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The Hollow Fourth Pillar

Pramod Kumar for  BeyondHeadlines

It appears that the UPA Government has not yet recovered from the jolts it has received from the Team Anna.  It is a case of self-inflicted wounds and the same is happening again. It has, through its two prominent ministers, raised questions about what has truly been a pro-people legislation namely RTI. Again, while it is struggling against the near universal condemnation, whether deserved or not, from the main opposition party and the Team Anna whose real agenda is still shrouded in mystery, it has invited criticism by trying to formulate fresh guidelines for the TV Channels. As expected, the Broadcast Editors` Association and the NBA have lost no time in condemning the changes contemplated. These august bodies have never bothered to assess the damage media is doing through its aggressive middle-class evangelism in respect of uncritical and maximalist support to the “civil society”. The media itself has become a player instead of a messenger. It has all but converted truth-telling into profitable market forces and the competition amongst the inter media units is so compelling that it is difficult to tell one from another.  If the Government has lost much of its sheen, the media and particularly the News TV which was once put on a pedestal as a strong bulwark for democracy, too has been reduced to a “hollow” fourth pillar driven more by its own venality and hidden or not so hidden agendas.

The predicament and almost total paralysis of the government may be a delectable situation for the anchors to indulge in their insidious bedlam but it is a betrayal of their profession and disservice to the viewers. The anchors are quick to cross examine the politicians and bureaucrats about their but when it comes to questioning the basis and the veracity of their allegations, the response is not only perfunctory but crass and dismissive. The recourse is to perception or dubious or non-existent sources forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism of investigating and questioning their own or claims or those of the interested parties so that the treatment of both sides is not only equal but fair also. But does it happen?

The New York Times has claimed that Anna Hazare admitted during the interview with their correspondents Lydia Polgreen and Hari Kumar that there has been disunity amongst the senior persons of Anna Team and that he (Anna) has not been getting the proper feedback and that he will soon set the things right. However, Hazare has since denied that he ever made any such comments. The media not only downplayed the NYT interview but has also failed to check with NYT or ask the interviewers about the authenticity of their claims.  Would the media accept such a denial from a politician or a bureaucrat without verification?  No Sir, there would have been crass and puerile discussions in studios with retired worthies and their views suitably tailored to the predetermined stand of the anchors.

Again, the media instead of highlighting chose to downplay the information gleaned through RTI about the enormous difference between the estimates of loss in 2G scam of the Director General of Audit R.P.Singh and the CAG, Vinod Rai. Again there has been no discussion in the studios about the development which may have a direct bearing on the cases under trial and no attempt has been made at all to verify further and build on the information discovered. Is it because the whole campaign against the Government has been built on the alleged mind-boggling loss to the exchequer of Rs.176000 crores? What a contrast from the treatment given by the same media to the CAG report and even the Press Conference of the CAG which caused prime time sensational. Even the disturbing notings on the files of CAG have been given the similar perfunctory, dismissive treatment.

There has been persistent speculation about the nature of support which Team Anna garnered during the 12 day fast of Anna Hazare. The suspicion that the RSS and its many wings had been supporting and even sustaining the movement by organizing free kitchens and providing many other services at Ram Lila ground has been confirmed to some extent by no less than Mohan Bhagwat, the Sar Sangh Chalak of RSS.  The denials by the Team Anna may be taken at face value but must be verified.  It is in the knowledge of the media that the crowd management, their food etc had been taken care of by the RSS volunteers and that the Team Anna was well aware of the situation. They have no choice but to insist on being apolitical and above electoral politics to maintain their synthetic saintly aura. Yet, the likes of Rajdeep Sardesais and Arnab Goswamis ask for proof for the claims made by Digvijay Singh but are selective in using the same bench-mark for Team Anna. It is apparent now that in thanks giving, the Team Anna is making sure that BJP does benefit electorally by their campaign against Congress in Hisar bye-election, notwithstanding their dubious and too clever statements about being focused only on the Jan Lokpal Bill. It will not be wrong to speculate that the Team Anna, in tandem with the BJP, keeps shifting the goal posts since their aim is to influence the outcome of the next General Election and not really the JLP. Their affinity with the Rightist forces is the natural by-product of their belief in meritocracy, the inadequacy of the Constitutional Institutions and the oligarchic governance.

Aravind Kejriwal has made almost “oracular” claim in an interview with Karan Thapar that Anna Hazare is above the Parliament and so is Kejriwal or Thapar or you and me. Even Kiran Bedi has claimed that Anna is India and India is Anna. This is a dangerous proposition.  WE THE PEOPLE, as a collective and not as a person or an individual however eminent or “saintly” are sovereign.  Individuals must bow to the primacy of the Constitution. Our representative democracy can deliver goods only through the collective will of “we the people” ascertained through elections of 543 members of Parliament and that ascertained will is the sovereign will. Advocacy of any deviation from this will not only play havoc with the governance of the country but is an open invitation to the anarchy. However, the anchors do not find such topics worthy of discussions for it may and does not fit in with the portrayal of their “icons” of Civil Society.

It will be undesirable if the Government persists in its knee-jerk reactions and in its present almost dysfunctional state to muzzle the freedom of speech. Admittedly our media has lost its professional ethics.  It has become increasingly irresponsible (admittedly it is a generalization for there are even now some exceptions which are true to the profession) and its quest for trps and eye-balls has created a stink and miasma which the country does not deserve. Yet, it must be asked to do the course correction only through persuasion, coaxing, discussions and consensual approach. The media with muzzled freedom is much more dangerous than a free and irresponsible media.

PS : It may not be out of place to add that over the last two days, the fervour of some of the media houses in support of Team Anna has moderated a little. It is noticeable.  Also, the word “presumptive” in respect of the alleged loss in 2G scam is back in discourse.

(Pramod Kumar retired from Glaxo and now lives in Goa from where he keeps an eagle eye on Media and can be reached at kumar.pramod1939@rediffmail.com)

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