It’s addictive, and it’s beautiful, and it’s dangerous. It is also the future — actually, very much the present — of journalism. Let’s just call it ‘P’ for now. Simply put, it tells you the number of visitors and page views your website is getting, and also breaks it down to which section/ reporter/story/post/photo gallery/ video/stuff is doing well, in real time. Short skirts do well; so do sex, sexism and Sunny Leone. But that does not, necessarily, mean we write only on these subjects and even invent stories. Some people, however, think differently.
This is where Chandigarh’s #shortskirtban came from. An English newspaper/website — which competes with the one that I work for — reported with much passion and compassion earlier this week that short skirts had been banned in Chandigarh’s discotheques by the UT’s administration. Well, OK then! As anyone who has anything to do with the internet, a ‘hashtag storm’ on Twitter and Facebook was only appropriate under the circumstances. It started with some typical Modi-bashing. A friend diligently asked me on Facebook: ‘Can we blame Modi for this?’ Why not, I replied. Others blamed six decades of Congress rule having destroyed our culture to the point of mini-skirts.
Soon, the storm turned into a war beyond politics, with feminism being invoked. The bubble grew bigger than that one article, and was filled to capacity by the numerous news aggregating websites and opinion portals. Headlines got more and more creative; tweets got funnier; and reactions became nastier and nastier. Until someone actually opened the original article and read the whole thing down: The UT policy states that ‘exhibition and advertisement of scantily dressed women’ could be the grounds for closure of a discotheque and other such places. Right then; there is no ban on wearing anything, as is clear from a careful reading of the report itself. Yes, the UT policy makes a needless reference to women’s dresses in advertisements. Also, despite fire-fighting by the administration, the policy reeks of moral policing. Meanings of ‘indecent’, ‘offensive’ and many such words remain vague and could likely be misused by the authorities. All that said, though, there is no #shortskirtban as such.
But Twitter and Facebook were not done yet. The war morphed into sanctimonious lectures on how there remained references that were sexist; and how the media had sensationalised the whole matter. Sure, but where did the ‘ban’ come from? It came from ‘P’ and its many avatars, one would believe. How does this ‘P’ work? It works on eyeballs. Who has the eyeballs? It’s the people who click this kind of stuff, bother hardly to read it, but share it nonetheless and make it viral. Yes, in a roundabout way, I am blaming the audience for the bad show.
Let me say some things upfront first — the newspaper in question has not done this the first time; it is not the only one that does it though it is a leader in these matters; and journalism is indeed facing a tough time in balancing eyeballs on the internet with stories from the ground. That’s not what we are discussing yet again. What has not got attention in this #shortskirtban case is the hypocrisy of the social media warriors.
Is it not sexism when a top discotheque of the city sells itself simply by posting pictures of only women on its Facebook page? Or, when it makes it a point to only post pictures of women who are wearing short skirts and plunging necklines? If one looks hard enough, there are women wearing less-revealing clothes in the background, and there are also those creatures called men who are never featured in these photos. It is sexism that’s traded routinely. What’s Ladies Night on Wednesday but simply used as bait by clubs to get enough men to come after women who otherwise identify as feminists? I am not saying that women should refuse free drinks. Who in their right minds would refuse free drinks? But don’t we all know why the drinks are free? Chuck that; let’s get back to the point.
The ban-that-wasn’t was a case of misinterpretation or, in fact, over-interpretation of the UT policy. Intentional or a mistake, it was bad journalism. Period. But when will people actually read these reports before getting fashionably angry? Until that happens, we will continue to take credit for all the rare good journalism, and blame the reader for all the rest. We will conveniently hide behind ‘P’. Whom will P, the People, hide behind?