Political Commentaries

Zero Tolerance for Facts

3 Min
Zero Tolerance for Facts

Atul Cowshish

N.V. Ramana, the chief justice of India, is very upset with the electronic media in the country, which seems to function with little regard to responsibility and accountability and setting up media trials of Kangaroo courts, pushing democracy to Stygian depths.

He was understating: Barring a few exceptions, the bulk of the electronic media in India is wedded to dividing society on religious lines and has upturned the profession of journalism to practice zero tolerance for facts.

The question is can something be done to undo the damage?

Regretfully, a realistic answer would be a ‘no’, or on an optimistic note, ‘very little’.

Like a car that has knocked down a physical barrier and sped at a hundred mile ahead without meeting any resistance, the electronic media has travelled very far on a ‘lucrative’ path it discovered years ago that it is hard to see why it should volunteer to retreat. Who will let go of a golden fish?

The electronic media has discovered an El Dorado in the pursuit of an unrecognizable ‘journalism’ that is fed on a diet of untruth, half-truth, slander and what not, and promoting propaganda which includes silencing all voices of criticism.

When someone strays from the straight and honest path, he or she is very likely to face punishment which may be called ‘justice’ for breaching a criminal code or for moral culpability. But the media in India has long been privileged to feel that it is above the laws that apply to the mortals. When there is a danger of this immunity not being granted, the media can use its ultimate weapon, a ‘Brahmastra’: ‘Freedom of Speech is in Danger’.

Thus, any form of ‘punishment’ from an external agency like the government or a regulatory body is not possible. The media claims to have a simple but effective remedy: Let there be self-regulation. The fact is that over the years, the media has delighted in the breach of self-restraining norms.

CJI Ramana spoke against government stepping in to check egregious acts of the media. He still thinks that self-regulation is the best way out for preventing the electronic media from pushing Indian democracy back by ‘two steps’. With due apologies to My Lord, there is nothing to show that self-regulation works.

The people of India have been famously called ‘argumentative’, a way of describing the tendency to challenge opinions without concluding it with violence. Literacy may not be universal in India but Indians have co-existed with each other. Their differences with each other may not have disappeared but the world has been rather envious of the overall harmony in the Indian society. Occasionally, there have been tensions and riots but in the end the balance of harmony was intact. All, thanks to the freedom to speak.

It is the people who will ultimately decide the fate of the rogue and supplicating media. A flood of advertisements flows into the media world because it is assumed that whatever the ads seek to convey reaches a very large audience. That is clear from the fact that higher revenues accrue to those channels which are supposed to be watched more, and in the print media also, the newspapers with higher circulation attract more ads.

The government may be slightly less mindful of the circulation of newspapers, but then it takes the precaution of inserting ads in all newspapers to ensure a very wide reach. In the electronic media also, the channels with bigger claims of viewership receive a larger pie of government ads—and revenue. But above all, the media houses end up laughing all the way to the bank.

There are unmistakable signs that a large number of Indians from various segments of the society have stopped watching the so-called ‘mainstream’ TV channels and newspapers, preferring to receive their diet of news and views from social media platforms and YouTube.

Disinformation cannot sell forever and its clientele has started to shrink in India. It may be useful to remember that while parts of the social media in the West are considered bad, they are not as rampant and extensive in propagating the hate-filled motivational propaganda as their Indian counterpart.  

Social media in India is, of course, divided into two segments; one that serves the ruling dispensation with a vicious hate propaganda than even the regular TV channels; the other segment devotes itself to exposing the government and the ruling party. The advantage of the social media is that the viewer finds it easy to choose what to watch and listen and the time for doing so.

In the West, both the electronic and print media have been shrinking. India is generally late in following the trends in the West, but eventually India does follow suit. The preachers of hate and division in India must be wary of that possibility even if it looks some years away###