It is often said the greatest crime that the media can commit is to create false consensus. However, it must also be said that it is not always easy to determine where public consensus might lie. This is especially so today with the proliferation of myriad private media houses, in particular the television media, most of them corporate owned packaging and presenting propaganda and vested interest as news. While there are cases of creation of false consensus with no sinister intents, as for instance in the popular practice of journalistic crystal ball gazing into anticipated events, there are also instances where it is deliberate. This is when the media reduces itself to a propaganda vehicle. When the propaganda is obvious, it has always proven to be at the cost of the credibility of the media involved, but sometimes extremely imaginative propaganda can complicate the matter tremendously. One is reminded of the manner Western capitalist media, with its soft and unobtrusive messages actually managed to make capitalism almost synonymous with democracy in popular perception, and communism the opposite of whatever democracy stands for. In the era of the Cold War, crude and raw assaults from all the Soviet propaganda machineries were literally reduced to dwarfs against the more sophisticated campaign by the capitalist world. Sometimes again, it is genuinely a question of not knowing where exactly the consensual will of the people might lie. Especially on issues of gravity and extreme sensitivity, and in conditions where opinions are not free, this difficulty becomes acute. At this moment, so many of Manipur’s raging issues, AFSPA, the definition of sovereignty, legitimacy of violence even against perceived wrongs etc, are in this cloud.
There are other ways the media can be dishonest. The debate over the issue of embedded journalists is a moot point. It will be recalled this debate became open after 80 mostly American journalists travelled with the invading American army in Iraq to report the war as it happened. The journalists did their jobs as well as they were expected to, and indeed the overall impression of the war for everybody, except those who saw it directly and the brave journalists who refused to be embedded in the US military, were determined largely by the images and narratives from these embedded journalists. The truth also probably is, very few counter weighed their impressions of the war with the knowledge that they saw the war only from viewpoint of the US military. The question is still relevant in our situation. Journalists often travel to rebel camps and report back the viewpoints of the rebels and bring back images too. Journalists also travel to the military camps and report back the work the military is doing, medical camps, developmental projects, or even war preparation etc. There can be nothing wrong with either of these, and they can hardly be called embedded reporting either. But if the journalists were to travel to the rebel camps and from that viewpoint report about military activities, or travel with the military and report about rebel activities, it is not just a matter of being prone to becoming partisan but unethical as well. One would even contend that it amounts to an abuse of the profession. This is what dishonesty of embedded reporting is about and this was what the conscientious world objected to in the idea of embedded journalists reporting the Iraq war.
In some circumstances, the embedded nature of journalistic reportage can become unavoidable. Take for instance any journalistic coverage of public demonstrations, especially ones that involved or were likely to involve violent confrontations with the police and other security arrangements of the establishment. In these situations, journalists almost always are seen positioned behind the police. The physical view of these reportage or images hence are always from the riot police’s vantage. One can argue there is no difference, for the facts about the events that unfolded would have been the same if the journalists were reporting from wherever they could witness the events directly. But just imagine if the reporters and photographers were with the demonstrators. They would also know what it means to fear the possibility of being hit by a rubber bullet, or blinded by tear gas, or be blasted by water cannons, or the adrenaline rush of the sudden impulse to run for dear life etc. The emotions involved would in such a circumstance become much more kinetic and absorbing. For obvious reasons though, journalist cannot be expected to be martyrs. All the same, the conscientious among them at least must know what they see and report would be sterile if they do not acknowledge and try to empathize with the very different vision from out there.
Source: Imphal Free Press