Saturday, 15 April 2017

Opinionated News

Spoon-feeding has been ingrained in our DNA. Our life starts, literally, with spoon feeding and ends with spoon feeding. I mean, what would you prefer- rice, dal, oil, mustard, salt etc etc in front of you or deliciously cooked Kichdi. We always liked that one professor who would give us IA questions in advance, dint we? So we, as people, always like ready-made, cooked goods. But unfortunately it has even extended to the way we consume news.

A news that comes out as a narrative, as a story appeals to more people than plain facts. Facts are boring. But these narratives are built on opinions. Yes! they are built, created, not presented! So it shouldn't come as a surprise when Mr. Arnab Goswami tells that the future of news is in opinions rather than facts.

Is it wrong? I am not sure! But it is more prone to misuse on two accounts. Firstly, Opinions are biased. 10 different people have 10 different opinions. We form opinions based on our own convenience. Our upbringing, our surroundings, our nationality, religion, caste everything influences our opinions. So why only air opinion of one particular individual who happens to own a news channel. So, naturally, if news becomes opinionated then one sided viewpoints will be broadcast as news.

Secondly, media could become hub for vested interests. In the OJ Simpson trial of the century that's what the attorneys of OJ did. They created narrative, brushed off the facts. Their story appealed to the already biased jury. Hard hitting facts of DA failed to make any impact. Opinionated news can thus easily overshadow the facts. This would lead to a situation where the newsrooms would actually become soap operas showing us alternate Utopian reality.

Opinions are important (after all ain't I giving my opinion here ;)). They should be part of media too. But they cannot replace facts. They should be clearly demarcated from the fact based news. When this happens automatically a news channel would accommodate varied opinions unlike now where a channel has cornered itself towards one facet of the news. Only then can we accept media as the fourth pillar of democracy.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Judge, the Jury and the Executioner

Movies - Bollywood -whether you like it or not has been an integral part of our society. Do movies influence the cultural ethos of society, or does the societal behaviour cast influence on movies? The answer to this question is not akin to unidirectional flowing river. This river flows in all directions. That discussion is for some other time. But one can find certain pattern in the movies that catch the nerves of people and become instant hit. Movies like Shehenshah, or Sunny Deol's late 80s films like Ghayal, Ghatak, or even for that matter RDB or (this sentence cannot be foreclosed without mentioning) the South Indian mass movies are the ones I am talking about. People/Family/Hero wronged by the system/rich fellows take law in their hands. Loudest cheers go to the ones where the protagonist kills the antagonist  doing all kinds of physics defying stunts. Keeping all the antics apart the phenomenon we are talking about is called as mob justice.

I would not have been worried if this was only restricted to reel life, but mob justice is a hard reality in real life too. To top this, mob justice is not seen by many people as a crime or something which is morally wrong. There have been numerous instances where people have taken law into their own hands where they deemed injustice has been meted out. At the least level, we all have, in our life time, seen a robber being beaten black and blue by the "mob". It does not look ominous to us at that time but it is just a tip of the ice berg. In mid 2015, mob breaks into prison and beats an 'alleged' rapist to death, the episode of Dadri lynching, lawyers (cannot emphasize the extent of irony in this) beating the 'alleged' anti-nationals in the court premises are certain examples. I have just quoted recent examples, but free India has seen many such 'mob justice' incidents.

I would be wrong to say that such incidents are restricted to India. Mob justice or what is euphemistically called vigilante justice is quite prevalent in developed part of the earth too. There are many cases where individuals or groups have taken upon themselves to stop rising crime rate in their cities! No doubt vigilante comic characters are so popular in USA.

There is a view that lack of competence in the law enforcement agencies is one of the reasons for this vigilantism. But in real life two wrongs do not make right. The basic principle of natural justice is that the accused has the right to be heard by a bona fide judge. This principle is tossed into the air in case of mob justice. In spite of the gravity of crime, law has to take its course. Gandhiji always stressed that good 'means' is as important as good 'end'. Unfortunately, this has been losing its relevance in the fast forward modern world.

While as they say every cloud has a silver lining, Indian legal system set an example few years ago. The trial of Ajmal Kasab is the case in point. The culpability of Kasab was beyond doubt, but he was given a fair trial which went for a over an year.

In a nut shell, the legal system including the enforcement agencies have to prove their competence to restore faith of public in the system but at the same time the society at large has to understand that failure in the implementation itself does not mean the system is wrong. The public should use their collective power to improve the implementation rather commit a crime to prevent another crime.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Ugly Face of Social Media

Social Media has been quite a revolution in recent times. It has given voice to the unheard section of society. A person stranded in a foreign land tweets to the MEA and instantly she gets required assistance from the govt. There have been examples of families getting reunited via Facebook. Instances like these tell us the impact of social media in common man's life. But as with every invention, this invention also comes with riders. In fact, very dangerous riders.

