We pride ourselves as the world’s largest democracy. Isn’t the fact that our growing out of control is our undoing rather than an achievement? While on the one hand, we uphold the freedom of speech and expression and bay for the rights of those deprived from voicing their views through social media, in print and all over, we do exactly the converse by stifling the voices of those we inadvertently target.
That the Gujarat Police has issued a lookout notice against Asaram’s son Narayan Sai fetches collective ire that’s almost retributive in nature. News of a Gandhinagar court granting anticipatory bail to Asaram’s wife Lakshmi and his daughter Bharti on a personal bond is met with matching disappointment. Why? Do we know for a fact that they are guilty of the crimes they’re charged with? Hardly, I guess. But then, we have a right to our opinions.
Whether Asaram or his son Narayan is guilty or not is a matter of public conjecture like most other matters such as the chances of rain falling; the revival potential of the rupee and chances of Sachin announcing a retirement. That they all occur finally and in due course of time is a given. But, the public, at large, simply love to watch the proceedings. Man being a social animal has turned into an angry one who’d assume, in numbers, the trappings of a murder of crows to witness a public assassination…and live!
Right from Ajmal Kasab, whose once-imminent hanging had turned into an issue of popular debate for the media and the common man who’d bay every day for his blood and a death of public choice, besides castration, community stoning, physical torture and more, down to Asaram now who has captured public imagination. So, at some point of time, if it isn’t Dawood, it’s Sreesanth or Ajmal or Asaram who’d feed the public’s imagination. Thank goodness for that, otherwise if they’d think of matters that matter like the price rise and burgeoning corruption, we’d probably have a revolution on our hands.
The media, however, has only proved to be a dampener in that it panders to populist notions almost like the very politician it charges with the same misdemeanor. For all practical purposes, the media – particularly print – doesn’t really need to indulge in any kind of sensationalism to sell its wares. After all, the profits lie in the advertisements and not in the sales. Yes, for the channels, the high-pitched rhetoric is all part of the grandiose game-plan of TRPs and eyeballs and all that to fetch advertisers and concurrent revenue.
Ethical reportage would warrant restraint. Editors would ‘once’ pull up scribes and place them on tight leashes in the hands of seniors should their excitement get the better of them. Journalism was all about objectivity and if there was anyone who would be able to voice an opinion, it would be an expert on the field who had spent at least a few decades dealing with the subject in question. Almost always, s/he would not be a journalist…but an expert from the industry in question. But then, that was then. Today, any reporter with a couple of by-lines – read two or three at best – is an expert on the subject and considered so, by popular notion too.
So, under the guise of ‘reportage’ and ‘media-coverage’ objectivity goes right out of the window. It’s the media which is responsible for helping the reader formulate an opinion – one that’s in line with constraints of legal decorum and democratic norms. Doesn’t the law pivot around the ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ maxim? But then, aren’t we in a tearing rush to shoot the accused straight from the hip? And that, in itself, is actually shooting oneself in the foot. If we’re depriving one of a fair trial and an opportunity to avail justice, we’re committing a grave crime on the accused and worse still…on democracy at large!
By Gajanan Khergamkar