Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I am angry. Very, very angry.

I feel a blood curdling rage as I read the phrases 'JNU sex scandal', 'JNU pornographic MMS' and the like. What is the scandal? That adults in India have sex? Or that two consenting adults had pre-marital sex? Were they 'caught' or 'involved' in some sort of criminal activity? Or did they record a clip and eventually sold it, thus rendering it pornographic content? Even after a closer inspection of the stories carried by the major leading newspapers in Delhi (The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu and The Hindustan Times), I fail to pick out a problematic area which would bring out a conflict and thus render this 'story' anything more than just an outcome of a flawed editorial policy. 
For starters, it is highly imperative that we question exactly why this became news. Why was this piece carried as a front page story on the aforementioned newspapers when there were other more important things happening in the world? And we still label two consenting adults who have sex as 'perverts'?

I am incensed that people are speaking out against "degenerate morals of the students of this elite University who indulge in such filthy acts" (a comment on the The Indian Express website) and not questioning the very newspaper that brings the story to them. What about all those people who displayed a disgusting amount of perversion by trying to find the clip online? Oh but no, those are not the perverts. They are just by-products of a culture that is focussed on categorising sex as a purely biological act, a culture that seeks as much to dismiss all rational thought when it comes to sex, a culture that brands sex as 'immoral'. So let's do the needful. Let's do as the culture dictates. Let us participate in a mass ostracization programme. It is only fitting, after all!

I am angry. I am angry that I feel a sense of crumbling despair. I'm anxious. I know that somewhere, we are all party to the notion of constructing new boundaries, to the notion of easy invasion into our lives. The realisation that we all have effectively lost all privacy has hit home hard. It's not just about public portals any more. Anyone can take a picture, a video or an amorous conversation and put it up for the world to see. Everyone you know will read it. They will watch it. They will torture you, condemn you. And then they will label you. Put you in a sad little compartment that they have titled in the choicest of words. But they're never wrong. No, how could we even suggest that they could be? No, you're not a victim. You're the accused. You're the degenerate they 'fear'. They can get you expelled, they can get you shunned by your family, they will get you fired, they can rape you in the name of honour, they can successfully destroy whatever semblance of a normal life you have. They say you brought it upon yourself. They say you signed up for it. You want to maul them. But they've left you amputated.

I'm furious. I know I have a right to be. I urge you, too, to be angry. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We are all aware of the now popular phrase 'fourth estate of a democratic realm' (coined by Sir Edmund Burke) . Over time, and especially with the emergence of the liberalised, corporate-ised channels of the media, it has come to acquire a rather interesting dimension. That of being 'saviours of a democracy.' This phrase rings especially true in today's context.

We stand witness to a time when every news report assumes the role of a full fledged campaign. Effectively, one could say that campaign journalism in India really started with the idea of 'Justice for Jessica'. After a long drawn trial that lasted nearly six years, and yet resulted in the acquittal of Manu Sharma, the man who murdered Jessica Lall in front of 300 other people. In this case, there was a clear need for action, for action from among the people and the mass media. Justice was denied, delayed and subjugated in favour of power, politics and paisa. A massive campaign ensued. Justice was accorded. The public won. 

Any campaign or any attempt at public service journalism taken up by the media is a blatant attempt at taking a position on a particular issue and then striving to pursue it, to bring a just conclusion, to bring about a desired result. It makes sense, too, ideologically. The media is an industry (let's just accept it is in fact an industry and move on, things fall into perspective more easily) that has been invested with (and to be fair, has fought for) a tremendous amount of power and position. In a world that is quite literally based on communication systems and networks, the media has acquired a level of previously unknown and unseen omniscience. It is clear where the role of the media as a saviour of democracies could figure in. 

I can't help but feel a little hesitant about this new trend. Although it sounds extremely democratic on paper, it can lead to some rather problematic concerns. For instance, the Justice for Aarushi Talwar protests. When I first received a text urging me to join the protest, my first instinct was to look for Hemraj's name (double murder!) somewhere in the rather emotional appeal. No such luck. Nor has there been a mention of the families victimised in the Nithari case. It's interesting how priorities are set. The murder of an upper middle class teenage girl gets more prominence in the media than the murder (and eventual consumption, slaughter and burning) of 49 children who belong to lower income stratum.

Surely, I am not entirely wrong if I think a lot of these new styles and issues raised in the name of public service journalism are merely placebos? To placate the angry people of the country. To distract them from other more pressing, more urgent concerns. Illegal, extremely detrimental to the environment mining in Bellary by the very rich, very powerful Reddy brothers? No, too important to campaign against. Let's save the tiger instead. I am not for a second insinuating that the dwindling numbers of tigers isn't significant enough to deserve its own campaign. But on what level can we work to save a tiger, except for maybe boosting the sales of a Telecom company? The silence of the media on a lot of issues, it's outrage on some others, and its treatment of some more; these are notions that we need to be extremely critical of. The idea of the media conglomerates definitely working towards greater good is highly romanticised. Stock market swings, ownership patterns and organisation policy are all factors that zero in when it comes to what campaign is 'permissible' and what just isn't. There is also the idea of the continuance and establishment of hegemonic ideology. Urban, English newspapers will steer clear of a campaign on farmer's suicides, smaller newspapers are at greater risk, no matter what the nature of their campaign is. All campaigns are event-based. A murder, a political scandal, a corruption charge has to happen in order for there to be some stir of action.

What is more problematic is the idea of believing that an entire nation is swept along with an ideology that has been imposed from above, by a media 'corporation'. As a nation, we forget to take into account the agenda setting that goes on in the same. The dangers are many, as are the consequences, not all of which are necessarily 'bad'. In that note, though, public service, or campaign journalism, is most definitely an idea that stems from an active people, and for an active people.