“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.” ― Denis Diderot
Deconstructing the Mystique
They wield unbridled power and the might of the pen, reinforce and establish beliefs, cater for the society’s need for information and entertainment. Holding governments accountable they question those in authority (allegedly in Public Interest), take up issues on behalf of the public, articulate public opinion and serve as the watchdog (self appointed) of Democracy! Their pervasiveness makes them a Power Institution of sorts, albeit arguably. And as Denis Diderot will agree, they have scant regard for anyone’s feelings. “They” are the Media Professionals, the omniscient and the omnipresent, and they are commonly known by the nickname “Media”.
Their workforce is an unusual heterogeneous mix of personalities of different shades and competence levels, they come from all nooks and corners of the country, basically from the same social milieu as us and therefore, their reporting, writings and views reflect their biases as well. From the era of the Penny Press to that of the Internet, “Media” now cuts across artificial boundaries created by geographical borders and socio-economic divide. Information is now more democratized than ever before and nothing is “local” in this era of instant connect, courtesy the World Wide Web!
An uncommon encounter !
At a luncheon party somewhere in the national capital, the author happened to stumble across a suave looking gentleman. After the initial exchange of pleasantries it emerged that the individual is actually representing the entire “Media” fraternity at the function. What followed was a casual and light banter, a brief Q&A session without any pre-meditation and design. The excerpts of the historic interview have been reproduced below for the benefit of our readers. It’s a first in the history of our country, and an exclusive interview. The gentleman who was representing the “Media” talked on the exploits of the Media, expressing candid opinions and revealing for the first time, trade secrets of Media which help to shape public opinion (cloud the mind of the average News Consumer) in the country.
1. Tell our readers something about yourself, your organization & its working methods.
I represent all my colleagues in the Media here as obviously they can’t be interviewed together at the same time. So when I say “We or Us”, I mean the entire Media fraternity. For beginners, we are the Media, we are all pervasive, we peek into the lives of unsuspecting citizens, blow reputations to smithereens and enjoy the company of the high and the mighty! We usually don’t care about the messages being spread, and we don’t even care for the decorum of the offices being attacked. We are the chosen few who could not make it in life by dint of our academic credentials. So now we generally go after those people with qualifications who made it in life. There are few amongst us with a scholastic bent of mind and they are able to publish some books but that’s because we have a lot of friends in the publishing industry. Some of us have mastered the art of deception, sarcasm, ridicule, exaggeration, hyperbole etc. We use literary devices like imagery to invoke emotions, use methods like inversion, repetition and personification to create sensational headlines. On the lighter side, without learning these tricks of the trade it’s very difficult to survive in our field!
2. How do you create stories which catch the attention of an entire nation?
Let me tell you how our friends in the “Print Media” work. Before embarking to write an article, a feature or an opinion piece, we “Construct” a story using “Creative Language”. We top it up with an impactful “Headline” aimed at generating the reader’s interest. We then follow it up by writing a crisp opening paragraph which we call the “Lead” to entice the reader to fall into our trap! Finally, We make the story appear as one which has been written in the “Public interest”, even if it has some embedded points of view. Writing gives us power and most of our reports are organized to gain exactly that. People these days don’t have time to research what we have written so what we do is to present only one side of the argument and try to win their sympathy. As you will agree, we have our own agendas to meet, serve our masters and earn our livelihoods too.
3. Information is Power. Simple messages on Social Media have galvanized thousands, but when you feed, half baked incomplete info to the public, are you not doing injustice or betraying the trust imposed on you by the citizens of this country?
I would like to inform you that the ownership of the media from where the news is coming also decides its content. So our views may not necessarily represent the dominant view but many a times we are required to construct the “reality” on behalf of our employers. We thrive on sensationalism and we are constantly looking for stories. You must understand the difference between a story and news. For us, all events which take place in this country are not News. We look for “News Value” in any event and then decide whether to write a story on it or not. We are constantly looking for its impact on the masses and increasing our circulation, which is the desired result. In the end we always come out clean because what we say or write is never personal but issued in Public Interest!
4. Slamming the Electronic Media for its live coverage of the 26/11 attacks, a bench of Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks had commented on the reckless reporting by the media and how the terrorists were watching the positions of our security forces and all their operational movements due to continuous broadcasts. Do you think your colleagues were acting in the National Interest in doing so?
In the field of the Electronic Media there is cut throat competition. Yes we did cross the line, but you must understand the need for “TV ratings”. After years of brainstorming we decided to “Self Regulate” ourselves, because Freedom of Speech and Expression has been guaranteed in the Constitution of our country. We are trying to develop some conscience, but you know our organization is too big to have a common set of values & ethics. I don’t think this issue is relevant now, as the public of this country has a short memory anyways.
5. Recently one of your colleagues in the Media has even criticized the policy of the Indian Army of not naming the terrorists killed in operations and their view that it glorifies the terrorists. He went on to even name and shame a senior serving Army Officer in public by comparing him to a Pakistani General, accusing him of following the same tactics as the “pakis”. Don’t you think the article was a personal attack on the dignity of a serving soldier & a question mark on the Integrity of our Armed Forces?
