Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.
Freedom of the press is a term, mainly used in a negative connotation, especially in the Indian context due to the unaccountable power it holds. It is not just the increasing commercialization and sensationalism of news stories that has pulled down its image in the public domain, but also something that goes unnoticed and undetected in the entire process of news generation itself.
One of the recent examples is the Assembly polls of 2012. The coverage of the election was mainly centered around Uttar Pradesh with little importance being ascribed to other four states – Uttrakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab. What further makes the example interesting is the fact that the news coverage focused majorly on Mr. Rahul Gandhi and his loss was represented as one of the biggest disasters in the history of mankind. A ground reality check would have clearly indicated that the Congress never had strong roots in the state of Uttar Pradesh. However, little coverage around Akhilesh Yadav and his phenomenal win, also hinted towards a slight pro- Congress bias by almost all eminent media houses in the country.
When, Mr. P. Chidambaram was stuck in the cobwebs of the 2G scam, the extensive reporting had the potential to force him to kneel down and offer his resignation. But, after a clarification by the senior party leaders, Pranab Mukherjee being one of them , the media abruptly stopped reporting on the issue. What further twists the eyebrows, is the fact that the clarification was never clear enough and ‘All was certainly not well’. What was it that prevented ALL media houses from asking the questions? Why was it so sudden?
Issues as sensitive as the Aarushi Murder case were dealt with utter immaturity. Evidences were played with, the character of the entire family got assassinated, no stone was left unturned when media houses went on to start their personal investigations which was nothing but a game of ‘Guess Who’. The murder case eventually went on to become a hit, bigger than those of the poorly scripted Bollywood potboilers. Things become even more serious when the privacy of a person is not respected. It was a slap on the face of all news agencies when Amitabh Bachchan had to go to court , seeking permission for the removal of an OB van parked in front of his Mumbai residence on the occasion of his granddaughter being declared as ‘Grand Daughter of the Nation’ by the several news deprived media houses.
The cases of immature and irresponsible coverage by media houses are innumerable and with every passing day , a new story gets added to the stack. Or may be a responsible Media is simply an oxymoron. However, every coin has two sides and if it stands still, we might also see a third side to it.
When Justice Katju goes on air to say that freedom of the press is being curbed in Bihar, the story gets recorded and released but never gets analyzed critically. When Mamata Banerjee tries to control the press in West Bengal, in the name of promoting vernacular language and cultural veracity, we , as readers fail to put forth the question as to why all newspapers reporting against Trinamool Congress were the only ones being shut down.
The stories of violence in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in most cases, go unreported by the mainstream media,leaving people with little awareness about denial of human rights and the several forced disappearances. Dismal knowledge about the poor condition in eastern part of the country, AFSPA, government policies and deliberate transmission of disinformation is another major problem along with the fact that something as sensitive as Naxalism is considered to be synonymous with terrorism by more than half of the population.
Do all these stories go unreported? Not really. The answer to all the questions can be put together in one word, Censorship. The Press in India is regulated by indirect means by our government and all parties behave in a similar manner (I do not intend to target any party in particular). The moment it poses threat to their political image and shows some potential to challenge their power, the press gets regulated. This regulation has little to do with national security, peace and harmony of the country. Media houses reporting about the real scenario in Kashmir are shut down on a regular basis by taking away the sponsors, funds and all possible means of survival and hence, they eventually die away.
One of the important things to note is the fact that press in India is not as free as it appears to be on paper, and neither is a holy cow. Paid news, PR, lobbying and bureaucratic corruption are some of the major challenges faced by the national media today. However, it would be unfair to measure all journalists on the same scale as some of the biggest scams – from the Hawala to the Rice scam were uncovered by journalists with courage who deserve every bit of appreciation.
The media is still the most powerful tool of mass propaganda and if not handled with responsibility, it can lead to mass destruction, for the pen is still mightier than sword. The biggest shield to protect us from all the propaganda is the power of the speech grenade, the power to question. And with our constitution providing us Right To Information, there is no doubting the power we hold as citizens to keep the authorities in check. After all, nobody needs a despot, we were born to be free.