Please don’t kill the messenger
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On 30 May, Hindi journalism will celebrate its 188th birth anniversary. On birthdays, the convention is to look back and take stock of one’s achievements. On this occasion, why not take a look at the entire local-language press in the country?
Journalists are grappling with an unprecedented credibility crisis. Since last week, the disciples of a jailed guru have laid siege to the Twitter accounts of journalists, lawyers and others. They began by asking why their guru was behind bars. They alleged it was happening because of the media, which they claim has been bribed to do so. One of the guru’s followers was then asked: Does the judiciary pronounce its decisions based on media reports?
Expectedly, the followers began taking swipes at the judiciary itself. I felt those who were attacking the essential pillars of democracy should be left to their devices. But why don’t they themselves reveal the names of the people who’ve bribed these journalists and the journalists who’ve taken the bribes? What evidence do they have against the media and the judiciary? If they have the evidence, why don’t they put it forward? I know that in response, they can just spew profanities because these anonymous conspiracy theorists just have allegations to make, no facts to back them up.
They should also be asked about the girl allegedly raped by the ‘saint,’ who has now grown up. Her family and she have been punished for years for raising their voice against him. At an age when she should be studying, she has been confined indoors. Her family has been subject to victim shaming. And who is behind the murder of two main witnesses in the case.
Saints believe that the truth cannot be destroyed. If not today, the truth will come out tomorrow. Why can’t the guru’s followers wait till then? Why the impatience?
The issue that arises is whether the media would have treated the matter in a similar fashion had the accused been a person from their own fraternity. Here are two examples. An editor who was a flag-bearer of investigative journalism was accused of harassment by a female colleague. As a result, he had to spend many months behind bars. The editor of a TV channel went to jail for allegedly extorting money from an MP of the last Lok Sabha belonging to the then ruling party. The media didn’t shy away from exposing such cases and debating them.
Clearly, if one of us engages in immoral behaviour, the entire journalistic community will unite against him. Why don’t the self-styled guardians of morality take a lesson from this?
The social media explosion has begun to dismantle all established norms. Religion, deities, power structures, styles of governance, nations, tribes and clans have all fallen victim to this phenomenon. Unfortunately, these social media soldiers are bent on destroying the edifices of proprieties built by their forefathers. The responsibility of every individual increases in such a scenario. The media and its supporters are no exception.
For journalists—neither bestowed with any special rights by the constitution nor with any special resources by society—the times are particularly challenging. Governments, politicians and devotees of power have always been inimical to them. Who wants to look at one’s own ugly reflection in the mirror? That’s why there are attempts to shatter the mirror from time to time.
After the departure of the British Raj, in independent India, there have been several proclamations of national emergencies, whether official or unofficial. With respect, I would like to state that the English media is relatively luckier than its vernacular counterparts because English is still the language of the cities. The responsibility of speaking the truth to make a living is carried by vernacular journalists on their own dint. They have to work in terrain and circumstances that are often labelled ‘jungle raj’ by their urban brethren. The venomous backlash for this is also borne by the local-language press.
The question is this: What does the society give in return to journalists who make numerous sacrifices trying to uphold societal values? Our fellow travellers in society tolerate the excesses of tyrants like the dumb and the deaf and in the same manner, pretend to be oblivious to the excesses on journalists and unblinkingly move on. It is time they shed this apathetic attitude.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.