Let me put the facts straight. The intent of that piece was to show an officer and a soldier his place. We believe that security of the country is too serious an issue to be left to our simple soldiers or even officers, however senior or experienced they may be. Of course, the facts in that article were shown in a distorted light, and only one side of the story was presented. Screenshots of some selected tweets were shown ignoring other tweets by serving Senior Officers and Armed Forces Veterans. But isn’t that exactly what we are known for? Sometimes we even stoop to the lowest levels while creating a narrative or to serve own agendas. We even use our organizations to express our personal dislikes on the pretext that the entire Media fraternity is being attacked or being put under threat. Also we knew that our Army is too decent an organization to react to such profanities in the public domain, so that factor also emboldened us.
6. On the recent standoff in Ladakh, Media seemed to have taken over External Security and Defence of the Country in its hands. Do you think it is wise to whip up war hysteria when the MEA and the MoD were still closely monitoring the situation? Even before the Raksha Mantri could come on TV and clarify the situation, your colleagues had already painted a grim situation. Do you think these irresponsible stories and public display of bravado do any good for our public policy and bilateral relations?
Agreed that some of our insatiable colleagues came out with these sensitive stories which are well outside their domain but as you are aware we are known for our flights of imagination and moreover, what’s wrong in speculating. We even gave out tactical details in our articles but then the “Nation needs to Know”.
Also Grand Strategy, Geo-politics, Geo-strategy etc are subjects outside our comprehension. Similarly, Diplomacy is none of our concern and so are bilateral relations, we are here to earn a living, period. Our primary objective is always to sensationalize the issue at hand. We in our own wisdom thought that our political leadership and government is being too soft on our neighbour. So We, the “Media” decided to teach China a lesson. Please be advised that by questioning us on this issue you are questioning public interest itself, you are trying to muffle our voice and put democracy in danger. Having said that, I agree that someone ensconced in his air conditioned drawing room wrote few stories. If it invokes reactions from the Chinese side, our soldiers are there to take care of it. It’s professional hazard, the Army people are getting paid out of the tax payers money to protect us.
7. Since the Media in India is so patriotic, any thoughts of sending your kids to take up the Profession of Arms, make them join the Army, Navy or Air Force? Some Media people can even volunteer for the new “Tour of Duty” concept? Send your colleagues to serve for three years and on coming back, let them report on the Defence Beat in a more nuanced and objective manner!
If we can sound patriotic from the comfort of our AC News Rooms, if we can win wars sitting in the comforts of our homes, if we can preach on Twitter and Whatsapp, there is no point we going there or for that matter sending our children on the borders and risking our lives and limbs. There are people meant for doing this; our Armed Forces, they volunteered for it, let them do it. Vis-a-vis reporting on the Defence Beat– that can be mastered by reading a few books on the military, why take the risk of going on ground and serving with the Army? Few of us though are definitely interested in joining politics, because we know that’s where the power lies. There are so many examples of Media personalities turned politicians in this country. Some of us still nurse the ambitions of entering those hallowed portals, I hope the government is listening!
8. Recently we have seen a number of people on Twitter, masquerading as journalists who have taken up the jobs of Spokesperson of MEA, Home, Defence and other ministries. They don’t bat an eyelid before reporting on sensitive issues without considering implications of their tweets. Do you think this is a negative trend and must be arrested?
Not at all. Even the Prime Minister of our country has taken to twitter in a big way. So have all the ministries, politicians, IAS, IPS officers etc. Over a period of time these people have developed a huge fan base on twitter. Don’t you think if we lag behind in this social media battle, the people will stop listening to us and reading our stories. Twitter now a days is the virtual turf to gain followers and enhance circulation.
9. Do you ever hold yourself accountable for your inaccurate reports, as individuals or collectively as an organization? What are your views on self regulation by the Media?
We have joined this organization basically to hide behind the common veil and to enjoy the protection provided by being in “Media” or by being “the Media”. Individually we may be ineffective, but together we are a force to reckon with, it’s something only we can flaunt in this country. Accountability is a non issue here because we speak on behalf of the people of India. Whatever we say is for the people of India so questioning us is actually questioning the voice of democracy.
The interview reproduced above has relied entirely on written notes taken by the author during the Q&A session and has been suitably edited, keeping the need for creating sensationalism in mind. The original transcript has been condensed and streamlined without changing the subject’s language or meaning to the maximum extent possible. Readers are advised to exercise their own discretion and draw their own inferences.
End Notes by the Author
To quote John Grogan, “In the English language, it all comes down to this: Twenty-six letters, when combined correctly, can create magic. Twenty-six letters form the foundation of a free, informed society.” Figures of speech & literary devices, coupled with the power of the visual medium have a tremendous impact in shaping the emotions, perceptions and outlook of the masses. It is because of this reason that the need for Media Literacy is felt like never before. As a discerning user of media outputs we need to understand the rationale behind the messages & their implications, so that we ask pertinent questions when required. Best way to deconstruct the hidden message behind a story on Print, Electronic or Social Media is to see who benefits from the story, and who may be disadvantaged because of the story. We must analyze the intended audience of the story & the need for the message being conveyed. The prism of perception, knowledge, stereotypes in our heads, values and culture all play a part in understanding any message put out in the public domain by the Media.
Media in India has enjoyed a special privilege of being one of the pillars (though wobbling) of democracy. All of us in some way or the other are consumers of news messages disseminated by the Media. Therefore understanding the ideology of the media organization that brings out these messages is very important. Media messages are like goods, they are packaged, marketed and distributed. We as consumers of news must be capable of making informed decisions and not get unduly carried away & influenced by the selective messages which are served to us by the media. It’s time to question what has been “Issued in Public Interest”, and what has been issued in “Self Interest”!
Article by The Fifth estate
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