Shah Faesal's media portrayal: What it says about the state of journalism in India

After 45 years in the media I cannot but be appalled at the falling standards of reportage. With almost no legal recourse and immediate relief from either the hounding or the fabrication of news, everyone is a potential victim of the fourth estate’s whims.

On that canvas it isn’t difficult to empathise with Shah Faesal, an IAS officer and a topper from Kashmir, over his remarks with reference to the juxtaposition of his photograph with that of Burhan Wani, the slain militant commander – to make a comparison of the good and the bad. That is arbitrary, mean-spirited and totally without cause.

What exactly is the point of it? Shah speaks of the demands of TRPs being so violent that the luxury or need for maintaining norms has gone.

Representational Image. REUTERS.

Representational Image. Reuters.

While I might take umbrage over his public remarks on the 'state-sponsored killings of its own people by the Indian government', seeing as how he represents that government and think him out of line, there is no disagreement on the pain and anguish caused to him by the visual comparisons.

In the viewer’s mind, the picture indicates a nexus, blurs the distinctions and is a clever manipulation in which a fair share of those who read or see the news would consider Shah Faesal to also be a militant or, at least a sympathiser.

Some years ago, a senior high-profile Indian journalist was present at a cricket match at the famous CBFS grounds in Sharjah and was sitting happily four rows in front of another person who was wanted by the Indian authorities. Someone took his picture with one of those long distance lenses that make everyone look like they are sitting together. He did not even know who was in the vicinity or that the picture was taken.

Imagine his shock when the picture was published. The unspoken eloquence in the inference from that shot caused this very well-known writer agony, concern, the need to explain and downright fear. I think he actually expected to be hauled in for questioning and it ruined his stay.

Photography in mass communication today is a lie. We can change positions, expressions, photoshop, morph and redo the reference to context and even rework the background.

That this is being freely done under the guise of journalistic licence is a given. Even the government does it. Remember Modi’s helicopter shot of Chennai under floods. It was photo-shopped. The colour of Sushma Swaraj’s sari on her visit to Pakistan. Changed from green to red, or so they said.

Playing with the eyes can turn a normal person into the epitome of evil. It was done to Condoleezza Rice and OJ Simpson.

But back to Shah Faesal. His words were harsh: “A section of national media has once again fallen back upon its conventional savagery that cashes on falsehoods, divides people and creates more hatred.’’

But they are also valid.

Do they serve as a warning that media will take? Not really. Media is too far gone down that information highway to turn back, especially since there is no speed check, radar or traffic cop. No one is going to take it to task, the effort is just not worth it. And just as media uses, so it is used.

In there lies the irony. Faesal took to social media to express his dismay over the Kashmir issue. He even mentioned his resignation as an option. In critiquing the government's policy as an IAS officer, did he not contribute to the excesses of media even as he condemned it? Is this not between him and his superiors?

What would happen tomorrow if a brigadier in the army made statements on Twitter... would he be out of line? Would the army chief be compelled to hold him in contempt?

That’s the problem these days. Far too many professions are out of line.

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Updated Date: Jul 16, 2016 17:02:02 IST

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