Recent past activities of Mainstream Media’s (MSM) bigwigs (Editors and lead journalists/columnists) sometimes push me to assume that they are fast surrendering to Tom-Dick-Harish of Social Media(SM). I am opened to be questioned for my assumption. But, before that, I venture to discuss my point of view over the issue with examples which are there in public domains.
To start with, I wish to explain first about Tom-Dick-Harish, who are there in the title of this column. Readers can assume them as one (all three put together), one of the central characters of this column. I stumbled on these three names together for the first time in my life when I was reading a column entitled “Traditional Media should not ape digital media” in The New Indian Express on October 13, 2020 authored by Harish Bijoor, Brand Guru & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults. (Please note that the word Harish, which is there in both author’s name and in the column’s title, are not same).
In the column, the author Harish Bijoor writes and I quote, “While digital media is a bit of an anarchy, where every Tom, Dick and Harish is a content creator and publisher; the physical medium is a carefully curetted one with a responsible Editor at the top of the food chain of news and content.” And, later, he goes on saying, “There is a certain degree of responsibility, ethos and care that physical media such as print, television and radio offer.” And he lamented, “Despite it all, physical media decides to change in terms of content, tone and decibel. Why? Why? Why?” (Here, the author considers Twitter, Facebook, Blog, App, LinkedIn, etc. as social media or digital media, and print, TV and radio as physical media or traditional media).
I do fully agree with Mr. Harish Bijoor on what he opines regarding digital media, but sorry to disagree on what he opines regarding traditional media/physical medium, which are popularly known as Mainstream Media (MSM), emphasizing with “the physical medium is a carefully curetted one with a responsible Editor”. To discuss how much they are ‘carefully curetted’ with ‘responsible editing’, I would like to refer a column titled “Who can resist the magic of Modi’s oratory?” in the same The New Indian Express on November 01, 2020 authored by the paper’s Editorial Adviser and eminent journalist Padma Bhushan, Mr. T J S George. He writes in intro, “Donald Trump damaged American democracy as much as Boris Johnson damaged the British. But the intrinsic strength of the American and British systems will make their recovery easy. Unfortunately that cannot be said about India”. Here, my rejoinder is: was not Indira Gandhi imposed draconian National Emergency to save her from judicial adverse verdict on her electoral malpractice, during which The Indian Express management under its proprietor popularly known as warrior doyen of Indian media late Ram Nath Goenka suffered, was Supreme Court’s CJI not superseded, among others? Were not they big bolt or in George’s language ‘damage’ to Indian democracy till date? Has not Indian democracy recovered fast post-Emergency?
If one read columns of Mr. George since Mr. Narendra Modi evicted well-entrenched undemocratic dynasties both in national and in several state capitals, one will find George’s attacks on Modi with blatant lies and biased opinions in almost all these columns. Has Modi done something which is worst than National Emergency, has he superseded any CJI, has he allowed 1984 anti-Sikh riot that killed more than 3000 in national capital alone, has he allowed escape of Bhopal Gas killer of more than 25,000 Warren Anderson in government helicopter, etc. etc.? Yes, I agree Indian democracy has not recovered from undemocratic dynasty system of government that father-daughter duo (Nehru-Indira) founded in 1959. But, George was not found writing over this biggest bolt in Indian democracy. Why? This is a billion dollar question, Tom-Dick-Harish now asks to responsible editors.
In another paragraph, George writes, “Where action is needed, silence is the policy. China has been getting unusually aggressive; some areas in Ladakh have been occupied by them and some of our men taken out. Our Prime Minister does nothing.” Here, I ask to George where was he in 2013 when former foreign secretary Shyam Saran who was at the time Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board (NASB) under the National Security Council of the Manmohan Singh government, after his visit to the region had ‘informed the government that Chinese Army has occupied 640 Square KM in three Ladakh sectors’. If Modi has not taken any step after recent incursion, why Dragon has been pleading India to withdraw from strategic height it occupied post-Galwan skirmish in which India lost 20 soldiers and China is shy of disclosing its casualty number till date when western media put the figure at 35 to 43? He should not forget that war is not a child’s play. To fight war to win, long planning and preparation are required because it involved devastation which no responsible statesman jumped to just because either George kind journalist with vested interest or Tom-Dick-Harish wants.
Now, going further on the issue, I discuss, with some other examples, how other leading media houses have exhibited their responsibility as one of the most important pillar of Indian democracy or have reduced them to the level of Tom-Dick-Harish. On October 30, 2018, The Times of India had a front page banner headline “189 feared dead as plane flown by Indian crashes into Java Sea”, while The New York Times headline read “Indonesia Plane Crash Adds to Country’s Troubling Safety” and The Washington Post headline read “All 189 onboard feared dead after Indonesian plane crashes”. Ill-fated plane was American manufactured Boeing 737 Max which had manufacturing defects, and therefore, later all the planes sold so far grounded after two crashes. When Indian media reported the accident blaming Indian pilot, American media did not blame to their country’s manufacturer. After this accident, I did not find any Tom-Dick-Harish blaming to Indian pilot. Now, the reader of this column may judge who is ‘responsible editor’?
All TV news watchers must have seen belly dance of leading anchor and Managing Editor in the studio of leading news channel while reading out election result of a political party after Delhi Assembly election 2020. On June 30, 2017, there were two news for same incident. Traditional media’s The Hindustan Times reported, “Man accused of carrying beef killed by 100 strong mobs in Jharkhand” and India Today reported, “Jharkhand: Man accused of raping, killing 8-years-old lynched by mobs”. From this kind of news presentations on a very sensitive issue having tremendous implication on social harmony in a highly multi-religious society where politicians use to fish in religious divide, I don’t find any responsible editing of MSM. On June 26, 2013, Executive Editor of The Hindu, Dr. Malini Parthasarathy educated in Indian and Western secular citadels such as JNU and Columbia University tweeted ‘I don’t support child marriage but I do say that it’s not for us the majority to dictate the minorities on how to live their lives’ when she was asked by a Twittarati with question ‘Let me ask you: Being an educated woman why do you support marriage of underage Muslim girls?’. The Hindu is a leading and respectable print media in India since its birth in colonial era. If its Executive Editor has got this understanding over a crucial issue, one can conveniently guess where our democracy’s fourth pillar is leading the nation and we citizens.
When Harish Bijoor writes in his column ‘Despite it all (means: There is a certain degree of responsibility, ethos and care that physical media such as print, television and radio offer), physical media decides to change in terms of content, tone and decibel. Why? Why? Why?’, he certainly has in mind the disgusting high decibel presentation of Arnab Goswani et la.
In view of the above narrated and quoted facts, I don’t find any difference between MSM’s responsible Editors and SM’s Tom-Dick-Harish. If there is no difference between them, why readers of print media and viewers of electronics media should not prefer Tom-Dick-Harish free of cost news and views that too during their spare and relax time? Still, there is time for MSM to introspect and correct them. It is a collective responsibility. Any further detail will make them redundant and obsolete like Bharat Motor’s Ambassador Car, which was ruling Indian roads till 1991 (pre-liberalization and globalization of Indian economy) like an big elephant, has been now.