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Selectivity, national interest and media

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Selectivity is an inevitable human trait. It may be beneficial for personal interests but overall it is disastrous for the national interest. Selectivity is often used as a tool to prove some point, to endorse a viewpoint or to disprove or malign some other viewpoint. There are two ways in which selectivity is practised – first is selectivity in thoughts and second is selectivity in actions. When it comes to the national interest both can be dangerous. Selectivity in thoughts can be due to certain prejudices or ideological preferences or simply due to avoiding the truth.

The first two are certainly a human trait and there is nothing unusual in them until they remain behind a boundary of rationality but the last one is dangerous not only for the national interest but also for the individual. Selectivity in action is practising the first two irrationally or practising the last one in fullest measure. Examples include racism and the inability to act against it. When it comes to the national interest one must analyze the selectivity practised by media and its consequences.

Scientist and author Anand Ranganathan once tweeted, “You remove one set of names, you report one set of stories, you conceal one set of tragedies – and that’s how you turn a riot into a pogrom and journalism into propaganda.” When media practices selectivity journalism undoubtedly turns into propaganda. This selectivity includes not reporting, under-reporting, or over-reporting a certain set of stories, hiding facts, spreading misinformation, and fake news and intentional misreporting. What about the expression of your own opinions? Well, that should not be counted as selectivity unless you practice any of the above ways of selectivity. Op-eds must not be mixed with reportage as it creates clutter. A classical example of the selectivity of media is the reportage of Delhi Riots by western media. The reports mixed with op-eds that were published in western media showed only one side of the story and thus riots were projected as anti-Muslim pogrom which is far from reality.

There have been many occasions when media houses have practised selectivity for their gains. This harms the national interest in many ways. Firstly truth becomes suppressed. In many cases, the truth becomes politicized, and when this happens people get divided into two segments and start fighting each other. A lot of clutter is generated in the process and the motivation to act together for the right cause. The only yield of the whole process is personal gains. National interest is cornered. 

How one must fight selectivity? There are again many options available. The most common of them are either to emphasize on the other half of the story not shown or to show the complete story with equal weightage. Latter must be preferred because practising the former would make you a contemporary of the one against whom you are fighting. The latter is also better as one could get a reliable source of information. It is better for the national interest. But we could simply ban the media turned propaganda factory, then why work so hard? This is because it would be both principally and constitutionally incorrect. Clutter must be cut through truth and facts only in a democracy unless a constitutional limit is crossed.

In that case, the law must act. The last question is that can we practice selectivity in the national interest? The answer is that truth can be delayed but cannot be avoided.

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