Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Flip Side #2 : The Fourth Estate

Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship:
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.

It was 1980s when journalism actively emerged in India. From creating the first and most influential piece on the Bofurs gun scandal which involved the then Prime Minister Gandhi who was accused of receiving kickbacks from the Bofurs Company to the story of the Fodder scam which involved embezzlement from the treasury of the Indian state of Bihar. There was a time when the fourth estate played a prominent role in enlightening the commons. But it seems those days are gone - be it a national daily or an international newsroom, shoddy journalism is at its peak and it is degrading further every day. You can find a transcript below which provides a flip side of the fourth estate.

Shoddy Journalism [1]

Appalling journalism. Absolute blasphemy! As I watch the news from home, I am dumbfounded to see Barkha Dutt of NDTV break every rule of ethical journalism in reporting the Mumbai mayhem.

Take a couple of instances for example:
  • In one instance she asks a husband about his wife being stuck, or held as a hostage. The poor guy adds in the end about where she was last hiding. Aired! My dear friends with AK-47s, our national news is helping you. Go get those still in. And be sure to thank NDTV for not censoring this bit of information.
  • In another instance, a General sort of suggests that there were no hostages in Oberoi Trident. (Clever.) Then, our herione of revelations calls the head of Oberoi, and the idiot confirms a possibility of 100 or more people still in the building. Hello! Guys with guns, you’ve got more goats to slay. But before you do, you’ve got to love NDTV and more precisely Ms. Dutt. She’s your official intelligence from Ground zero. You do not need to be a journalist to understand the basic premise of ethics, which starts with protecting victims first; and that is done by avoiding key information from being aired publicly — such as but not limited to revealing the number of possible people still in, the hideouts of hostages and people stuck in buildings.

Imagine you’re one of those sorry souls holed-up in one of those bathrooms, or kitchens. A journalist pulls your kin outside and asks about your last contact on national television, and other prying details. In a bout of emotion, if they happen to reveal more details, you are sure going to hell. Remember these are hotels, where in all likelihood, every room has a television. All a terrorist needs to do is listen to Ms. Barkha Dutt’s latest achievement of extracting information from your relative, based on your last phone-call or SMS. And you’re shafted —courtesy NDTV.

If the terrorists don’t manage to shove you in to your private hell, the journalists on national television will certainly help you get there. One of the criticisms about Barkha Dutt on Wikipedia reads thus:
During the Kargil conflict, Indian Army sources repeatedly complained to her channel that she was giving away locations in her broadcasts, thus causing Indian casualties.
Looks like the idiot journalist has not learnt anything since then. I join a number of bloggers pleading her to shut the f*** up.

Update: In fact, I am willing to believe that Hemant Karkare died because these channels showed him prepare (wear helmet, wear bullet-proof vest.) in excruciating detail live on television. And they in turn targeted him where he was unprotected. The brave officer succumbed to bullets in the neck.
Update 2 [28.Nov.2300hrs]: Better sense appears to have prevailed in the latter half of today— either willfully, or by Government coercion2, and Live broadcasts are now being limited to non-action zones. Telecast of action troops and strategy is now not being aired live. Thank goodness for that.
Update 3 [30.Nov.1900hrs]: DNA India reports about a UK couple ask media to report carefully:
The terrorists were watching CNN and they came down from where they were in a lift after hearing about us on TV.
— Lynne Shaw in an interview.

1. Oh, they have a lame excuse pronouncing that the television connections in the hotel has been cut, and therefore it is okay to broadcast. Like hell!
2. I’m thinking coercion, since Government has just denied renewing CNN’s rights to air video today; must’ve have surely worked as a rude warning to the Indian domestic channels.
Instead of apologizing, and introspecting on how to improve, this is the kind of crap we get in response to shoddy journalism.
Radhika Sahasranaman rips the guts of that response on a 3000 strong, and growing Facebook group, whose title couldn't have sent signals any clearer:

NDTV's response is in itself a giveaway of misplaced notions: "In the absence of any instructions on site and in the absence of any such framework we broke NO rules" ("convenient transference of responsibility" or what?); and the entire argument, she concludes, amounts to "which television journalist tops the charts or falls to the bottom" (is that how they keep score?). It is important that we don't shoot the messenger but when the messenger loses the message, there is something to be done. Which is why, for once, I will take Barkha's advice. Use the remote control when emote control doesn't work

-Radhika Sahasranaman

Here's another:
TV news would no doubt argue that most other critiques of 26/11 coverage have been answered, too. Shoving mikes in front of distressed people? They wanted to share. Too close to the theatre of operation? If someone told us we would have moved away. And just in case anyone still has doubts,
Narayana Murthy and Suketu Mehta, among many others, rated 26/11 coverage as first class.
Maybe the Government goofed up not laying down rules of coverage. Does that end all questions on journalistic responsibility? Think about it. If journalists, especially senior editors, say they need the government to tell them how to do their business, they are opening a door many politicians would love to never shut again.
— Saubhik Chakrabarti on Indian Express

The choice could not have been simpler: you either kick the idiocy, and if that does not work, then
kick the idiot out.
Update: Oh, by the way, there is a framework (Self-Regulation Guidelines for the Broadcasting
Sector [pdf]) for anyone who cares— and has been in existence for more than a year.
Update 2: NSG says media got in the way, wants guidelines.
Update 3: Presstalk: In the name of fair and balanced.
Update 4: The Hoot: "Those who argue that viewers can use the remote to not watch what they find
unethical or irresponsible should note that many in India did, people went to offices and went to
vote but the TV all the same managed to give important information to the backers of the terrorists
who were glued to their screens. The remote is not the solution to such irresponsibility."
Harini Calamur: "Week 1-Post 26/11-Quo Vadis News Media?"
The above transcript you read was written by Chetan Kunte on his blog and within a few days he was silenced where NDTV probably sent Kunte a legal notice, asking him to pull the post down, apologize, never write about them again, and pay an absurdly massive amount of money.

The percentage of truth in this post is surely questionable, but I wonder why Barkha Dutt and NDTV took it so seriously. After all he was just another common man who posted it in his personal blog.

To answer this question you need to look into Dr Nayef R.F. Al-Rodhan's paper[2]
where he talks about the concept of The Fifth Estate :
In the past fifteen years, the spread of the Internet and other advanced technologies has had a dramatic effect on the way people access and perceive information. One of the most revolutionary technological novelties that characterizes the modern "digital revolution" has been the explosion of weblogs. Blogs have impacted numerous facets of international politics including elections, media reporting from zones of conflict, and corporate and congressional policies. They also have potentially significant implications for policy making of the future and for national and global security. This has led to the claim that blogs deserve the title of the "fifth estate," following an analogy with the other four estates that influence modern policy shaping: executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the state and the media.
Today blogs have become the reality check for policy makers, opinion shapers, and interest groups. With the fall of the reliability on the Fourth Estate today a Fifth Estate led by the commons have started to play a major role in making an impact in this society. With its disturbingly alarming growth we still can't predict whether it will be good for our society in the long run or not, but the real question is - Do we have any option?   

PS. After writing this post I realised that the latest film on Wikileaks is also named The Fifth Estate.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment will be sent for moderation.