What a Nation should know
One of the major sites of collateral damage in the unending war on terror has been the media landscape. The impact of this is not only visible in our country, but also in media organisations across the world. One of the major reasons for the serious bruising that the media fraternity has taken is because of the belligerent attitude of right wing political parties, backed by security forces, and their relentless zeal to control narratives of violence. This nexus is being used to redefine nationalism and the ‘ideal’ conduct of citizens. In simple terms, what that means is that despite societies’ being democracies in name, dissenting views have little place in the national discourse. Increasingly, religious communities and countries are being painted in monochromatic hues determined by the security establishment. Many media professionals have revealed how they are subjected to enormous pressure by government agencies to disseminate the official view of events rather than question it. This unrelenting pressure to fall in line, as we might expect, is causing a major existential crisis for the media in democratic societies. How can the media always agree with the government version of any incident or happening? Not too long ago there existed the freedom to engage in media investigation, to ferret out the truth, but now such activities are perceived as ‘anti-national’ activities.
This issue has become the subject matter of a raging debate in the Indian media since the noisy anchor of a TV news channel, who deludes himself in his belief that he represents the entire national media, had the temerity to demand a trial against those whom he said were ‘pro-Pakistan’ journalists. To simple minds this demand from the boorish and overbearing anchor makes complete sense, as they could always ask: how dare a journalist be pro-Pakistan! Those who believe in the inflammatory rhetoric of this anchor do not understand that the branding of any journalist by government agencies as ‘anti-national’ could easily take place if he or she asked inconvenient questions either of the army or government. This is the kind of McCarthyism that can destroy the integrity of entire newsrooms. These days even ‘liking’ a subversive Facebook post could land a person behind bars. Such draconian responses have major implications for a democracy that is underpinned by fragile institutions, which can instantly crumble under the onslaught of nationalist forces. In these circumstances, where is the scope for objectivity, when the high tide of nationalism, choreographed by the ruling elite and the security establishment, is sweeping all other points of views aside? No one is really asking the tough questions: why are so many policemen getting killed in Maoist areas, either as casualties of roadside bombs or as part of some pre-planned ambush? What about the dubious quality of the intelligence that determines where our young policemen should be deployed? Also, what about the corrupt nexus between politicians and extremists that sustains this violence? So many journalists have either been arrested or chased out for asking tough questions of police forces. This dangerous liaison between security forces and right wing political parties is smothering any contrarian views, and all in the name of national security. So aggressive has this nexus become, that it chases down civil society organizations, student leaders and even landlords who dare to rent out flats to individuals whom they consider ‘inconvenient’.
Again, it would have been easy to nip major trouble in the bud if there had been an independent and credible media investigation into the many violent happenings in the Kashmir valley. Just imagine how Kashmiris would have dealt with the recent alleged rape in the valley if credible media outlets were allowed to probe or report on it. What were encouraged instead were vitriolic slanging matches on TV, which don’t quite qualify as journalism. These hyperbolic TV shows hurt the cause of the free media as they extoll undemocratic means to fight terror. Until terror hit the US and Europe, these channels and journalists, suffering from a serious inferiority complex, were praising western police forces for acting against terror. They never saw any wisdom in our country being a soft state and allowing freedom of expression. The desire of some media practitioners to see India become a hard state will not just hurt our democratic and plural character, but also our independent media. Don’t they know this?