Media, propaganda and the Maoists

BY Ajitha Menon| IN Media Practice | 31/10/2009
Are journalists so dependent on Kishenji's phone calls to cover Maoist issues in West Midnapore that they are willing to take all kind of arrogant, humiliating nonsense from him,
asks AJITHA MENON. Pix: Kishenji being interviewed.

Maoist Kishan"ji", currently operating with impunity in West Midnapore district in West Bengal, calls me quite often. He calls me whenever he needs to put his viewpoint or demand across to the administration or within the public domain. He takes it for granted that I will immediately put it on air, or in print,  his opinion or demand.


However, this  arrangement is not reciprocal. When I wanted to ask him questions on the murder of two sub-inspectors at Sankrail police station in West Bengal or on the ongoing raids on banks and government offices, loot and killings of CPI(M) workers across West Midnapore , his phone was"unreachable".


The thin line between news and propaganda has almost vanished in the coverage of Maoist activities in West Bengal. Its almost as though the media has handed the microphone to Kishan"ji" to say his piece, that too, only when it suits him. He is not answerable to anybody, nor can anyone question him. The pathetically grateful journalists, many of whom even take pride in"knowing Kishanji" personally are happy with whatever tit bits of sound bites or quotes he throws at them. In short, it's a copy book case of one-sided reporting.


How obsequious the media has become is apparent from the apathy the press corps showed to fellow photo-journalists who were put under"arrest" by Kishan"ji" during the press conference he had called to release his hostage, the Officer-in-Charge of Sankrail police station, Athindranath Dutta last week in West Midnapore. The photo-journalists were being"punished" for clicking pictures without permission from the self-proclaimed Maoist leader.


Many lose their nerve when faced with gun-totting goons. So the"watchdog" press can be forgiven for not voicing a protest there and then when the photo-journalists were made to beg for mercy in the most humiliating manner by the Maoists. However, has the pen now become weaker than the sword?


None of the reporters present at the scene filed a story on the incident. There was a total news blackout of the insult handed out to the fourth estate by Kishan"ji". Now comes the question, why?


Are the journalists afraid of being killed? Or, are they fearful of offending, displeasing, the"mighty", but media-friendly  Kishan"ji"? Are they so dependent on his phone calls to cover Maoist issues in West Midnapore that they are willing to take all kind of arrogant, humiliating nonsense from him? 


Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes. And that's now the biggest failing of the free press in India. The whole game today operates on the basis of not displeasing a news source be it a politician, business, sportsperson, filmstar, bureaucrat, maoist or terrorist. And this soliciting of quotes by keeping the source happy comes at the cost of both media ethics and credibility.


The public, which depends on the fourth estate for unbiased information, is the ultimate loser. It remains unaware of the behind-the-scene machinations that goes on, the compromises made, before a story goes on air or an article is published.


Sadly, today, the press is no longer sacrosanct. The reporter can be bought, he can forced, he will oblige and he will please. It's the whole system, from the media houses and media bosses to the corrupt beat reporter or the journalist with a vested interest in promoting either his lifestyle or his career,  that is responsible for this total undermining of one of the pillars of democracy in this country.

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