A hollow fourth pillar?

BY pramod kumar| IN Media Practice | 13/10/2011
Driven by its own agenda, television news has been reduced to a hollow fourth pillar and has abandoned its role as a bulwark of democracy,
It appears that the UPA Government has not yet recovered from the jolts it received from Team Anna. It is a case of self-inflicted wounds and the same is happening again. It has, through its two prominent Ministers, raised questions about what has truly been a pro-people legislation namely RTI. Again, while it is struggling against the near universal condemnation from the main opposition party and Team Anna whose real agenda is still shrouded in mystery, it has invited criticism by trying to formulate fresh guidelines for the TV Channels.
As expected, the Broadcast Editors` Association and the News Broadcasters Association have lost no time in condemning the changes contemplated. These august bodies have never bothered to assess the damage media is doing through its aggressive middle-class evangelism in respect of uncritical and maximalist support to the “civil society”. The media itself has become a player instead of a messenger. It has all but converted truth-telling into profitable market forces and the competition amongst the inter media units is so compelling that it is difficult to tell one from another. If the Government has lost much of its sheen, the media and particularly the News TV which was once put on a pedestal as a strong bulwark for democracy, too has been reduced to a “hollow” fourth pillar driven more by its own venality and hidden or not so hidden agendas.
instead of highlighting the information gleaned through RTI about the enormous difference between the estimates of loss in 2G scam of the Director General of Audit R.P.Singh and the CAG, Vinod Rai, the media chose to downplay it. Again there has been no discussion in the studios about the development which may have a direct bearing on the cases under trial and no attempt has been made at all to verify further and build on the information discovered.
Is it because the whole campaign against the Government has been built on the alleged mind-boggling loss to the exchequer of Rs.176000 crores? What a contrast from the treatment given by the same media to the CAG report and even the Press Conference of the CAG which caused prime time sensation. Even the disturbing notings on the files of CAG have been given the similar perfunctory, dismissive treatment.
There has been persistent speculation about the nature of support which Team Anna garnered during the 12 day fast of Anna Hazare. The suspicion that the RSS and its many wings had been supporting and even sustaining the movement by organizing free kitchens and providing many other services at Ram Lila ground has been confirmed to some extent by no less than Mohan Bhagwat, the Sar Sangh Chalak of RSS. The denials by Team Anna may be taken at face value but must be verified. It is in the knowledge of the media that the crowd management, their food etc had been taken care of by the RSS volunteers and that Team Anna was well aware of the situation. They have no choice but to insist on being apolitical and above electoral politics to maintain their synthetic saintly aura.
 Yet, the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami ask for proof for the claims made by Digvijay Singh but are selective in using the same bench-mark for Team Anna. It is apparent now that in return, Team Anna is making sure that BJP does benefit electorally by their campaign against Congress in the Hisar bye-election, notwithstanding their dubious and clever statements about being focused only on the Jan Lokpal Bill. It will not be wrong to speculate that Team Anna, in tandem with the BJP, keeps shifting the goal posts since their aim is to influence the outcome of the next General Election and not really the JLP. Their affinity with the Rightist forces is the natural by-product of their belief in meritocracy, the inadequacy of the Constitutional Institutions and the oligarchic governance.
Aravind Kejriwal has made almost “oracular” claim in an interview with Karan Thapar that Anna Hazare is above the Parliament and so is Kejriwal or Thapar or you and me. Even Kiran Bedi has claimed that Anna is India and India is Anna. This is a dangerous proposition. WE THE PEOPLE, as a collective and not as a person or an individual however eminent or “saintly” are sovereign. Individuals must bow to the primacy of the Constitution. Our representative democracy can deliver goods only through the collective will of “we the people” ascertained through elections of 543 members of Parliament and that ascertained will is the sovereign will. Advocacy of any deviation from this will not only play havoc with the governance of the country but is an open invitation to the anarchy.
However, the anchors do not find such topics worthy of discussions for it does not fit in with the portrayal of their “icons” of Civil Society. It will be undesirable if the Government persists in its knee-jerk reactions and in its present almost dysfunctional state to muzzle the freedom of speech. Admittedly our media has lost its professional ethics and become increasingly irresponsible in  its quest for trps and eye-balls. Yet, it must be asked to do the course correction only through persuasion, coaxing, discussions and consensual approach. The media with muzzled freedom is much more dangerous than a free and irresponsible media.
PS: It may not be out of place to add that over the last two days, the fervour of some of the media houses in support of Team Anna has moderated a little. It is noticeable. Also, the word “presumptive” in respect of the alleged loss in 2G scam is back in discourse.
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