Respect is a big word. But it will not be wide of the mark to say that our electronic media has performed admirably in the recent past. Yet it, or at least a section of it, is being pilloried mercilessly these days. Individual anchors are being targeted by name, their presentation style castigated almost as much as the content of their programmes.
The shrillness of the critical voices railing against them has increased greatly following the TV coverage of the recent Indo-Pak tensions on the LoC. A large number of articles against the anchors appeared almost simultaneously in the Indian print media. The tone and tenor of the articles was surprisingly identical. The biggest bile was reserved for anchors who were seen to be projecting the pain of the Indian soldier as they saw it.
It is no one’s case that our anchors are perfect. They aren’t and they can’t be. For one, they are a mirror of the society they live in. If the society is not perfect, it will be churlish to expect them to be.
Second, they can’t all be cast in the same mould. There are bound to be differences in presentation and perceptions; after all they are not just presenting news. There is a special slot for that. They are presenting views; including their own. And in these changed times, they are entitled to have an opinion and a view.
Third, our anchors are uniformly young, and thank God for it because they can then mirror the feelings and aspirations of a largely young India. And youth has a right to be angry and impatient. Had they been denied that right, or if their voices had been modulated to the demands of the self-appointed critics, would we have had the transformation that we are seeing taking shape today?
Should we then not give credit where it is due? For example, wasn’t it largely due to the efforts of the media that corruption scandals like the CWG and the 2G stirred the nation in the manner that they did? Had media not pursued the issue doggedly and exposed the warts to the nation day after day, is it not possible that the nation may have forgotten these issues as yet another instance where justice was unlikely to be done?
Then there was the recent unfortunate case of the rape and death of a young woman in Delhi. Is it the first time such a tragedy has happened? In fact, even after that there are daily reports from across the country which should make our collective heads hang in shame. So what was the difference between the Delhi case and those numerous other cases that go unlamented, and who made the difference?
Undoubtedly, the protests by the youth of Delhi were a major factor, but equally it was the TV anchors who braved biting cold and punishing water cannons to shake up the national conscience. Will our critics condemn them for shrilly taking up this cause as also the issues of corruption? Perhaps they might not do so because these issues have become politically correct. And being critical of them will invite the wrath of the people. Whereas bashing anchors for taking a pro-India line is kosher, because a critic who advocates uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue is viewed as a great liberal; and the consequences be damned.
A second dimension of this syndrome is the desire to tamper media to the state taste. In fact the latest report about press freedom published by “Reporters without Borders” ranks India at 131st position between Burundi and Angola!
But human spirit rarely tolerates such shackles; it finds some way or the other to express itself. Thirty thousand years ago they used animal bones to make cave carvings. The Greeks and Romans wrote graffiti on walls for political rhetoric. Later in the Middle Ages, Romans placed slips of papers on statues across the city satirising Popes and sundry city authorities. Today if the media is muzzled anywhere in the world, people are likely to find a natural outlet through Twitter and other social media.
Therefore, in one form or the other, media has always been like a sand bank before the encroaching sea of the state. In that role it is invariably the frontline of the struggle for future. Undoubtedly, that is as huge a responsibility as it is a difficult undertaking. Still, critics of the type of our candlewallahs would be many. But our young anchors should take courage from the words of the famous Finnish composer Sibelius who was once being hounded by critics. He had then said, “There is no city in the world which has erected a statue to a critic.”
A former ambassador, the writer is a novelist and an artist