Re­flec­tions from within

Two books pro­vide in­sights into the chang­ing me­dia land­scape

The Hindu - - OPED - A.S. Pan­neer­sel­van read­er­sed­i­[email protected]­hindu.co.in

Lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­vals are demo­cratic sites to dis­cuss ideas. They grap­ple with a whole gamut of is­sues and they use books, not vi­o­lence or in­tim­i­da­tion, as en­try points to un­pack com­plex re­al­i­ties and un­der­stand our so­ci­eties bet­ter. Vet­eran jour­nal­ist Arun Shourie de­clared at The Hindu Lit for Life: “There is a dark­en­ing cloud of in­tol­er­ance. Per­sons have been killed, pros­e­cuted and cases have been filed for what they have writ­ten or their views.” For most par­tic­i­pants, the sense that space for the me­dia is shrink­ing was real. A young re­searcher asked, if the free­dom of ex­pres­sion is un­der such se­vere at­tack, what are the re­sponses from within the jour­nal­is­tic fra­ter­nity?

Un­der­stand­ing tec­tonic shifts

Two re­cent books look at con­tem­po­rary me­dia, its re­la­tion­ship with com­merce and what it means for free­dom and democ­racy. Writ­ten by jour­nal­ists who carved a name for them­selves in the me­dia as fine re­porters, these books pro­vide in­sights into the re­al­ity to­day of a dig­i­tally dis­rupted me­dia en­vi­ron­ment and a chang­ing pub­lic cul­ture. Pamela Phili­pose, Pub­lic Edi­tor of in her book

The Wire, Me­dia’s Shift­ing Ter­rain: Five Years that Trans­formed the Way In­dia Com­mu­ni­cates,

tries to ex­plain the changes us­ing some cru­cial me­dia-led, or rather me­dia-fed, mo­bil­i­sa­tions. These in­clude the 2011 In­dia Against Cor­rup­tion protests, the spon­ta­neous demon­stra­tions of pub­lic out­rage over the gang rape of a young stu­dent in a bus in Delhi in De­cem­ber 2012, the ar­rival of the Aam Aadmi Party in 2013, and the 2014 gen­eral elec­tion that saw the Bharatiya Janata Party emerge with a mas­sive and un­prece­dented ma­jor­ity. The fo­cus of her study is to doc­u­ment “the de­cep­tively dis­creet way in which me­di­ati­sa­tion has brought about tec­tonic shifts in our lives.”

She es­tab­lishes how the very “fab­ric of hu­man-to-hu­man in­ter­ac­tion is in­creas­ingly wo­ven on the looms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy”. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, she cap­tures the se­quence of events that led to the ac­tivism of the “pol­i­tics of anti-pol­i­tics”. Go­ing through the de­tails of var­i­ous scams that marked the two terms of the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance — the Com­mon­wealth Games, the coal block al­lo­ca­tion, the 2G spec­trum al­lo­ca­tion, and the murky real es­tate deals con­cern­ing Adarsh Co­op­er­a­tive Hous­ing So­ci­ety — Ms. Phili­pose ar­gues that none of these were di­rectly bro­ken by the main­stream me­dia. They were “largely the out­come of leaked re­ports from the of­fices of the Comp­trol­ler and Au­di­tor Gen­eral or the Chief Vig­i­lance Com­mis­sioner, and in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by ac­tivists through RTI ap­pli­ca­tions”.

Restor­ing trust

Suku­mar Mu­ralid­ha­ran, a jour­nal­ist and an ad­vo­cate of press free­dom, has come up with a com­pre­hen­sive study ti­tled

Free­dom, Ci­vil­ity, Com­merce: Con­tem­po­rary Me­dia and the Pub­lic.

In the hard­cover book that is just shy of 500 pages, Mr. Mu­ralid­ha­ran cov­ers a vast do­main. He looks at the philo­soph­i­cal foun­da­tions of free speech, the the­o­ries of me­dia func­tion­ing, and the prac­tice of jour­nal­ism from the early years of print me­dia to tele­vi­sion, the In­ter­net, and so­cial me­dia. He sit­u­ates jour­nal­ism in a wider po­lit­i­cal con­text and looks at the man­ner in which na­tion­al­ism, global pol­i­tics and the rise of cor­po­rate power in the me­dia are ad­dressed. In the com­plex in­ter­lock­ing of the right to free speech, the me­dia as an in­dus­try and its reg­u­la­tion as a pub­lic util­ity, he tries to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the ethics of jour­nal­ism and its fu­ture as a part of demo­cratic dis­course.

Mr. Mu­ralid­ha­ran looks closely at the le­gal frame­work that made jour­nal­ism dif­fer­ent from other pro­fes­sions. He ex­am­ines the con­tes­ta­tion of the Work­ing Jour­nal­ists Act of 1955, which was sig­nif­i­cantly amended in 1973, by the news­pa­per in­dus­try in the Supreme Court as a di­lu­tion of the Press Com­mis­sion doc­trine that the news­pa­per is a “pub­lic util­ity”. Ask­ing for a reaf­fir­ma­tion of core val­ues, Mr. Mu­ralid­ha­ran re­minds us that though there has never been a golden age of jour­nal­ism, we should be aware of the dif­fi­cult re­al­i­ties of to­day. He points out that in­for­ma­tion over­load has not led to more demo­cratic ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. In­stead, in­for­ma­tion over­load points to a fu­ture of ro­botic forms of in­for­ma­tion ag­gre­ga­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion that could serve lit­tle else than cor­po­rates. He rightly places em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of restor­ing pub­lic trust in jour­nal­ism. FIFTY YEARS AGO JAN­UARY 14, 1969

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