Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bahal and Bromley

 Last week I was reading a interesting essay, End of Journalism by Michael Bromley, a British journalist. Why reached out for the piece was it’s rubric which sounded like Francis, Fukuyama's The End of History and The Last Man. Bromley examines the state of the profession in the light of the new news gathering methods contributed by technology, and the new expertise such as ‘multi-skilling’ it demands of the journalist. The discussion hovers around whether the introduction of multi-skilling presages a reformation of the jour­nalist as a professional or a craft worker; or the disintegration of journalism as a specific occupation.
Bromley believes that the profes­sion is dead, for technology has started shaping its future. But far away in Delhi, the capital of the world's greatest amphitheatre of democracy, Anirudh Bahal, a Tehelka' scribe had a different rea­son to think that journalism was dead while he sat in the lock-up of the Lodhi Road police station refusing anything to eat. He is a victim of a rogue government which has been harassing him for telling the world about its clandestine ways of business. Bromley and Bahal repre­sent two different faces of the pro­fession and of course the state of the media in the West and the Third world. Bromley can talk about dan­gers to journalism from upcoming technologies, while Bahal can talk  about repressive regimes as a threat to the freedom of the media.
Along with Bahal, today an entire nation can smell the corpse of the profession, especially after the order of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court preventing the media from reporting anything related to the Babri Masjid issue. The honourable court has observed that media reports could influence its judgment. Some logic indeed. The court could have looked into precedents while giving a verdict on such an important issue relating to the functions and responsibilities of the Fourth Estate. Some 270 years back, in the famous Peter Zinger case in America, the court allowed the newspapers to criticize govern­ment officials, though in principle. Here in this part of the world, how can a responsible court, quoting procedural hurdles, ban public discussions on a vital issue on which no action has been- taken till date? Then what is the role of the media in a democracy? The honourable court could have distinguished between fruitful social debate and malicious reports. This is not only a case of right to free speech but also right to information.

But we have to blame the media itself for this unfortunate situation. The media in this country has assumed the role of a negotiator of issues rather than an agenda setter.  It is now paying for this unbecoming practice. We can never wipe away the scars of irresponsible media reports which abetted violence and brutal massacres such as in the case of Bombay riots and the Godhra aftermath. Mohammad Shehzad, a Pakistan ­based journalist, observed in one of his recent articles on repression of press freedom in Pakistan that "a free press is not a sword. It is just a neat and clean mirror, which reflects the true image of their deeds. If they want to see a" beauti­ful image, then they must not commit any misdeed." Of course Shehzad was referring to the life and times of journalists in Pakistan but it also serves as an explanation for the dilemma the Indian media faces today.
Now it is up to the journalist fra­ternity to regain confidence and to prove to the world that the journal­ist is not dead, for if it is the judi­ciary today, it would be the people tomorrow.

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