Thursday, 11 September 2008

Pretty Journalism

Every time I read the Editorial section and appreciate a good piece,I can’t help mentally thanking my dad for inculcating the habit in us at a very young age. Those were the days when the paper was thrust at your face for anything from data to diction. Evening prayers were not the only religious fixation.The 8 pm news also followed suit.

For a seven year old, half of the things she heard and read flew over her head but somewhere my dad knew we would make a connection as we grew up. For it was the one way to bore sense into young things then. And he was right.

Yet I lack the confidence in referring newspapers or news channels today to the next gen.To say the least, channels and papers have changed their priorities to match their imaging to the extent that the media hound now distinctly resemble the dainty poodle….delicate, well fed and far from raw.And today, you needn’t worry about Gen Z understanding news content…latest twist in the Hurley-Nayar knot, SRK-Bachhan fight or a dim-witted poll on whether Viagra should be hitting the stands again…Never beyond understanding…

I don’t know if I got my numbers wrong but Page One smells more like Page 3 today and vice versa. I hated the morning that started with the front page screaming Ms. Shetty’s “big” Big Brother win and my agitation grew at a famous politician’s comment,”She made India proud.”
The same India from where came greats like Aryabhatta and Abdul Kalam who made “silent but significant” contributions.

I can’t comprehend the “great Indian pride” in staying in a house, mopping the floor and mouthing obscenities. Give me your local washerwoman on a bad day and she’ll do a better job.But of course she doesn’t ooze sensuality or cry buckets.Her story is back breaking and her scream raucous.The brightest spotlight she has faced is the midday sun and her only claim to fame or rather notoriety in Maharashtra would be when she is raped, beaten up and left for dead over her brother’s alleged love affair with a girl of another caste. But her story is long forgotten and no one wants to hear hardwork or suffering anymore. That doesn’t bring the money.So says the ratings. The washerwoman’s story is increasingly been soaped away to make way for the elite suds.

Take the recent Abhi-Ash wedding itself.The official announcement from the Bacchans came in at the same time as the Nithari killings in Delhi.And that too under the “Breaking News” title. While the whole country stood staring horrified at the sight of the mutilated bodies of some 500 chldren in the age group of (5-10)- the handiwork of an elite paedophile, the channels nonchalantly broke in screaming the Bacchans decision to tie the knot accompanied by snippets from the duo’s movies.

News cannot get more de-prioritised than this.It makes one wonder as to what constitutes real journalism..

Going back to the Nithari killings, ever wondered what happened to it? The story was a sensation in content and a best seller.But who followed it up?Would it see the same fate as many of the horror stories that dissapear into history as an age’s cruelest stories?Or for that matter, would it ever deserve a mention considering that it does not have a Sabrina Lall marching into the streets asking for justice.

I recently debated with a friend on the necessity of having a movie review right in the middle of a 6 pm news.Call me conservative but I find a Munnabhai review right after a Hamas blood hunt , insensitive to say the least and corny otherwise. It was also amusing to see the news anchor also accommodating likewise expressions on his face as was required of the content.

Coming back to the papers,I yearn for a good read nowadays by content and clarity.I am tired of the “We, the people of this paper…” gibberish. It is like running a TOMA (Top of the mind awareness) saga. But i guess that’s inevitable today. Once untouched by the corporate brouhaha, news media has also turned out to be a dicey game of money and glitz.. Pomposity and branding is thick in the air.

A regional channel ran an investigative report last week on a temple bribery case which was “courageously” caught the Tehelka way. While the resultant action did highlight corruption, it was not something which was unheard of nor an action involving “courage” as we know it..I was thoroughly disgusted by the way the channel highlighted the achievement and especially the journalist who kept harping about his action as if it required the utilization of some exceptionally special skills when all he did was ask some very matter of fact questions. The channel had the audacity to further on the topic with statements like , “We got into the picture because serious journalism was dying in India.”

Well, this is like killing a dead man.
And mind you, this is the same channel which voiced the most vociferous regional cry in accusing Bush’s government of staging a dramatic branding gimmick in Iraq and in “buying the paper for a penny” at Hotel Palestine.

A quiet dinner with a veteran journalist last weekend gave me a swig of journalism of an era, that going by what’s happening today, did not seem like it existed once upon a time. He recounted memories from the early 40’s when news was more precious than food and were rolled up into pint sized bottles and were buried deep in travelling haystacks.

Excerpts from the Emergency saga are inspirational when journalists worth their salt were chased, tortured and shot for saying the truth. Would the modern journalist have to be exposed to the same treatment to say the truth?I wonder.This is not ruling out the hardcore journalist who still has his conscience intact but is about the all encompassing image that the media projects and which a few journalists propagate.

They say the hottest seat in town is a PR one ,for every story and every killing calls for it.And if you are a journalist vested with those skills, you are a “find”. PR skills on anyone for that matter would not go awry. An ex-army lieutanent turned director , who once led an Indian troop to corner the late Rajiv Gandhi’s assasins now puts real life into reel life. Fair enough.

The man then proceeds to attend a series of talk shows across TV land on the “Truth behind the Rajiv Gandhi assassination” emphathatically describing the capture or rather why the mission failed.(At the time of closing in on the assassins, the military troops find them dead rigor mortis 10 hours earlier after consuming cyanide).

My question :Why now? On an assassination that happened eons ago?

A promotion for the story or a story for the promotion?

I am tempted to think either for nothing sells like real life.
Gone were the days when we would scourge the papers for something as silly as “Is tomorrow a holiday?” .Sarcastically put, today, that seems to be the only information that one can actually trust whole heartedly from the newspapers.

The trust factor in journalism took its greatest questioning round in the alleged American media coverage of the war. What could ideally be termed as a concoction of disoriented ideologies to fuel a bloody defeat of everything remotely human, was portrayed as “our war”, “a war against terrorism” and “a fight to do away with our enemies”.

The fall of Saddam’s statue awed the entire world symbolically showing the end of an era and all the images were accompanied by shots of ecstatic crowd dancing on the roads. What was more shocking was when the photographer later admitted that while the latter was a song and dance sequence from an Iraqi wedding, the former happened when very few people were around.

In the book “Hotel Palestine”, the author sadly notes the media “twist” some members of the American and British media are asked to give to their stories by the American soldiers….Sitting channels away , we the audience in all true faith of sight and hearing lap up all that we see and hear…until the next controversy jolts us up.

Where the world once upheld embodiments of good journalism, now have very few names that would be eligible to climb the ladder and not feel dizzy at the heights.

Serious journalism laid on ethics, I would strongly like to believe, can never be bought any day…..but what is going on now is worse…it is undergoing a makeover!!

No comments: