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By Shirshendu Roy*

We are the fourth pillar of our democracy. We have been assigned the responsibility of keeping a check on the other three primary pillars of the democracy. In today’s fast moving age, we are ever growing in number and strength. We are omnipresent, omnipotent and unfortunately have started believing ourselves to be omniscient as well. We need no introduction, we are the Media.

We live in the information age today where the first step to sanity is filtering; filter information to extract knowledge. The thumb rule says filter first for substance, second for significance, third for reliability and fourth for completeness. Such is media right now that we filter first for sensationalism, second for convenience, third for political propaganda and hardly ever for substance. It is a madcap media world today where most of us are governed by either the political superpower which owns us, or the TRPs and circulation numbers and in a bid to achieve these numbers, we have somewhere lost ourselves, the greater service to inform and educate the masses.

photo courtesy: indianexpress.com
photo courtesy: indianexpress.com

Today, the nation as a whole is bleeding for she has been shot on her bosom, the capital city, Delhi. The premier institution of the country, the Jawaharlal Nehru University, better known as JNU has not just been shaken but has instead shaken the country too. A handful of students, some outrageous anti-India slogans, debates over the fundamental rights of the citizen and every other dirty linen has been washed in the public. All of this has been widely covered. There are more cameras than students at JNU at present, but can anyone put his hand up and give us a comprehensive minute -to- minute detail of what really transpired there on the 9th of February?

There are claims of doctored footage put on air, there is one faction of the so-called top journalists of India lending support to the students that their voice is loud and fair, there is another faction passing verdicts at prime time and doing the job of the honourable court, there is Umar Khalid and co. asking some ugly questions to the lawmakers, there is an opposition passing the blame on to the current government and vice versa. And we once again arrive at the same point, ‘Can someone tell us what exactly happened?’ Everyone’s busy throwing up a question to an existing question without knowing that a question can never been an answer to another question. This is a vicious circle.

There isn’t an iota of doubt that this is an issue of alarming importance. Whether these students are really anti-national or not, if the JNU is being unfairly targeted for the activities of a handful of students, if the government has enough teeth to bite the bullet and douse the fire and so on, is to be decided later. What comes first is how we at media treat this issue? There are umpteen media houses in the country now, thus a greater and quicker access to every on-going. But are we treating this sensibly enough or are we just sensationalising it? With more media houses come great numbers, with great numbers comes greater accountability but alas, that’s not important anymore.

What’s important is to run footage with EXCLUSIVE scribbled all over the screen, to sit down a few loud mouthed panelists who can fuel the discussion and one moderator/anchor who does everything but moderate. We are here to replace the honourable courts of justice. We are here to conduct trials even before FIRs are filed, arrests are made. We are here to pass verdicts. We are here to put words in your mouth and frame opinions to our taste. We are not MEDIA after all; we are parallel courts on television and newspapers. All of this is indicative of worse times to come. The media today is practicing doorstep journalism wherein reporting is at the behest of convenience. We are now manipulating the most important chapter of journalism – press laws and ethics, which once taught us to be fair and objective and more importantly, choose the right stories to be a part of the news. But what happens today is completely contrary to the aforementioned. News is what we decide today. Debate is how we run it today. Opinion is how we frame it today.

The handful of students at the JNU claim that they are merely exercising their fundamental right to speech and expression, with that comes the right to dissent as well. There’s no denying that today’s youth has the right to frame the future of the country, one of the first steps to it is by questioning and bringing out eye opening topics in front of the government. But if the posters and pamphlets are an indicator to go by, it was anything but the use of fundamental rights. While that is a debate better left at the hands of the lawmakers, there is a more pertinent debate we should open for ourselves? Are we correctly and by all fair means using our right to inform?

It is high time that we at the media mend our ways. We are here to inform and the people can decide the rest for themselves, rather than deciding for them too. With our country walking on thin ice over the issue of anti-nationalism, it is imperative that we serve as a proper mouthpiece. At times, it feels that the emergence of too many media houses including the social networking tools, everyone has now got a platform to voice their opinion. While the thought of it is empowering, we are still far away from sensible citizen journalism. To sum it up, we are afraid that so many newsmakers might just bring about the death of news, and that day isn’t far away. Well, do we remember that age old saying, ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’? Time we revisited that thought.

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*The author Shirshendu Roy is a noted  international cricket commentator with cricbuzz for the last nine years and is a media research scholar at the Central University of Odisha. Apart from sports, he writes on a wide array of topics.