The Anna Hazare movement, which appears to have now subsided, raises crucial issues relating to the role of the media.
The first and foremost role of the media is to provide accurate and objective information to the public to enable it to form rational opinions, which is a sine qua non in a democracy.Obviously the people cannot go everywhere to collect information about important events,and hence the media acts as an agency of the people for supplying such information. Hence it plays a vital role in a democracy.
For instance, Nikhil Chakravarty wrote about the terrible Bengal famine of 1943, and P.Sainath highlighted the farmers suicides in Vidarbha, Andhra Pradesh, etc
The problem, however, arises, when journalists do not maintain detachment and objectivity, and instead identify themselves with the event. This is precisely what happened to a large section of the media in December last year during the Anna Hazare stir. Most journalists practically became part of the movement instead of remaining detached observers and reporters. It reminded one of the Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhumi agitation when a section of the media (particularly a large section of the Hindi press) practically became kar sewaks.
A journalist must maintain some distance and detachment from the event he is covering. He has to cover and report the event, not become part of it. He should behave professionally, like a doctor who does not get personally involved with his patient while doing his best for him, or like a lawyer who does not identify himself with his client, while arguing for him. If one gets identified with his subject how can he maintain accuracy and objectivity?
A journalist may have sympathy for the subject he is reporting, but he must never forego his critical faculties and rational analysis.
Even a little rational thinking reveals that the Anna Hazare movement was only an emotional outburst and cannot make even a scratch on the prevailing rampant corruption in the country. Yet, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Anna led the gullible people of India in a dance of stupidity, ably assisted by most of our media. I was reminde of a line in Shakespeare's Macbeth "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
In those days one never heard of a critical analysis by the media of the Janlokpal Bill, whose enactment Anna was insisting upon.Probably nobody had even read it.
Section 2 (e) of the Bill states that employees covered by the Prevention of Corruption Act come within the purview of the Lokpal. There are over 2 crore such employees, 39 lac Central Government employees, 55 lac employees of public sector undertakings and statutory bodies, 1.2 crore state government employees, and other categories like cooperative societies employees, teachers, judicial officers, etc.
Now if this law is made there are bound to be tens of lacs of complaints every year. This will require perhaps 2 lac lokpals to deal with them. These lokpals will have to be provided salaries, staff, housing, offices,etc. placing an additional heavy financial burden on the state exchecquer And considering the low level of morality prevailing in our country it is almost certain that most of them will become blackmailers. It will be creating a Frankenstein monster,a parallel bureaucracy which will at a stroke double the corruption in the country. And who will guard these praetorian guards? A body of superlokpals?
Should the media not have coolly and rationally considered all this instead of joining the revelry and merry making at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds?
Apart from the above, there is a second role of the media, which is particularly important in the transitional period (from feudal agricultural to the modern industrial era) through which our country is passing, and that is of giving leadership and guidance to the people in the realm of ideas.
This transitional period is always a very painful period in history, full of turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, social churning, intellectual ferment, etc. A study of the history of Western Europe in the 17th to 19th Centuries, when European society was passing through its transition, shows that it was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through this fire. We are going through a very painful period in our history, which may last another 15 to 20 years.
In this transition period the role of ideas, and therefore of the media, becomes extremely important. The media is not an ordinary business which deals with commodities, it deals with ideas. To help society get over the transition period faster and with less pain the media should promote modern scientific ideas and combat backward feudal ideas and practices like casteism, communalism, and superstitions. In this connection I may refer to the glorious role played by the European media when Europe was passing through its transition. Voltaire attacked religious bigotry, Rousseau attacked the entire feudal system and Thomas Paine proclaimed the Rights Of Man. In my opinion the Indian media should play a similar role. Instead of pandering to the low intellectual level of our masses and perpetuating it, it should seek to uplift it so as to make the masses part of enlightened India.
When Anna Hazare called off his fast and said his movement will now enter politics, the media should have immediately asked him what exactly does he mean? Unfortunately most of our politics is on the basis of caste and religion. If he forms a party, which caste (or caste cmbination) will it represent? Without such a vote bank all his candidates will lose their security deposits.
Recently Anna said that he will not contest elections because each election costs 15 to 20 crore rupees, and he does not have that money, but he will support honest candidates. Now there is a clear contradiction here. Anna admits that an election (presumably a Lok Sabha election) costs 15 to 20 crores. Then where and how did the 'honest' candidate he supports get this 15 to 20 crores? These, and many other, are the questions our media should ask, but does it do so?
I have sometimes been misunderstood by a section of the media for criticizing it, but I criticized it as a well wisher, not an enemy. Kabirdas said "Nindak neeray raakhiye, angan kuti chawaye". I repeatedly said that instead of focussing on frivolous issues like lives of film stars, cricket, fashion parades, astrology, etc, the media should focus on the real issues facing the nation like poverty, unemployment, price rise, healthcare, etc
The Indian media has a glorious role to play in the coming days, provided it realizes its mistakes and corrects itself. I am sure the Indian media will do so, and thereby win the respect of the Indian people
( Published in Hindustan Times on 09th August,2012)