By TREVOR SELVAM
For the past several years I have watched -- with some amusement, some intrigue and some sneaking admiration -- the avaricious style of India’s advent into the CNN and SkyNews style of journalism.
I say avaricious, because Indians like to eat up everything they can watch, feel or hear. Like ice cream. If they could, they would eat up a flat panel TV set, right off the wall mounting, with cable, bolts and everything. Including Arnab Goswami, while he would be carrying on his mendacious, Fox-style blather.
India needs an independent-minded new channel. I am emphasizing the word Minded, because there is a wealth of minds in India, who are not being interviewed, asked to comment on critical issues.
Indians love two phrases to describe themselves. One is the collective version of Me, Me, Me Too-ism (more like Us too-ism), which drives most TV anchors to emulate a mode that makes a mockery of mimicry itself. We can do it too! Whatever they do, we will do also!
The problem is that neither CNN, nor Skynews, nor MSNBC are symbolic of any sober journalistic standards. The BBC, somewhat abstemious and even pious by contrast, is after all a preserver of a post-colonial dignity in the face of American trashiness. If there is any news and analysis channel that stands out for putting out sober, dignified and reflective journalism, it is Al Jazeera. And Indian journalists are not looking at Al Jazeera for inspiration, for sure.
In my columns before, I have stated my admiration for the significantly serious journalism of Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera sends out its correspondents to the farthest corners of the world, to investigate the conditions people live in. From the remotest mountains in the Andes, the forest of the Amazons, to the backwaters of Louisiana and to the Uighur areas of China. Al Jazeera even does a report on Kolkata rickshaw pullers, which one would be hard pressed to find on an Indian channel. Their journalists are extraordinarily articulate, nuanced and non-partisan. They also handle all the hot potato items one can imagine, being based in an Islamic country.
And the other phrase is “We are like that only!” The latter is used, when glaring contradictions in behaviour, in consumption patterns, in national key statistics regarding poverty, literacy, the violence of the police forces are compared to India’s recent stratospheric conquests and claims to apostolic notions of non-violence. “We are like that only.” In other words, take us for what we are. Complex, unexplainable, contradictory and fitting right into the mould of the exotic and the mysterious--an enigma and a stereotype that is beyond classification.
Well, that enigma is actually turning out to be tattered at the edges, quite flaky, quite dangerous and quite an affront to the majority of India’s population that live in that swathe of the country that is beginning to be called the Naxalite corridor. This corridor has India’s best sources of water and therefore power, mining resources, precious metals and ah yes! The aboriginal people of India live here. With the Dalits, they are one fourth of India’s population. Has anybody figured out what would happen if these people got really mad and energized, because they have finally found someone who will fight with them? Urban India better start figuring things out soon.
Indians like the boom-bang, dhoom-dhamaka style of journalism. The journalism that combines doe-eyed twenty-five year old journalists asking seemingly penetrating questions about nothing, to incoherent reporters in the field, while in the background, war-drum like sounds continue with swishy computer graphics that fly in and out in accompaniment with the sound track. The reporters themselves have gone from the realm of hard core comedy to an outright parody of live journalism..
The latest was when while reporting on Lalgarh, a young journalist in a near panic stricken voice kept asking his cameramen to zoom in on a forest in the distance saying “anytime the Maoists could come out from there and anytime I could be stepping on a mine. That is how dangerous it is.” Meanwhile an Adivasi man sauntered by the camera with a tangi ( the double edged curved hatchet that Adivasis have used forever) resting on his shoulders and very casually sidestepping a distraught looking CRPF soldier who was staring into the jungle in the distance.
Suddenly, we have a generation of people using the new media, who have not been exposed to the facts of India’s political history, pre-independence and post-independence. If these journalists do not know who Bhagat Singh or Khudiram were and why they were executed by the British Empire, if they do not know anything about the Santhal rebellion and Sidhu and Kanu, if they do not know what happened in Telengana and Tebhaga, long before Naxalbari, how can they ask the right questions about what is happening in Lalgarh?