The idea of Social media is very novel. Its impact has been very notable. But again, this very quality has made it a hot commodity. A commodity that can be easily manipulated. It has become one of the major tools in the hands of media pundits, management gurus, who use them to their desired end. Twitter and Facebook, with their immense membership, have been the main actors in this manipulative game. Tweets are artificially promoted, while some are promoted with all the transparency, some are artificially made to trend. Twitter is full of fake, dummy profiles, which are used to send the same tweet with required hashtag (#), to make it trend and hence catch the attention of public in general. This is predominantly seen during a movie or a product launch.

While, the above misuse is deceptive but not harmful per se. But this is not the end, but just the beginning. Lets see how this takes a harmful shape. Fareed Zakaria, host at CNN, wrote an article in Washington Post on how he was trolled in internet. In the article he comes with an interesting proposition - "group polarization". Anybody familiar with internet trolling can easily identify with this phenomenon. This group polarization has taken very dangerous turn in recent times and in some cases has manifested fatally in real world.

Even political elements have not stayed back in capturing this media for ulterior motives. "Internet Armies" have been created by the political establishments. They, very intelligently, seep content in to the social networking sites favouring them and in worst cases the contents are targeted at political opponents. While, such efforts from politicians are not new and not unique to social media, but social media has taken the vile to very high level. Social media has been abundant with misinformation campaigns, wrong data are fed as facts and many gullible social media users fall prey to these tactics. With large following in these social media sites, the misinformation spreads, literally, like a wild fire. Unhindered flow of misinformation has certainly given rise to 'more' intolerance, and this is not unique to India, if one has followed Donald Trump's campaign can associate with this.

Social Media has many many advantages and has made flow of information very easy and lightning quick. But it is slowly but surely showing its ugly side. While it is next to impossible to regulate the data that is being transmitted, one way out could be making the users more knowledgeable and aware of the ills of social media. The more we neglect this, more powerful it will become. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Apathy of Electronic Media

Media, has been and, presently is a key part of the society. It just doesn't play an important role in disseminating information but it actually acts as a medium to propagate the society's conscience. This was quite evident in the coverage of recent Nepal earthquake crisis. But there is something else very peculiar to the current electronic media- its apathy. For instance, the Earthquake had taken a 3 month old boy's life. His dead body was lying in front of his father. It does not take great intellect to understand the grief the kid's father might be facing, yet a reporter from a popular media house, who-like numerous others- called himself to be the first one to report from ground zero, kept posing him questions one after the other. This shows the apathy of our electronic media towards the sensitivities of human life.

I like to mention one specialist's - forgot his name- quote on media- "several years ago corporate houses used to run media but now media house themselves have become corporate." Let's not get into the factual correctness of the statement. Just taking on its merit it does seems right. The way the top TV news channels operate, they look quite corporatey. The race to get higher viewership by hook or crook, the self gloating advertisements, the superstar images the anchors build for themselves to gather their own fan base- these all just show the corporate entertainment business at play.

Some may say that though they are in news disseminating industry, they still run a business and hence have to earn money. And hence they need to do the above things. And also they argue that people/public like to see such news items too. I would like to counter them with following statements. Yes, agreed they are in business. But media is not just about doing business, it is a responsibility. One must look into the role, media played during the national freedom struggle to understand this. Also, the current TV news channels do not hold any sensible debates on current prevalent issues. Debates are done on issues which they think would grab more eyeballs. And the key ingredients of such debates are chest thumping and screaming anchors coupled with equally vocal participants. There were debates when RaGa went on sabbatical and also when he came back. Such debates don't yield any conclusion- hawaa me teer dhaagne ki baat ho jaati hai bhas. Even when these news channels pick up some relevant issues they make it political by bringing in political representatives rather than experts. For instance, a debate on farmers' suicide will not have any scholars of agricultural domain. But there will be people from various political parties playing the Hot Potato game!

One last issue before I can give my concluding remarks is regarding the contemporary news presenters. It is the anchors of the popular TV news channels, who actually hit the final nail in the coffin. The self proclaimed All-I-Know anchors do not handle these debates as moderators but as judges who are hearing a case. Worse, some anchors decide the judgement before the hearings begin!!

Media is the fourth estate of the society. It is the society's conscience keeper. Thus, media cannot become just another business. Its a job with utmost responsibility. I hope there will be emergence of some new age media houses who would handle this responsibility. We need not look far away for inspiration. The way media operated during our freedom struggle can be the guiding light. The selfless work of Lokmanya Tilak, Surendranath Banarjee is a big source of inspiration. At the same time we as viewers need to be careful while choosing the news we want to see. Do we want to see TV news channel which shows "whether a TREE-MAN is real" or do we want to see a news channel which holds discussion, among the experts, about "Maldivian crisis and its affect on India". We always will have a choice, we need to choose wisely. Hopefully in future we can see more popularity to real news channels.

PS- for those who read the blog till the end. Visit these YouTube channels [1] [2] and watch these discussions. It will be quite refreshing. After all these are the real issues which Nation wants to know!