By Ananya S Guha
Recently the Shillong Times organized a panel discussion the theme : “ Is Media the conscience keeper of the Nation “? It was a very debatable subject but was also layered with ambiguity. The ambiguity was in this: should media actually be the conscience keeper of the country, or does it actually purport to be one, behaves as the conscience keeper? The discussion which in a sense flagellated the electronic media, concluded that the media should have its own ` conscience `.
Now the point is: what is this conscience? Are we talking about sensational or exaggerated news which should be pruned down? Unfortunately although the voice of the print media still is, by and large temperate, the electronic media behaves in a manner, that the ultimate voice is its only! The discussion did deliberate on this. So, I feel that instead of having ` Big Fights`, why do they not organize more sobering panel discussions, in which we are spared the travail of witnessing clenched teeth? The focus on ` fights ` give a discussion a negative connotation, and the public may or may not revel in such ` fights `. Then again we see the same people appearing again and again.
Unfortunately the electronic media sells, and it is ` selling ` news. Being a pretentious conscience keeper is not what is desired. What is desired is a dispassionate presentation of news, and then the views and opinions by way of discussions. Having politicians on the panel complicates matters, because they have an agenda to fulfill. So, it is one agenda pitted against another. Then there is anger and boisterous talk. Mind you all this is couched in mostly very good verbiage. But the anger rankles. Why so much of anger, animosity and recalcitrance to see another point of view? Why only heaps and heaps of verbiage, to outdo another? At the end of it there are only lame conclusions. The electronic media reviles politicians, but finds it befitting to invite them for talks, big fight, small fight or whatever! And other discussions which do not have the nomenclature of “ Big Fight“ turn out to be ` fights ` anyway, an acid test to our patience, at least mine.
If the media purports to be the honest conscience keeper, it must go about its job in a workmanlike honest manner, not dress its programmes with titillation and frills! For any event in society it is the collective conscience that matters, media or no media. True many of the things highlighted by the media as the grotesque and barbaric rape case in New Delhi in December 2013, can mould dialogue and public opinion, especially the youth. Similarly Anna Hazare`s tirade against corruption, brought an entire an entire nation clapping on its feet. Fair enough, but sensationalism to ` sell ` to ` manufacture, as one of the panelists described it that day, can also be an aberration, which the intelligentsia may well discover.
Years ago, about three decades back a Calcutta based daily published an article by Dr Ashok Mitra, well known economist and columnist on the film “ Gandhi “ where he found historical flaws and anomalies. A debate was generated in the letters to the editor which continued for a month. Finally the editor politely closed the debates. Today`s debates on television shows give the appearance of continuing ad infinitum, till a harried moderator says that he or she is running out of time. Time is now the great culprit.
The media`s focus cannot only be on politics, there are larger issues such as education and the arts. Many newspapers in the country actively encourage reader participation by inviting them to contribute. The media is not only a compendium of political news and antagonisms between fractious groups, it can and should gently arouse sensitivities, the good life and act as a creative dialogue with its readers.
For example “ The Statesman “ had very popular columns : “ Now And Again “ and “ Calcutta Notebook “. Similarly The Shillong Times has its interesting “ Shillong Jottings “. Some of the prime dailies in the country have done away with the ` middle ` column, those sweet nothings or somethings of life. But The Shillong Times has kept this spirit alive. Kudos ! The media cannot espouse ` hard ` news, there is the lighter side of life as well, our “ little societies “, our daily encounters, sad or humorous. Instead we find newspapers, especially the supposed ` mainstream ` publishing advertorials only for pecuniary advantage. Once in a career counselling meet in Siliguri, about a decade back the editor of a well known national daily lamented that career guidance columns in newspapers, were not a guidance but only churning out information, to the patron who collated it and he or she was paid large amounts for just gathering such information.
The media can play a larger than life role in disseminating education, and its portents for the youth. And again why do we not emphasize on positive actions of people, like one one community helping another in times of ethnic clashes? These untold stories wither away in the face of information explosion and animosities. History however has a strange way of recording them, but not the BIG FIGHTS! Years ago when the Assam movement was at its climax the well known intellectual giant Professor Hiren Gohain wrote that cultural assimilation, is the only solution to such vexed issues. His prognosis was a happy and positive one, and this is also taking place to a great extent today. Such asseveration can make a dent on the mind, and take society to positive paths, not only to roads of ignominy and rancid hatred. Similarly in the midst of violence in Assam in the eighties a short story was published in The Statesman about how against the backdrop of ethnic violence one member of a community helped another when there was trouble brewing between their communities, and racial hatred was simmering. The touching story left a distinct impression on my mind.
So conscience or no conscience, the media should realize that through its inner resources it can make or break, it can also cement collective societal relationships and radicalize them.