The government of India has cleverly planted the debates in the media. So, for a while the Indian nation will be discussing development first or law and order, first? So there is the KPS Gill and CPI(M)/BJP school of parliamentary intellectualism that will insist on the rule of law. And then the ruling Congress will come out swinging and looking good, saying “Uh! Uh! We will not call in the Army on the Maoists! It is a development problem and we shall bring in the water, the schools, and the clinics and by the way we are mopping up the Maoists alongside.”
So, the debate of whether the Government of India should be “development centric” or “security centric” will meander along into an insipid ending and quietly the paramilitary operations will proceed with ruthless speed. And the TV anchormen and women will hum and haw and go on to the next debate, which could be on the topic of “Corruption in the Police” or some other insanely hackneyed issue.
Other than the newsmagazine Tehelka, it seems none of the mainstream news journals select particularly intelligent reporters, brief them accurately, when they send them out to missions in the interiors of India. Tehelka tends to go far beyond newspeak. They provide researched and investigated data. They seem to be away from bombastic soundbytes.
Shoma Choudhury, writing in the October 3 issue of Tehelka Magazine states the following --“Over this past year, the Home Ministry has been planning a major armed offensive against the Naxals, particularly in Chhattisgarh. According to reports, the plan involves stationing around 75,000 troops in the heartland of India — including special CRPF commandos, the ITBP and the BSF. Scattered newspaper accounts have spoken of forces being withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast; there is also talk of bringing in the feared Rashtriya Rifles — a battalion created specially for counter-insurgency work — and the purchase of bomb trucks, bomb blankets, bomb baskets, and sophisticated new weaponry.” (Please take the time to read Shoma Choudhury at http://www.tehelka.com/story_
Something big is afoot in India and none of the TV channels are talking about it. The Government of India is withdrawing forces from everywhere and getting set to attack its own people in its heartland area and nobody is talking about it? How can this be?
When Mr. Kobad Gandhy, the Maoist leader was recently arrested, an epidemic of sensationalist articles appeared discussing his pedigree, his jovial mannerisms, his Doon school education etc and then there was a dumbfounded notion of how a well-to-do Parsee family could produce a Naxalite? Well, wake up! Because 40 years ago, almost 80% of the Naxalites came from well-to-do or middle class families and invariably all had solid educational backgrounds..
Why don’t Indian news channels discuss violence? I am talking about the violence perpetrated by 62 years of Independence that still leaves 53% of India’s population below the poverty line? The violence of malnutrition, hunger, infanticide, femicide, where India rules the world in statistics? Do Indian journalists like Vikram Chandra have the balls to rise to the occasion and demand a discussion on the violence of the state? Of course not!
I have never seen any journalism anywhere in the world, where such a large mass movement of aboriginal first-nation peoples are seen by the mainstream media with such racist distance and only in terms of incidents, party statements, interviews and dailyspeak.
What India needs is a renaissance in the realm of journalism and intellectual analysis. Folks who have been there and done it all, who are professionals, doctors, lawyers, journalists, engineers, artists, judges (especially those who were witness to the carnage in the 60s and 70s) to step forward and make that climb over the hump and point out that horizon that is beyond this Karat-Biman Bose-Montek-Chidambaran-BJP world.
India needs an independent voice, an independent network and the class who can finance it. Yes, a nationalist bourgeoisie would be good. People who have a soul, have a mind and wish to contribute their resources to an India that will really shine! Because no matter how many articles we write, how many letters we sign, Indians are already in the newsbyte snapshot evening news and blackberry breaking news mode and unless you have a restrained analytical feature programming channel, Indian TV journalism remains in the dark ages with a lot of techno features and sound effects but no light, no investigative ability when it comes to the political terrain of India. One must ask ourselves why that is so? Are they afraid of the Indian government?
Trevor Selvam is a freelance journalist, based in Chennai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org