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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two Tears for Barkha Dutt

The so called Barkhagate controversy raging here is a pointer to two significant truths.  The first is that the Alternative Media seems to have come of age.  It is much the more a moment of celebration for it, because it has stood up to question the powerful and established mainstream media, which has the backing of corporate houses and unlimited funds.  The second is that “Scandal”, as a "growth industry" spawned by 24/7  cable news,   now threatens to engulf the creators themselves. 

To briefly establish the context: an assorted transcript of wiretaps of conversations between journalists and a corporate PR consultant, regarding many issues, some of which now appear to have a bearing on the 2G scam, were leaked by unknown people, for unknown motives, to the leading media organizations.  Yet, barring a few exceptions, no one raised the issue.  Viewed in a certain manner, these transcripts appear to indicate an abuse of the privileged position of proximity to people in positions of power and influence that the media enjoys.  Uncharitable bloggers and tweeter birds have described them as “lobbyists”, “fixers” and “facilitators”.  Barkha Dutt of NDTV, for some reason or the other, has become the emblematic figure in the whole episode. 

The transcripts were discussed on some blogs and the trickle soon became a torrent, especially on Twitter.  It viralized to such an extent that the mainstream media, which had imposed a conspiracy of silence for so long in deference to their secret covenant of “not naming and shaming their own kind”, have been forced to fall in line, and now appear to have been themselves infected by the mood of the slugfest.  Some of the journalists whose names figure, prominent telecasters and columnists, have come out with their long explanations through their columns etc.  But it is the larger media that owes an explanation; as to why they studiously ignored it for so long and have engendered the debate only under duress, compelled by the outrage in the alternative media that itself leads to an adverse presumption of guilt against them.  Thus our concern is why the mainstream media played shy of airing an issue which was not only of great public interest, but of overarching media concern as well.  Their magisterial stance was that the public was better off not knowing it.  The censorship is the issue, not the content of the transcripts. 

One must, at the very outset, disclaim any view on the authenticity of the transcripts, or the allegations of wrong-doing.  That is a matter for detailed investigation.  But a TV channel came to the defence of its iconic but beleaguered colleague not so much with a marshalling of facts as with an admonition, a reprimand to those who had dared form their own opinion.  The channel would like to educate its viewers in the art and science of decoding meaning from a given text.  Aided and abetted by the mass media, in this post-modernist age, whatever random insight the audience can bring to bear upon the reading of a text or viewing footage is considered fair enough.  One must not submit to the criterion of authorized reading of a text. 

The fundamental requirement of the successful communication of a message, says famous semiologist and novelist Umberto Eco, “…is a code, shared by the source and addressee.  A code is an established system of probabibilities…. ” The inept, ill-informed and inquisitorial handling of serious issues related to corruption and wrong-doing in the past has established the code that allegation of wrong-doing is in itself the conclusive proof of wrong-doing.  Media has for long appropriated the job of institutions of polity charged with the responsibility of investigating matters according to a fair and codified procedure.  Now the media itself is on the wrong side and the lynch mob cannot wait to make a kill. 

Barkha Dutt, ring master of many a confrontational live wire big fight and gladiatorial duel, was in the unfamiliar role of defending herself on NDTV.  To her repeated pleas against the nebulousness of the charge and her plaintive query, “Why am I being singled out when a whole lot of other people from the media figure in the list”, Manu Joseph quipped that it was because she had a pretty face.  I don’t know if he was being facetious, but I shall attribute full seriousness and gravity to his remark. 

How long can tongue twisting South Indian names, to which no face can be attached, hold the interest of the baying voyeuristic crowd?  Better to hook a story to a well-known figure, and better still if it is a high profile woman in the public eye.  Who cares if, in the process, the eponymous Barkhagate overshadows the larger story of acquiescence, manipulation, power-broking and pervasive corruption in high places. 


BMD said...

From a Tongue-Twisting Name: ! :-)

Rajdeep says that the media holds others "Guilty till proven innocent". Why should Barkha or Vir demand a different logic: media, unlike judiciary, believes that it can pass judgement before all facts, arguments and pleas are in; media, then, should also be ready for the same treatment.
Media always claims that celebs cannot have publicity without their privacy being intruded in to: celebs can't have the cake and eat it too.
Anchors now want to have celeb status: the desperation is clear in the way they air their 'shows'.
As the Bible said one who sows the Wind should be prepared to reap the Whirlwind.
For Barkha and Vir: I want to end with a longish quote from Raag Darbari:
"Go and hide yourself in the places you have seen in the color photographs of LOOK and LIFE Magazine, in places where crowns of flowers, guitars and girls beckon your soul to new explorations....... Escape from here. Leave.
Escape like young doctors, engineers and scientists, like thinkers who pine for international fame.... Don't get trapped in the mess here.
Run, run, run, you are being pursued by reality."

Manoje Nath said...

Thanks for the very insightful comment but are'nt we in agreement. the media has created this culture and now finds itself point is let us not miss the tree for the wood .let us be focussed on the most venal and serious of all economic frauds.

kksingh said...

Barkha as representative of modern media is a rule rather than an exception. Media has today become the biggest and most potent power brokers for the government in power and government in waiting. Bothways they gain, in all terms, including those which they may create a faccade of fighting against. They are the biggest hippocrites of modern history. The living example is Bihar where the media has left its job of journalism but have taken up media "Business".

Manoje Nath said...

Yes , what you say may be true but the media is paying a heavy price in terms of its credibility. Freedom is an enormous burden and fragile as we are we seem to shed it at the first available opportunity.

Anonymous said...

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ajoyipsbhr85 said...

Barkhagate never became Watergate for the Indian Media, because the Arnab Goswamis and Rahul Kanwals have created some degree of Credibility...
i recently saw a video wherein a senior officer of the Government was shown paying a Cheque to the CNN-IBN chief Rajdeep...
what happened afterwards is known to all....
why blame Barkha and Vir... everyone would like to get the clout to get a chosen few appointed to the Cabinet... they have it and we dont...

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