It is all too easy to shoot the messenger
The responsibility of telling the truth to make a living is carried out by vernacular journalists on their own. They have to work in terrain and circumstances that are often labelled as ‘jungle raj’ by their urban brethren.
On May 30, Hindi journalism will celebrate its 188th birth anniversary. On birthdays the convention is to look back and take stock of your achievements. On this occasion, why shouldn’t one look at the entire language press in the country?
Newsmen are grappling with an unprecedented credibility crisis these days. Since last week the disciples of a jailed godman have laid siege to the Twitter accounts of journalists, lawyers and some other people. They began by asking why their guru was behind bars. They alleged it was happening because of the media and they claimed the media had been bribed for carrying out such misdeeds. One of the guru’s imbecile followers was asked: Does the judiciary pronounce its decisions based on the media’s reports?
As expected, the gang of locusts began taking swipes at the judiciary itself. I felt those who are attacking the essential pillars of democracy should be left to their devices. But why don’t they themselves reveal the names of the people who’ve bribed these journalists and the journalists who’ve taken the bribe. What evidence do they have against the media and the judiciary? If they have the evidence, why don’t they put it forward? I know that in response they can just spew profanities because these anonymous conspiracy theorists make allegations, without the backing of facts.
They should also be asked about the girl, allegedly raped by this man, who has now grown up. Her family and she have been punished for a number of years for raising their voices against him. At an age when she should be reading, writing and learning, she has been confined indoors. Her family has been subject to victim-shaming. Not just this, who is behind the murder of one of the witnesses and a life-threatening assault on another?
Godmen tell us that the truth cannot be destroyed. If not today the facts will come out tomorrow. Why can’t they wait till then? Why display such impetuousness?
The issue that arises is whether the media would have treated the matter in a similar fashion had the accused been a journalist from their own fraternity? Here are some examples. An editor who was a flag-bearer of investigative journalism was accused of harassment by a lady colleague. As a result, he had to spend many months behind bars. The editor of a TV channel went to jail for allegedly extorting money from an MP of the last Lok Sabha, belonging to the then ruling party. Some media houses as well as businessmen who made meteoric rises in their profession went the same way. In each of these cases, the media kept exposing them with unflagging energy. Point to note: the kind of debate that journalists indulged, in all these cases, was not done even by lawyers in courts.
Clearly, if one of us indulges in any immoral behaviour, the entire community will unite to challenge the person. Why don’t the self-styled guardians of morality take lessons from this?
The social media explosion has begun to dismantle all established norms. Where does the media stand a chance against it — religion, deities, power structures, styles of governance, nations, tribes and clans— have all fallen victim to this epidemic. Unfortunately, these social media soldiers are bent upon destroying the edifices of propriety built by their forefathers. The responsibilities of every individual increase in such a scenario. The media and its supporters are no exception to this.
For journalists — neither bestowed with any special rights by the constitution nor with any special resources by the society — the times are particularly challenging. Governments, politicians and devotees of power have always been inimical to them. Who wants to look at one’s own reflection in the mirror? That’s why there are attempts to shatter the mirror from time to time.
With respect I would like to state that the English media is relatively luckier than its vernacular counterparts because English is still the language of the cities. The responsibility of telling the truth to make a living is carried out by vernacular journalists on their own. They have to work in terrain and circumstances that are often labelled as ‘jungle raj’ by their urban brethren. The venomous backlash for this is also borne by the language press.
The question is: What does society give in return to journalists who make numerous sacrifices trying to uphold societal values? Our fellow travellers in society tolerate the excesses of tyrants but pretend to be oblivious to the excesses on journalists and unblinkingly move on. I object to their indifference.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan