitted against its other- the Courts, the sea of wisdom in which the rule of law sails. So the illegitimacy of the media happens only via the further strengthening of judicial sovereignty; For Jethmalani, the battle for the truth is a battle between the media and the judiciary. Someone has rightly said it is almost impossible to think of battles in the contemporary without being bewildered about where lines are drawn, and what they mean. Stewart Motha for instance accurately describes the battle between Islam and Democracy as a battle between two monotheisms. In India, the battle between the judiciary and the media for the truth takes place at the site of citizenship and the casualties of this battle and its lies are borne by the denizen.

So on the one hand, we have Sagarika Ghosh (self righteous indignance dripping with every syllable) asking “Why me? I am just a voice of the people” and on the other we have Jethmalani’s tirade “You don’t know the rule of the law, you don’t know democracy; you don’t know anything”.

Those who neither have any Faustian contracts, nor can swim very well are in a lot of trouble.

Watchdogs of Another Kind?

Media is presented as a ‘watchdog of democracy’ in today’s times.

But it was really shocking to see a story on IBN 7 ( Friday, 3 rd Nov 2006 around 3-4 p.m.) which rather communicated that in today’s Corporatized times it is metamorphosing into ‘Watchdog against Democracy’. It is time that friends also know about the manner in which media is appealing (instigating would be a better word) to the powers that be that ‘too much’ democracy will be a disaster.

Punjab as everybody knows has a rich tradition of cultural festivals/ gatherings where people/groups from all over the state come together and hold day long/ nightlong programmes where dramas are staged, action songs are staged, book exhibition is organised etc. Anyone who has attended these programmes can come back replenished with energy. One such cultural festival is held in memory of the Ghadarite martyrs which is called ‘Gadari baba ka Mela’.

I do not remember exactly how it was framed but the IBN story did focus on the recently held festival in memory of these martyrs only. Interestingly, the aim of the story was not to give details of the Mela or the rich tradition which is still alive in Punjab but rather to caution the government about the literature/CDs being sold. It also interviewed one of the activists who was managing the stall. Thereafter, the unbelieving presenter proceeded to ask ” How can one allow public distribution of such literature/CDs which help arouse the masses against the state”. There was even a small byte with the local SSP also where the presenter/reporter asked him “How can you allow such things to happen in your vicinity”. The hardened Policeman was cool enough and just said we will enquire.

Exiles from the Republic of Numbers

I was watching news television a few nights ago – it was a programme on the Afzal death penalty. As the CNN-IBN anchor aggressively postured on screen, the viewers were invited to SMS their vote on the hanging, which was updated constantly on screen. This seemed the most natural thing to do – people are asked to vote instantly on TV contests, social issues, sports etc. Telephone companies make massive profits in this system, which is shared with TV networks. That seems obvious. There is another story here, behind the obscenity of like sending in your votes on the issue of the death penalty. Never mind that many of these polls in news television are often carefully staged, a friend of mine who works at a network told me that when ‘voting’ is low, staffers are asked to reach for their phones or call their friends… Continue reading Exiles from the Republic of Numbers

Azad Media ki Ajeeb Dastaan

Strange tales of the independent media

Tale #1

Recently, after endless rants against the NBA our favourite paper, The Indian Express, finally gave some space to Medha Patkar to set the record straight (November 4 2006). Her blunt and effective challenge to Indian Express common-sense concluded with some record-straightening by the Express Kolkata office.

The supposed response from the newspaper to Medha’s pointed questions, consists SOLELY of information from government sources: “according to the Addl District Magistrate”; “We have verified this from Singur’s block development officer”; and “land compensation rates reported by us are all official figures.” The best part is where they triumphantly say – the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is the law of the land, much though Ms Patkar may view it as a one-sided process.

Hello – have you missed the point? She and thousands of others all over the country, insist it is an anti-democratic and draconian law and it must be radically changed. So you simply reiterate that it is the law of the land? THIS is a debate? Here are some other Laws of the Land: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that keeps the North-East under the military jack boot; Section 377 that says if you have sex that the judge thinks is against the order of nature, you’re a criminal; rape laws that say it is not rape but a much lesser crime if someone shoves a finger up an infant’s vagina…

Who ARE these people who get hired to write this stuff? They’d fail a decent BA degree.

Continue reading Azad Media ki Ajeeb Dastaan

Dam the Media – Give Them Land in New Harsud!

Before the ‘Battle for Truth’, Reveal Your Assets, Honourable Men and Women of the Media

Today’s Indian Express carries Medha Patkar’s response to a long continuing rant by the paper on a series of issues ranging from compensation for the displaced of Narmada valley to the whole issue of SEZs. She has thrown the gauntlet – a challenge to the newspaper to join her in a ‘Battle for Truth’. The Express has of course joined it right away in the most unbecoming way that has by now become a hallmark of its ranting style: It barely lets Medha conclude and puts in a rejoinder from its “Kolkata Bureau” – they could barely wait for her to finish and if the form did not impose the limitations, one could imagine them jumping up and down and shouting her down, booing her in the middle of her speech…

So gentlemen and women of the media, before you really join the Battle for Truth, the time has come for you, especially senior media persons – Editors and senior Commentators, the custodians of public opinion (or Truth, should we say?) – to declare your assets and their sources. You have been very vociferous about maintaining public standards and have campaigned tirelessly to see that politicians are forced to declare their incomes. Since the functions that you honourable people perform are no less public – you too must lay yourself open to public scrutiny. When the CEO of Xphatic or some secretary-general of a Corporate Association or a Chamber of Commerce writes, we know exactly where they speak from and for whom. But when “journalists”, “Editors” and political commentators  – in this and other papers and news channels – write or talk, they supposedly talk from the “objective” position of truth. Everybody in the trade of course knows that there are crores of rupees of ill-begotten wealth circulating in the media that shapes the Truth. The defence campaign of the takeover of farmers’ land for a leading corporation by most of the English media is not unrelated to the circulation of this strange thing. This is not an insinuation against any specific person/s but surely a declaration of assets should become the voluntary practice of all those who desire and fight tirelessly for probity in public life. What say you gentlemen and gentlewomen?

But what of those really innocent ones who may not be otherwise part of corrupt corporate power nexuses? Their naïveté  is so truly astonishing that it would make you gasp. These really innocent ones are products of the New Age who have taken in the new theology hook, line and sinker. Immediately after deaths in police firing on protests against takeover of tribal land in Kalinganagar by the government for a private company, a well known TV journalist demanded of the hapless tribals  – “But why are you against industrialization?” Holy shit! You are against Industrialization! Next you will turn against your own Self – Don’t you see that it is the messiah who has come to redeem you and deliver you from your hellish existence! One can hardly respond to such innocence except by saying Dam the Media for starters – and give them – all the displaced journalists some Cash Compensation. Oops! That is one thing they are not short of – How about some land in barren New Harsud town.