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Snitch ’n’ snatch show

Coming from someone who makes a living out of venting biodegradable opinion made from recyclable facts, my criticism of the media becoming increasingly opinionated sounds odd. But like wrong facts, there can be stupid opinions, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2010 22:52 IST
Indrajit Hazra

When did the media turn from conscience-keeper to self-righteous snitch? My guess is when national papers and TV channels, all carrying the same bits and bobs of news, decided to vie against each other by putting their loudmouths where their news space is.

So we have the rather delectable multi-media experience of reading about the need for India and Pakistan to make love, not jang even as anchors from the same media mothership want “Answers, sir, answers!” about why Pakistan continues to exist next door even after two jihadi attacks in Srinagar in the last two weeks.

Coming from someone who makes a living out of venting biodegradable opinion made from recyclable facts, my criticism of the media becoming increasingly opinionated sounds odd. But like wrong facts, there can be stupid opinions. And it seems that it’s raining stupid opinions this season.

Consider two stories — one from a dais and one from a road — that were loaded, given a heavy wash and an intense spin-dry at newsroom laundrettes throughout last week. Minister of State Shashi Tharoor, out on parole after being earlier booked for being a bad Congressman (read: for being a Congressman who still sounded like Shashi Tharoor), was heard at a public forum agreeing with someone about “Nehru and Gandhi’s foreign policies [being] more like a moralistic running commentary”. That notions like the non-aligned movement, a referendum in Kashmir, ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai’ may have had a realpolitik agenda can be debated till the cattle-class comes home. But the media’s object was to catch Tharoor picking his nose and bring it to the attention of The Hand.

The Congress leadership, if the Prime Minister’s earlier advice that the media take Tharoor’s tweets in a jocular spirit is anything to go by, was least bothered about the minister’s foray into standard undergrad foreign policy history. But that wouldn’t have made for good page 1/primetime copy, would it? Thus the opinionated news-opinion that the Congress Church take action against its impudent heretic. Spokespersons from the party were contacted; their stern views recorded. It was like asking members of a family what they thought about the internet surfing or onanistic habits of the youngster in the house. Obviously, once asked, they would have to respond with appropriate disapproval — which they did. Like a gloating teacher’s pet, the media figured that their legendary vigilance was on display yet again. What was really on display was snitching, an ailment of the self-righteous.

But it’s one thing being self-righteous and silly; it’s quite another being blinded silly into believing that others are always at fault while oneself is always blameless. The video footage of Tamil Nadu Sub-Inspector R. Vetrivel, crying out for help as he lay on the road with one leg missing and profusely bleeding after being attacked by a gang, was not taken by a journalist but by a cameraman hired to record the programme of two ministers in the Tamil Nadu government.

The two ministers were hauled over the proverbial coals by the media for not getting the injured policeman, whom they were passing on the road, to hospital in time. Vetrivel’s death, TV anchors, horrified by the image they ran on a loop, insisted, was caused by the two politicians — not by anyone else looking on while the man writhed in pain; and certainly not the cameraman whose footage all channels aired to drive home the shocking news of the ‘apathy of politicians’.

I’m not a dimwit contrarian who thinks the ministers weren’t at fault. They should have immediately ordered their personnel to rush the policeman to the nearest hospital in one of their cars — instead of leaving the district magistrate to call for an ambulance that never arrived.

But I can’t help thinking that the cameraman must have lingered, taking care to get ‘good’ footage of the dying man who needed immediate help, knowing fully well that news channels would need a steady hand and long enough footage for his shots to be aired on (bought by?) all national TV channels. And to bring the terrible fate of Sub-Inspector Vetrivel to the nation’s attention and expose the rottenness of politicians, a quick decision was taken: to air the footage that would have been impossible to record had the bleeding man been bundled immediately into a vehicle.

You do the demand-supply cost-benefit report.