Sunday, March 27, 2011

The death of ethics

 The mainstream media failed to be fair in reporting the Muthanga tragedy.

The unsavoury incidents at Muthanga, which drew nation­ wide attention, was not only symbolic of the state of the tribal population in India but was also a litmus test for the media. The tragedy could have been easily avoided had the government looked into the Adivasis' problems with compassion and promptness. The media also cannot wash their hands off for not setting an agenda for the is­sues of these discriminated human beings. Journalism here lacks profes­sional ethics and analytical acumen; the reporting of the incident at Muthanga was definitely a pointer to this, and it was most unfortunate that it happened in a State which has great 'news literacy' and enough of radical ideas.
The biggest tragedy of Muthanga was not the government's stubborn attitude, but the reluctance on the part of the media to act cohesively to bring about a collective resistance to the atrocities against a powerless popu­lace. Instead, the confrontation was reported from the angle of 'what hap­pened' rather than 'why it happened' by most of the newspapers. There was confusion about the number of peo­ple killed during the confrontation) among the papers even though there were authentic reports and eyewitness statements. Praise should go to Madhyamam daily, which showed great professional integrity to speak out the truth backed up by photographs on the front page to prove that at least three persons were killed. The UNI reported that 10 people were killed, and Mathrubhoomi daily suggested that five might have met their end while sticking to the official version. The Malayala Manorama daily de­scribed the possibility of more deaths as a "rumour". Both these big Malayalam newspapers had banner headlines saying that only one Adivasi was killed, and thus our mainstream newspapers proved beyond doubt that they are really establishmentarian, and they have a different agenda on the issue. All the other newspapers re­ported that more deaths of Adivasis had occurred; Mangalam put the toll at 10.
With the help of photographic evidence in Madhyamam, why did the two big-wig mainstream dailies not follow it up and explore the reality of the number of deaths, and resolve the confusion? Similar was the case with the arrest of activists Janu and Geethanandan which most of the me­dia reported as "caught by the local people" rather than as a case of sur­render. Thus, except for Madhyamam, there was a conscious attempt by the newspapers and the visual media to portray the entire episode as a Janu­ centric political exercise rather than a vital issue of the tribal population. The worst of the reports were that of the left-wing Desabhimani and Kairali TV; one can digest the political parti­sanship of their stance, but not their attempt to hijack Janu out of the tribal issue. What happened with our media was that they consciously or uncon­sciously took sides with the political lobbies to push the tribal population out of their environment, and tied them to political agendas to keep their real problems away from public percep­tion.
Thus the Adivasi remains a logo not only for the politician who is forced to dance with them occasionally to better his mileage, but also for the modern day media which markets tribal life to add ethnic flavour to their increasingly glamourous content.  Otherwise Muthanga should keep occurring so that tribal issues get the front pages.
Today’s media is interested mostly in the pretty rivalries of politicians and their naïve and infertile political dramas. Journalism has become a mouthpiece for the market economy, and it has regressed from its glory days in 1960s and 70s which are now rusting in dusty memoirs. News has developed into Newszak with a surfeit of entertainment ingredients as Malcom Maggridge puts it. Journalists in blue jeans and sneakers, spouting Yankeee accent cram the news shows. For them the Adivasi can never be a news story,only so-called human interest piece. Unethical practices and stale journalism courses have spawned social irresponsibility of the worst order. There is simply not a few to speak up for the marginalized and the oppressed. It is time that journalism gets back to being the noble profession that it once was.

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