Saturday, 11 December 2010
Some years ago, I had gone to meet up with my CA at his office located close to Charni Road station, Mumbai. As I was walking towards where I had parked my car, I heard a massive commotion at a kerb. Some fifty people had gathered and were mercilessly beating up a couple of young men. Already there was blood on the street. When I rushed to check what was afoot, I was told the two had been spotted running with a bag of valuables, apparently stolen from one of the offices located in the area.
While a couple of us tried to stop the mob, someone else called the cops. But the mob fury raged on relentlessly. And by the time help arrived, the chaps were almost dead. And then everyone simply walked away non-chalantly. Bank clerks, businessmen, courier boys, hangers-on. Some venting their own frustrations on the alleged thieves, others simply enjoying a good chance to have a go. And no, it didn’t occur to anyone that, one, what they just did was illegal. And two, that, for all they knew, the boys weren’t guilty as charged. Those minor details don’t matter when you spot an opportunity to deliver a fist of fury. What fun!
Now, I am sure this is nothing new. And this regularly happens on the streets of India. So far so bad. Then, an explosion happened in the Indian TV media. And suddenly, the lynch mob landed inside the TV studios. And this time they were a bunch of convent educated, designer clothes wearing dudes. A few, celebrities in their own right. And night after night, they have been delivering instant justice on any one even mildly accused of any wrong doing. Has he been charged with murder? Hang the bastard tonight on prime time! Has he been accused of molesting a minor girl? Send the swine to jail for life, tonight! Did the poor student commit suicide because his bloody head master caned him? Send the fiend into prison, RIGHT NOW!
Yup. It’s the same lynch mob in action. Only, they don’t look like street ruffians. Under the disguise of crusading journalism, our TV anchors have not just been lynching alleged criminals, they have been delivering tabartop justice as well. From inside air-cooled TV studios. All in a few minutes of talk time. And it doesn’t matter if the person is eventually found guilty or not by the courts. That’s irrelevant to the ‘breaking news’ hysteria. The TV mob has already finished that suspect. For life. No wonder Ratan Tata says we are turning into a banana republic. Sure, we are.
And ironically, this time, the same poetic justice has been delivered to the TV journos, post Radiagate. Barkha & gang have been attacked by a massive lynch mob in the cyber space. Some of the slander and abuse going around isn’t even printable. The twitterati junta has already made up its mind: the journalists are guilty and must be made to pay. Right now!
So, virtual lynching is now the new form of street justice. The net has opened up doors to all sorts of cads, losers and frustos. And they have been merrily tarnishing reputations, firing in all directions indiscriminately, a la Ajmal Qasab. It’s a free for all out there. It’s as if the animal lynch instinct surfaced as the mouse came in hand. And all of them get away with it, despite leaving their foot prints (unlike the street lynchers). Because cyber laws are not in place, and it’s impossible to sue every dolt who wants to have a go.
So, god help you if you trip even slightly now. The lynch mob is ready to fire.
On the streets. In the TV studios. And in the virtual world.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
In a way, am actually happy that the ‘leakage’ happened. Doctored or not, the conversations on the tapes provide an insightful, first hand revelation of how politics works in this country. Of course, we always knew there’s a lot of hanky panky at play. Except now we can HEAR with our own ears how politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists, power brokers and journalists (!) collude with each other to screw this country. So will things change? Probably not much. Guess the various constituents will be a tad more careful from now on with their murky dealings. And will only cut deals aboard private yachts. Still, it’s a stinging slap on the face of our great democracy. Maybe, just maybe, some soul searching will happen and that can only be a good thing.
On a lighter note, we finally got to hear the real Ratan Tata. We always suspected the reclusive tycoon to be a suave, cool, lady killer when the stiff suit is off. Well, he is. Cannot really blame Ms Radia for drooling on the phone.
Cut to Ms Niira Radia. (Maybe I should change my name to Aniil!). Technically, there’s really nothing wrong with what she’s done. It’s actually incorrect to term her a lobbyist. She’s a power broker in every sense of the word. She represents corporates with a clear mandate to use her networking skills in the media and political circles to influence political decisions. So, she was only doing her job for a fee. So let’s not hang her. Let’s get after people who succumbed to her methods and charms.
And that then brings me to the main point: The role of the journalists. That cannot be forgiven. Because it’s quite clear that nearly forty political journalists (and this includes editors) crossed the Lakshman Rekha of journalistic ethics. We don’t know if they actually took action on the demands made by Ms Radia (no politician will own up… they need these worthies in the future to run their businesses without much fuss). But the conversations reveal something frightening. The intense bonhomie and camaderie they share with a power broker. A broker, who quite obviously, is out to manipulate the political system so that her corporate bosses can benefit.
I have been a journo for some years, and although nowhere in the league of such biggies as Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla, one thing I learnt pretty early in my career: To keep a safe distance from PR agents, lobbyists and other pushers. In fact, one would duck their calls. And even when we speak, it is always a polite, ‘Hey, can you e-mail me your client’s details?” And no more. Which is why it’s a trifle difficult to buy the theory that the journos were stringing a source, or building a source, or humouring a source. It’s laughable, actually. The day we have to rely on pushers to break news, is the day when we have gone bankrupt of ideas.
As for the journalists themselves, only Vir Sanghvi has decided to discontinue his Sunday column for a while. This is a correct move. When your credibility is being questioned, there’s really no point in continuing. Best to take a break, do some hard soul searching, try and clear your name, and then return afresh. And Barkha Dutt, at least, allowed cross examination of herself. As for the rest of the Johnnies, life goes on as if nothing happened! What they aren’t willing to accept is that the scandal has hit the Indian media’s reputation really hard, and a recent survey indicates that journos are now rated on par with plumbers in terms of credibility. Thank god pimps weren’t listed in the study, they would have scored higher. The ideal thing should be that all the accused journos must quit. For the greater good of the profession.
Finally, a small note on Barkhaji. Because she’s at the center of the storm, and quite expectedly so, since she’s the queen of Indian television news media. I don’t think she’s corrupt at all, but she does get carried away during a crisis, and loses her sense of calm and proportion. We have seen that even during the 26/11 carnage. It is likely that in the excitement to break news, she got excessively pally with the power broker, and now regrets it. What was disappointing to see during her interrogation (no doubt a brave move) is continued arrogance and self-righteousness. When all she had to say was, “Sorry, I messed up this one!”. But let’s not target her alone. The scam puts a whole lot of journalists in the dock.
Net net: Indian media barons must understand that journalism is the last hope of this nation. Everything else is compromised. If people lose faith in the media, there’s really no one left to trust. Hope they understand the gravity of the situation and launch a massive Operation Clean Up.