Hand In Glove?

It is sad commentary on news media if journalists and politicians are thought to have an interdependent relationship, notwithstanding the generously-dispensed face-saving alibi of each loving to hate the other. The tussle between “politicians as news” and “news as politicians” invariably sees the politicians carrying the day along with their narcissistic baggage, aided in no mean measure by the media’s compulsions of survival. It would take a rare political figure to pose equanimity before a surfeit of exposure and a drought thereof, particularly when name and picture, and lately clever sound-bites, are among the first signs of an individual having finally made it in the high-flying world. It is, therefore, not unheard of even in advanced societies for politicians to cultivate the media for subtle self-promotion and favourable slants to coverage bearing on their interests. Old-time camaraderie based on shared outlooks had carefully-drawn redlines that involved parties would never cross, but with time, boundaries have become blurred, as have motives and aspirations. Circumstances appear to have forged, in some quarters, a convergence, not of values, but of crass interest, turning the relationship into one of reciprocal service. With politicians branching out into lucrative fields, this trend is catching on with unprecedented vigour, for professions of all kinds have generally stopped being passions, and turned into vehicles for material satisfaction – one being as good as another. It is therefore unnecessary for politicians to be overly concerned about media criticism and censure: self-regulation has taken on new meanings in the subcontinent.

The rosy picture associated with western media often falls from the walls not only on global issues but also on urgent domestic social concerns where one would have expected news organisations to confront establishments. Not that that does not happen, but only on matters deemed soft and liable to do little damage in the broad scheme. If the Andrew Gilligan affair at the BBC serves as an example in international affairs, the London riots offer a vivid glimpse into severe limitations at the domestic level. Not that the physical dimension of the violence was not duly covered. The on-the-spot reportage, be it TV or the press, did not fault on the “what” and the “where” – the figures were always up-to-date, and the scenes representative, right up to the grieving father of a victim appealing for peace and calm, or community elders assisting the police. But it was in the “why” of the violence that the London press, and the electronic media, faired rather badly. The dissection during the unprecedented turmoil and in the aftermath could be taken as a case study of how the media can be subsumed by the institutions of power. Not even the most influential publications dared to challenge the establishment narrative of the violence. The stray contrary voices were feeble and more-often-than-not beating about the bush. For days on end, the highlight remained the British prime minister laying down the line on discipline, individual responsibility, and contribution to society. Not a word about how the system had choked all avenues for sections labouring under multiple disadvantages. In the complicity of the media, truth suffered, as did the remedy. What the UK can do, the subcontinent can do better, and Kashmir best.

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