Uncertainty, Ambiguity and the Media Response to Efforts to Secure a Commutation of the Death Penalty for Mohammad Afzal Guru and An Enquiry into the Events of December 13
Shuddhabrata Sengupta, January 1, 2007 (posted earlier on the Sarai-Reader List)
‘Now is the Winter of Our Discontent made Summer by the Pleasing Light of Television’
At the beginning of each new year, it is customary to take stock of what has happened in the last 365 days, and reflect on options for the future. I don’t want to speak for the entire year (let’s leave the year end newspaper and magazine supplements and the TV round-ups to do that). But I do want to look at this bleak now, the ongoing “winter of our discontent”, especially as it has played out on that hallowed and late, lamented entity called the ‘middle ground’.
This ‘middle ground’ is a territory currently under the occupation of large bastions of the mainstream media in India. It was on the parched soil of the ‘middle ground’ that the beast called public opinion was so eagerly sought to be beaten into shape (or pulp, depending on your point of view) in a daily gladiatorial during the course of the last few months. While this has always been the case, it did come into especially sharp focus ever since the question of the execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru came back on to what is sometimes called the ‘national agenda’ in late September – early October 2006. What began during our brief autumn rapidly gathered momentum as winter set in.
The thick fog that descends on Delhi with the onset of deep winter is a time where plots are laid ‘in deadly hate’, and ‘dangerous inductions, drunken prophecies, libels and dreams’ are aired by means of strategems that have every reason to be called ‘subtle, false, and treacherous’. Had William Shakespeare been writing a draft of Richard the Third in Delhi during an early twenty first century winter, he might have set the bleak iambs of the opening soliloquy in a television studio, and made the actor speaking them wear the pressed suits of a certain variety of senior journalist or news anchor, or the uniform or distinguished plain-clothes attire usually to be found adorning the person of an operative of the special cell of the Delhi police, or the Intelligence Bureau. Perhaps there might even be some actors who could essay both roles (a certain kind of journalist and intelligence operative) with practised ease, because there is so little left nowadays, to distinguish between the two functions. Call it what you will, embodied intelligence, or embedded journalism.