I keep six honest serving men. (They taught me all I know)
Their names are What and Why and When and Where and Who and How
- Rudyard Kipling
Ever since May 2014, stories have been manufactured, recreated, and redeveloped all to suit a narrative, in total disregard of any journalistic ethic. Be it church vandalism, lynchings, cow vigilantism, baby deaths, train mishaps and now the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh. Everything plays out not as a news story that should be reported with the facts but as an orchestrated attempt to somehow link the ruling party at the Centre and specifically the prime minister and those close to him, to the story.
Twenty years ago, with editors controlling the print and TV media, this might have succeeded. Today, with social media being a potent and completely uncontrolled force, these attempts are exposed and draw instant ridicule.
Take the latest example. Gauri Lankesh, editor of Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly was shot dead late in the evening on Tuesday, 5 September, outside her home in Bengaluru by unidentified assailants. We still don't have a clue on the identity or the motive of the assailants. At least, most journalists who believe in the phrase "objective journalism" don't, although conspiracy theories abound.
However, the alacrity (give or take 30 minutes) with which certain sections of the mainstream media reacted to Lankesh's murder makes me want to ask them what happened to the 5Ws and H, which they learnt in their journalism course. Every young media student is taught about "WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW" when he or she enters a media school. Yet, none of these journalists gave any of the W's a thought when they announced her death on social media.
The sensible ones stayed with the objective line that she had been murdered by unknown assailants, and mentioned her ideological differences with the BJP, stopping short of linking both to the murder. The others, however, smelt an "opportunity" and put the blame on "fascist forces" and the BJP. How did they come to such a conclusion? Did they have proof, evidence, eyewitness accounts? Or did they just follow the old dictum of "strike while the iron is hot" in the hope that some dirt would stick or some link would emerge? There could have been a host of suspects who might have wanted the firebrand journalist eliminated - jealous rivals, family, politicians, ideologues, - just anyone with an axe to grind. Didn't that occur to these journalists? It almost seemed like they had decided the narrative this killing would follow the minute they heard about it. So fascist terror it would be and to hell with the facts – of which there were none.
And then, on Wednesday, they discovered that the brother of the slain journalist was a big supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. Worse was to follow. Gauri's sister blamed the right wing and the brother blamed the left wing. Suddenly, the plan to spin the narrative was falling apart. A curious fact was that not one journalist even made the symbolic gesture of demanding the resignation of either Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah or state home minister Ramalinga Reddy.
For a crime so heinous that they could organise nationwide candlelight protests and even blame the prime minister and the BJP for it, they didn't think it important enough to ask for the resignations of the top two in the state? Objective journalism?
Then some 48 hours later, news anchors and editors woke up to the fact that objectivity did matter. They began asking politicians why they were accusing the BJP and other related organisations of the murder, conveniently forgetting that they were doing just that two days earlier. Someone told me on Twitter on Friday, that I was ignoring the "circumstantial evidence." Where was it? Has the police found any even now?
We were always told by our seniors that there are two sides to a story, but it is unfortunate that in these past few years, there has been a deliberate attempt to build a one-sided narrative around every news story, almost like it is pre-planned. And even though an alert social media has uncovered these attempts, it hasn't made the mainstream media any wiser. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot. I won't even go too far back. Like the incidents of the stones being pelted at churches which turned out to be the handiwork of miscreants. If we were to believe the media, cow vigilantes on the prowl were lynching Muslims in trains and on roads, and anyone who ate or dealt with beef. There have been so many such stories which as journalists we can smell a mile away.
Now let's come to the deaths of children in Gorakhpur. Did you know that in the past four decades, 25,000 children have lost their lives to encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh? This sordid fact was brought to light in great detail only after August, 2017 after the deaths at BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur. Some 274 children died in January and February 2017, before Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took over from Akhilesh Yadav, but did you hear about them?
Before August, even more babies had been dying at this hospital (see graphic) yet no journalist reported it. This is not a case of whataboutery. It concerns objective journalism.
For five years, everything wrong that could be covered up by the media was, because it didn't suit the narrative. From March 19, 2017, like a rash, reports of dead babies kept popping up. Didn't the journalists, who suddenly discovered this morbid detail, know this had been occurring with monotonous regularity earlier? You can spin these fairy tales to the gullible and unsuspecting readers but not to journalists who have been around long enough to know the difference between an 'exclusive' and a press release converted into a byline story.
If media houses were that interested in doing stories about infant deaths in hospitals, they should have asked their correspondents around the country to send them stories about such incidents from their centres and do a package. It would have made one helluva story. I don't need to ask 'did they?' because I am pretty sure what the answer is. They can keep up the pretence for as long as they want but to anyone with two eyes, two ears and a nose, the motive of the media was suspect.
Incidents of such deaths were emerging in other states, including Karnataka but the media wasn't interested. It became more obvious that this was a hit job on Yogi Adityanath and the man who put him there. What happened to objectivity, people? If you were to believe the mainstream media, it was only after 19 March this year that India's largest and most populous state had become a living hell. This should be an eye-opener for those who thought Uttar Pradesh stood for Utopia Pradesh.
Now, to this obsession with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On 7 September, 2013, I wrote a blog where I had said that the manner in which everyone from media to politicians had been hounding Narendra Modi, they were making a huge mistake. It reminded me of 1977 when the Janata Party set up the various Commissions to inquire into the excesses committed by former prime minister Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay and their cohorts during the Emergency.
The wily Indira Gandhi, ever the astute politician, played the victim so convincingly that midway through the proceedings the tables had turned. By the time the Shah Commission ended its hearings she had everyone, including the media (with a few exceptions), eating out of her hand.
In the run up to the May 2014 elections, the UPA and every other party raised the 2002 bogey. And every time they did that, Modi talked development, jobs and a better life for the poor. He played the victim card to perfection. He did not talk about the Ram Mandir, Hindutva or the riots, while the Opposition had just one theme – Modi is a murderer, fascist, Hitler etc. That backfired as the results proved. Some journalists don't seem to have learnt from that experience. Or can't, or don't want to, so deep is their hatred for the man. There is a fear that he may return in 2019, and then there is no saying how long the BJP will rule this country. Who is to blame for this state of affairs?
The public still believes that the fourth estate is someone it can trust but there are those who are playing with that trust. Frankly, some of the journalists set a pathetic example for their juniors and those who look up to them – and there are many, like me, who still do. Every day, in my classes I teach students how to be good journalists, but now I am not so sure if I can. Can these journalists see that in their unhealthy obsession to end the political career of one man and those around him, they are destroying their own credibility and reputation? The way things are right now, that man is winning the argument.
Mohan Sinha is a retired journalist with 31 years of media experience. He is currently an independent media consultant and teaches journalism at media schools.
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Updated Date: Sep 11, 2017 06:45:23 IST