No one knows today which side of the Bhushan CD story is true. Depending on which newspaper you read or which TV channel you watch, you get different versions. Some will dwell more on the Truth Labs report; others on the CFSL one. Even on other issues, media in
appears to be totally polarized and politicized. Media is taking sides.....and is becoming a willing accomplice in the agenda of one political party or another. In the process....it’s failing to do its duty to its readers and viewers. India
Let’s look at the facts on hand. On the TV channels side, Times Now and CNN-IBN are virulently anti-Congress. NDTV 24x7 is clearly pro-Congress. In newspapers, TOI has become increasingly anti-Congress, while HT has stayed consistent in supporting the Congress. In magazines, India Today is highly critical of the Congress; Outlook is out-and-out pro-Congress. Depending on which these media brands you consume, you get totally different interpretations of the same story. At one time, “let truth prevail” used to the rule in media; today it’s merely a slogan.
The way this works is as follows. If you are a pro-Congress media, you will frontpage stories that show the Congress in a favorable light. And put negative stories in the inside pages. If you are anti-Congress, you will do the exact opposite. It’s not as if media misreports.....it probably doesn’t.....it only chooses front page stories with a political bias. So the fact that Sonia Gandhi’s NAC had actually drafted quite a bit of the anti-corruption law itself without any political interest in it was chosen to be put in the inside pages in some papers.....while it was highlighted on the front pages in some others. Similarly, on this entire Anna Hazare hunger strike and subsequent developments, newspapers and TV channels have chosen partisan positions.
TOI has been at pains to show its pro-Anna credentials. They have made it look as if being pro-Anna is the same as being anti-Congress. They have gone as far as to make Anna Hazare the guest editor for a day. Quite obviously, the choice of stories that Anna chose that day was skewed, but TOI was quite ok with that. Earlier, in the Karnataka scams connected with Yeddyurappa....TOI down-played the accusations. But when it came to Kalmadi.....responsible for an much smaller irregularity, they gave it front page prominence on several days. Or the CD row itself.....it was HT, a Congress friendly paper, that first brought out the story that the CD was authentic. They did not mention the name of the lab where they got it tested; but it was a foregone conclusion which side HT would take.
How does this affect us, the readers of papers and viewers of TV news channels? In many more ways that we can imagine. To understand this, it is first necessary to understand how dependent we are on media for our information. Do this test on yourself. Take any subject: Ask yourself what the source of your information on that subject is. It will always be a newspaper or a TV channel. We hardly ever do original research to get the facts. None of us has read the original CAG report on 2G, or the CBI’s chargesheet in the same case. Or the ED’s investigation of Hasan Ali; or the Supreme Court’s orders on Narendra Modi’s carnage. We have no time and we expect media to do the analysis for us and be fair in reporting their results. But if media is selective in choosing its stories, then it means that they are treating us like puppets. Doling out what suits their interests and positions rather than what is really right or wrong.
For eg., does anyone know whether HT gave the CD to only one lab or to many more? If they gave the CD to more than one lab, what did the other lab reports suggest? What about the Bhushans? Did they give the CD only to the 2 labs they have announced results of? Or to more? What about the plots of land that the Bhushan’s have acquired. One paper today said that the NOIDA authorities have already said that there was no hanky panky; which is obvious because if they admitted otherwise, they would themselves be in the dock. On TV on the other hand, a leading journalist argued that if a lottery system of allotting land was followed as in all public schemes, then there was virtually zero probability for both the Bhushans getting the plots when there were thousands of applicants to choose from. In reality, he claimed, participants were “interviewed” by the NOIDA authorities and then allotted the land. That would explain how the Bhushans used their power to get favorable allotments. Now which story should we, ordinary citizens of this country, believe? Shouldn’t media be asking more questions and doing more research? Probing better? Taking the responsibility of analyzing and putting out the analysis to the people? If not, then they are abusing the powers they have. Would a channel like Star Plus be excused if a show it aired contained explicit sexual content or verbal abuse? The show may not have been produced by them; but it’s their job to make sure it adheres to all standards of decency that exist in the country. Likewise, is it not the job of newspapers and news TV channels to verify the stories they put out before they put them out? This was the point that Harish Salve was making when he said that we have allowed a culture of first accusing; then investigating. Can media be allowed to become mere platforms for all and sundry to exploit?
When media brands become mere platforms, they hurt their audiences. They mislead them. They of course enjoy the heady feeling of power that such conduct gives them. After all, it’s proven in this country that media can get CMs removed; or ministers sacked and projects stalled. What role should media play in the Jaitapur nuclear power plant issue? Should they highlight the fact that
Maharashtra is not a high seismic zone state? And that nuclear plant accidents are extremely infrequent? That was a freak case? That the French offer of brand new technology reactors is not a grand design to experiment in a developing country, but a genuine offer to a friend? Or should it take the opposite position? That all things nuclear should be stopped? That Japan India was being exploited by ? France
The real truth is that media in
is partisan, politicized and sometimes irresponsible. There must be a law to check this. A strong media is a fundamental requirement of any democracy. But neutrality in media is an even more fundamental requirement. Taking biased positions should be treated as abuse of power and punished in an exemplary manner. Else, we the people will continue getting treated like puppets.....a totally unacceptable practice in a fast-growing democracy. India