Sunday, December 5, 2010

Collapse of moral standards



THE FOURTH Estate ranks first in shaping public opinion when society is politically literate and socially insensitive even in this information age and knowledge era.

We have not yet fully realized the profound importance to our democracy of an educative, objective newspaper, which publishes promptly and marshals information without fear and favour, affection and ill will. Journalistic independence, intelligence, investigative ability and probity are integral to the greatness of the Press. In the Mudroch epoch, sex, vulgar values, purchase of the readers’ souls and propaganda which beats cultural heritage and vintage traditions, are apt to captivate readership and buy up the media with monopolistic hunger. There are newspapers even today, which are no mere mechanical messengers but are dailies with a message, which makes the reader more informed, illumined and thoughtful.

John Pilger (Hidden Agenda) writes: “ I have become convinced that it is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers, without understanding the hidden agenda of the message and the myths that surround it. High on the lists is the myth that we now live in an “information age” – when, in fact, we live in a media age, in which the available information is repetitive, ‘safe’ and limited by invisible boundaries. In the day-to-day media, much of this is the propaganda of Western power, whose narcissism, dissembling language and omissions often prevent us from understanding the meaning of contemporary events. ‘Globalization’ is a prime example. This smokescreen extends to journalists themselves.

Fawning servants, obedient aides, and the symbols of success surround the powerful in the country. In our country those who reach the mountaintop are so pampered and so insulated by the trappings of power that they can easily forget that they are servants, not masters, of the nation. It is far more pleasant to write puffery about the powerful in the social, political and religious fields, of course, than it is to probe their perfidy. “ Public officeholders are usually likable; that is why they get elected (or continue to occupy high positions in public and religious and educational institutions). Many reporters taken in by this “personal charm”, are awed by the “majesty” of office/position; and they become publicists rather than critics of the men who occupy the offices”(The Anderson Papers).

Jack Anderson, wary of the collapse of moral standards in the media observes that they become the lap dogs of government (and also powerful persons in the private institutions) instead of watchdogs over them. They wag their tails and seek approval instead of growling at the abuses of power. The reporters who go along with the powerful, and act as explainers and apologists for those who violate the public trust, must be considered accessories to the pillage. Like the politician and special seekers, these men sell a little of themselves each day; and the chumminess between the power structure and the Press apparatus robs the reports of integrity. Erosion of integrity seems inevitable. If power belongs to the people and the Press is a trustee, resistance to exotic pressure is a new challenge to the Indian media

Spare a moment to consider corruption among journalists themselves? The media seldom expose journalistic corruption except when the delictum is so flagrante that there can be no conceivable defence. Members of a guild protect their own. But what about the large tracts of real estate in the State capitals and district headquarters which every State Government thinks it worthwhile labelling a Jornalists Colony? What about the gifts in cash and kind reporters on the business pages are liable to receive for lauding a particular scrip or company? What about the wining and dining journalists accept, so much so that even a charitable initiative goes without newspaper coverage if it goes without cocktails?

The editorial elite have been living off the fat of the land. This sort of culture produces its own branch of experts who know little about journalism. In the old days editors avoided parties given to launch consumer products like plague. Now virtually everybody is usually seen at such bashes. It has to expose a whole section of the incestuous elite to the loud sniggers of every video watcher.

Journalists should be pointing a finger at the mirror. Doctors on graduation vow to follow a code of ethics. Its breach may be as common as its observance, but at least they know when they transgress. Journalists have no such code. What they are taught in journalism schools I don't know; but in the profession certainly there is no consensus. Journalistic ethics, like the law, have to evolve in tune with the times, not merely become elastic.

It is high time Indian newspapers and journalists returned to their moorings and maintained their high standards. Why? Because the media influences what people think of and the way they think. If the focus is wrong, direction is lost. A people without reliable news, rooted in its vintage values and primitive of its progress will sooner or later be a people without the basis of swaraj.

Newspapers by plurality of editions, should not indulge in fragmentation and localization of news, missing the national perspective which alone keeps alive the unity and integrity of the country. They, with their long history of glory in the field of nationalist struggle and thereafter for the freedom of the Press, have a soul to preserve and a struggle to wage, so that they are no longer opium but tonic. The patriotic duty of the Fourth Estate today is to stress democratic discipline, expose untruth wrapped in gloss and party and individual interests in appealing dross.END

No comments: