Why I Left TV Journalism - (Part 1)
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Renowned American scholar Bernard Cohen once said that while media may not be always successful in telling people what to think, it is successful to a great extent in telling people what to think about. I never doubted this observation but working as a journalist made me feel like attempting to bring life to Cohen's proposition.
Facts Are Sacred, Rumours Are Sweet!
As a news consumer you need to ask yourself a pertinent question - who is the media representing? Sadly, most of the news channels in India are nothing more than intellectual representatives of those in power. Power is a broad concept and it is not just confined to politics or government. News today is not a (re)presentation of events but a process of establishing the hegemony and reproducing power and the powerful. What I was doing through my assignments as a journalist was strengthening a system which knows no place for dissent or dialogue. What I was reporting was not pure news story but a mirage that would leave people die chasing the concept called responsible governance. The stories showing the alacrity and preparedness of the government/government officials in dealing with the pandemic were often slanted towards the establishment showing a cloud cuckoo land. It was not an act of disseminating information but was equivalent to spreading rumour. A sweet rumour to please those in power and appease the powerless.
Your Opinion Is YOUR Opinion Not The TRUTH
It is not surprising for people like me who come from some of the most underdeveloped parts of the world to join journalism. It is the continuous struggle for rights, relevance and respect which ignites the fire to 'report'. For me reporting is and should be about narrating the event not creating a narrative. It is about objectivity, not objectifying. However, we are human beings and prone to adding emotions, displaying allegiances. I am not against the idea of having an opinion as a journalist, but have questions for opinionated journalism disguised as reporting. Where I part ways from the current style of TV journalism in India is reporters' polemical presentations. The very idea of 'reporting' on a story dies when one starts reciting from the subconscious mind to favour the employer rather than elaborating it with conscience intact. There were a number of occasions on which seniors of the industry would advice me to bash a particular political party regardless of the nature of the story or the involvement of those belonging to the party. For them, their opinion was THE TRUTH. God save epistemologists!
The Delhi Dilemma
You might turn around and ask what is the problem? News organisation are free, entitled to choose who they vouch for. True. They very well could do that. But a media functioning as a communication proxy to those running the country is neither free media nor fair media even though they speak through the roof. It is difficult for an average news viewer to understand the chimera of free media as one often goes looking for solace at channels with converging view points. Every time I did a story, I would ask myself - how would I have reacted if I was the person being chased or attacked? The coverage of P Chidambaram's arrest in Delhi and his subsequent court hearings was a whammy as I was astounded by reporters' whimsical deliveries on air. I had just returned from England with a double MA from two of the best universities in the world. The dilemma was whether, what I was exposed to, was a professional culture shock as I was a novice in the national media or whether it was the beginning of the end.
From What Is News To Who Is News?
If I was sharing this story with Stuart Hall - the ace sociologist and culture theorist, he would have said that I had become a contributor to the politics of image. Politics of image means how media manipulates your understanding of an issue and places its own version of the story by feeding a certain kind of image/picture of something/someone. For example- When people see an image of a black man pointing a gun towards a white man, they assume that the first would be a criminal and latter a victim. Not for a moment they think that it could be the other way round. The white man might be a criminal and the black person successfully snatched the gun from him. What I witnessed during my job was a similar phenomenon. If a Hindu killed a Muslim, it was not news, but if a Muslim killed a Hindu, it was news. News, was no longer about what the story was, but it asked who the story was? This selective approach precipitates polarisation. It creates a chasm which would take forever to fill. The choices were very limited but clear for me. Either to continue making you what Herbert Marcuse called 'single dimensional citizen' where you would become incapable of questioning those in power because of being fed with propaganda or find another way to contribute in making this world a better place. I made my choice. Having said, I am hopeful that things will change and I might have to write a second piece retracting some of the things said above. Will wait.