A GIANT of American, perhaps global, television news has died. Mike Wallace was a founder of the news magazine programme, 60 Minutes, dominating the journalism world with his colleagues for decades.
For those out of reach of its host channel, CBS, they saw him immortalised in the 1999 film, The Insider, played by Christopher Plummer.
He came from an era when Television anchormen and reporters held gravitas and where it was the principal access point to information on the wider world, i.e. before the internet.
TV doesn't have the same near universal power in America, where the medium has splintered into hundreds of channels and websites like Facebook and Pinterest churn out more content than TV ever could. But Mike Wallace and his colleagues set the gold standard of journalism.
It might have made its mistakes over the years, but it was a journalism you could admire for accuracy, investigations and influence.
Perhaps, somewhere in Markandey Katju's head, that's what he wants for Indian television.
His latest proclamation is that "the minds of 90 percent of Indians are full of casteism, communalism, superstition"— they're fools.
He blames "our corporatised media" for their obsession with cricket and Bollywood, missing the problems affecting 80 per cent of the public - mass deprivation, unemployment, et cetera.
Those are probably the stories Mike Wallace would have done, perhaps adhering to the journalism creed, "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". Now, of course, nobody in India wants to be afflicted as they're far to comfortable, hence repeated attempts to neuter the flow of information and speech.
The bigger problem for Katju isn't a lack of Indian Mike Wallaces, though there could never be enough of such professionals in journalism. And he can't simply blame the public for being fools.
With the internet, smart phones, Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube, the media is not simply "the media" anymore. The "foolish" public makes its own media, usually for its own amusement rather than to promote debate or intellectual discourse. Even if every TV channel in India had 10 Mike Wallaces, they might still struggle to compete with the latest "lol-cat" or celebrity tweet. Mike Wallace saw that decline in America, not just a decline in standards within TV, but of a public with shorter attention spans and more diverse interests.
No network, in any country, has really managed to combat that without overt sensationalism. In the US, that's taken the form of Fox News. In India, maybe it's cricket and Bollywood.
We in the journalism profession mourn the passing of Mike Wallace, and the public's attention span. Blaming the medium, and the audience, won't get us very far towards a better 60 minutes of television news that commands our attention and respect.
First Published On : Apr 9, 2012 08:19 IST