Now that US President Donald Trump has risen overnight in the estimate of the political firmament and the public with his statesmanlike address to Congress on Tuesday night, his adverse comments on media achieve a higher significance. Derision turned to admiration for Trump, and for a moment the US media was redundant.
He began his speech with a reference to the slain Indian scientist Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot in Kansas last week, and the multiple acts of anti-Semitism that are sweeping the US. He attacked the narcotics trade and even used some JFK phrases like a message to "friend and foe" alike that America is now ready to lead. "Protect and defend" was another Kennedy inaugural quote. He touted $3 trillion up in the stock market, and was another man entirely.
Sober sans his red tie, he played the audience like a piano, hitting all the right notes. Suddenly the buffoon looked like being to the manor born. He had called for jobs and the call, he said, was heeded across corporate America. 'Make in America' was big time.
On this canvas the media he has sidelined and mocked and insulted became almost secondary. It was as if the Congress agreed the media had asked for it. That it had destroyed people and careers, reputations and marriages and now had to face the consequences. And the public echoed his sentiments. They do not like or trust the media anymore.
What can we, the Indian media with similar freedom granted to us, take as timely lessons from this development? Are we making ourselves vulnerable to "dislike" and loathing from the public?
When you visit the Press Clubs in most of our cities, you notice as many Mr Fix-its and PR-types as you do mainline journalists filling the spaces. And you begin to wonder if Trump's war on the media has a little merit in it as its practitioners of the fourth estate discover they are following agendas rather than following the story.
And the more earnest ones are being eclipsed by slick, silver-tongued salesmen of the "story" as they perceive it.
Somewhere along the line it's possible we have let ourselves down by allowing our ranks to be infiltrated by impostors who use the "press" label more for their personal gain than to get access to the corridors of power. The line between packaging public relations and imaging on one side and hardcore news on the other has become indistinct and far too often indistinguishable.
As a result, the most important aspect is the manufacture and marketing of news. In the first, have we begun to create headlines where none exist and break down that once impregnable wall between pure reportage and commentary. That was the most vital element in journalistic ethics: You protected your sources, you believed in the sanctity of "of the record", you confirmed and reconfirmed your facts and you never sold anyone down the river. And you reported those facts without comment.
Now, we take the story and mold it to suit our preconceived concepts of what will sell. The singer has become more important than the song and with accountability taking a back row seat, there is a sort of "anything goes, fling the mud and some will stick" approach to events and the prisms through which we project the distortions to the public.
I am deliberately staying away from introducing any specific issues or newsbreaks because that would detract from this call to tick a box; do we need to heal ourselves?
Fake news, says Trump, and he is not too far off the mark. What is the qualitative difference between cooking up a story per se and ballooning as mini event into a religious or cultural controversy of monumental proportions?
Media does not check its facts, says Donald Trump. Thanks to the instant nature of delivering occurrences, who has the time for this luxury, we just go with what we have. Hard luck if social platforms are bloated with untruths, it's par for the course, the fiscal pie is only so large, and survival has not parameters of conduct.
Media runs reports according to its corporate or government controlled puppet masters and stuff the shape of the facts to suit its masters, says the hostile president. Do we? Echo answers who, but there is a bit of a flinch. However, these are mere thorns in comparison to the main issue before us as the bridge between the public and the power brokers.
While it is our job to ensure that the freedom of the press allows for investigation of the elected servants of the people and their actions, do we have the right to release classified information and make it public?
If it is classified, "for your eyes only", top secret, need to know, confidential or any of the acronyms used to ensure the security of a nation, does the media have the sanction to ferret for such information and provide comfort to the enemies of the state and the public?
This is an issue that the media must address and address it within its ranks. If we have begun to believe that we are above D-notices and security related gag orders, or do we think it's our duty to get that classified file and disclose its contents, why have any confidentiality at all? Let all the washing hang out, dirty linen and all.
We are journalists, not vigilantes and in our rush to be first with the scoop, perhaps we are forgetting the difference.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of our media today is that the walls on our hall of fame are empty and we have no one to look up to, no one to enshrine the values that make journalism such an honour and privilege as a career.
Updated Date: Mar 01, 2017 16:45 PM