Idiots’ BOX!

article

If a TV editor says that his choice of that evening’s major debating point is what has gained maximum currency on social media during the day, it shows the levels of ignorance among the present crop of high-flier anchors-editors

NK Singh

NK Singh

The author has been 39 years in profession with various newspapers National Herald, The Pioneer and the Newstime, and later in news channels. He had remained general secretary of a self regulatory apex body of editors of all national news channels for nine years

Democracy thrives on four fundamental principles: majority rule, recognition of minority rights, constitutional government, and, last but not the least, government by discussion. Electing government through periodic elections is not like awarding taxi-stand contract for a definite time. Had it been so, a government might as well have argued: “We have been elected for five years and nobody, much less any group or institution of the people, can question us during that period.” Under the principle of government by discussion, the conduct of an elected government is analysed, public opinion is built and, through that power of public opinion, it is forced to go for course correction. It is under this stock principle that an independent media becomes sine qua non for the success of democracy. It is the media that creates a market place for competing ideas in public sphere. A recent example of influence of public opinion is the wilting of an otherwise strong Modi government on GST rates,

The importance of this principle was well recognised by American Constitution makers 226 years ago by introducing the First Amendment (within four years of its inception) that gave the press unalterable freedom. Conversely, in India the first amendment (to Art 19 (2) that was introduced after barely 15 months of working of the Constitution, imposed three more restrictions, besides four enshrined originally, on freedom of expression. However, as a resolute and robust institution, the Indian media held forth, notwithstanding many hiccups and poor content delivery.

Self Denigration

Ten years ago,the editors of top news channels huddled together to decide on what next to do on the face of the then Manmohan Singh government’s impending draft proposal to shackle media into submission. They also realised that any democratically elected government can show this kind of temerity to embark on such dare-devil act only when media becomes an object of public disdain.

Every editor attending that meeting felt that should his fraternity collectively decide to take to the streets against the government’s proposed act, it will hardly generate any mass sympathy because people abhor the media and its content. This was the time we used to show in our prime -time slots programmes suffused with Babas, Bhoot-Bhabhoot, aliens stealing cows from Indian villages and fortune-telling. We decided to regulate ourselves with regard to content and also to do away with these programmes at least in prime slots, replacing them with healthy studio discussions on major issues concerning the people.

This was done on stock presumption that a prime -time discussion on vital issues facing the country is germane to creating a market place for competing ideas. Our role in this newly crafted studio discussion was aimed at two basic functions: one, to bring to the viewers volume of information – both, for and against the issue taken up; and, two, to develop the logic power of the society a society where every fifth day a woman psychiatric patient was stoned to death by villagers in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh on collective suspicion that she was a “witch” sent by neighbouring village men to kill us.

Naturally, watching these debates people may develop scientific temper and habit of healthy argumentative skills. Obviously, TV editors placed themselves into the slots of comparatively junior anchors. They overnight became celebrities. It yielded in quick conversion of their thus acquired face-value into sky-rocketing salaries. Though within ten years, people did refine their taste but we, the editors, degenerated beyond redemption. The shrieks of dying farmers got drowned in the cacophony of perceived sexcapades of Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu that resonated from the trough of ignorance of these editors-anchors.

If Amitabh Bachchan-anchored programme “Kaun Banega Crorepati” can fetch maximum prime -time TRP alongside the boorish, uncouth and vulgar “Big Boss”, and, that too, in the entertainment segment, we cannot fault the taste of the viewers. It reminds one of the famous statement of nobleman Cassius to Brutus in Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar’: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings” . In Indian electronic media, the industry has failed to promote an icon with Bachchan-like credibility and “crorepati-like” content. The editors-cum-anchors of present day news channels are poor in knowledge and poorer in credibility.

Vanity Fare

These editors-anchors with astronomical salaries are thriving on face-value, a false consciousness that it is their own value, whereas actually it is that of the electronic media’s presence (in 90 per cent Indian households) and promoters’ capacity to sustain investment. Ask any editor who swears by right-wing brand of “nationalism” or its antithesis, left-wing-propped “secularism” about health-related human development parameters like IMR, MMR or stunted or wasted-child or, for that matter, gini-coefficient, and few would be able to explain. They depend on the research team or producer who, during studio discussions, whispers into his ear microphone “the data”, nay, the counter-argument. Naturally, Google -gyan has its limitations.

It does not hone one’s decision-making capacity. That is the reason why in a TV debate when a famous editor-anchor was asked how he determines the issue for evening discussions, his unabashed answer was: “It depends upon what issue the social media is responding to maximum.” What he candidly confessed was that highly respected editorial judgment has given way to uninformed crowd psychology. The semi-educated editor-anchor has lost the capability of identifying public issues. Take one more example. A few months ago, the government of India had released the IV National Family Health Survey (NFHS). It is a broad-based survey on various health parameters across the country and is, as such, a threadbare analysis of health of the country down to the district level. It is conducted once in a decade. Not a single line was

run on scroll in any channel, although this

report had blasted the “development” claims of many top leaders and governments, including that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then Chief Minister of Gujarat. Worse still, on 16 of the development parameters – human, social and economic—the present Modi government has performed badly on 10, but there has never been a single studio discussion on this issue.

India’s ranking dropped by 45 points in the past three and a half years from 55 out of 118 to 100 out of 119 in global hunger index. Editors-anchors do shriek from rooftops when an Indian soldier’s mutilated body is spotted along

Indo-Pak border, demanding of the government that it should “dismember ten heads of the enemy Pakistan.” But they are brazenly ignorant about the facts that for the past 25 years every

37 minutes a farmer commits

suicide in this country.

Poor Journalism

They are also ignorant about growing rich-poor divide that present economy has been creating for the past two decades. If they had chanced upon any of the Credit Suisse Wealth Yearly Reports, they would have found that in this “nationalist” India, while in the year 2000, one per cent elite amassed 37 per cent of the country’s total wealth, this figure went up to 42 per cent in 2005, 48 percent in 2010, 48 per cent in 2012 and latest figure suggests it is 70 per cent today. Is it not a concern for the media and one of the most burning issues to be debated on in prime time?

But Alas! They are these days – for the past three months non-stop engrossed in the carnal past of Baba Ram Rahim. For them, an aphrodisiac capsule found in Baba’s bedroom is a scoop. The young reporter realising the “intellectual calibre” of his editor too devotes better part of his journalistic skill in ferreting out dirty linens from Hanipreet’s bedroom. He knows that a story on farmers’ problem regarding poor price of agriculture produce or disposal of agriculture waste will render him unfit for the profession by his “erudite” Editor. Cassius proved to be true. We have underlings as Editors today. Survival of a healthy and functional democracy hinges on stock presupposition that its institutions –formal, informal and quasi-formal — are well-oiled, high on credibility count and quick in delivery. Quality of people in society determine the quality of institutional efficacy because it is the individuals who bring up these institutions.

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