Imprisoned By Profit

December 20, 2011 at 9:15 AMDec (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

Attacking the statement of the Chairman of Press Council, Justice Katju over the first page coverage of Dev Anand’s death, a blogger (Archana Venkat) wrote a blog titled ‘The Obsession With Framer Suicide’, starting off the blog saying that even farmer suicide, on which Mr. Katju stressed, doesn’t qualify, like the death of Dev Anand, to be front page news, “particularly when there is no development in the issue.”

She has voiced her opinion in the website The South Reports. I learn that she has cross-posted the same on The Hoot too. She voices her opinion that the government should have taken proper actions to address the issues which it hasn’t and adds, “Why then should the media cover farmer suicides repeatedly again when there is little development around the issue? How long should they harp on the same issues? Should we dedicate a portion of the newspaper or a segment of air time exclusively for farmer suicides and perhaps run the same stories because we have no new ones to discuss?”

The blogger goes ahead to say, “While it is understood that media has a moral responsibility towards creating awareness about lesser known yet grave issues, it is largely a private enterprise and must be allowed to function as one, keeping in mind its readers and business prospects,” which reveals the idea of journalism the blogger seem to have. This idea of journalism and media as a business gets reiterated when she asks PCI to make provisions, by talking to government, of “subsidy” and “tax wavier” for media houses and “travel grants,” apart from “scholarships” for journalists to unearth the real issues and to get trained to do such specialized stories.

I was angered majorly by the way the blogger trivializes the issue of farmer suicide by saying things like news is only if the Government does something which implies that the suicide of farmers by themselves do not hold any news value. There seems no value to human life in the eyes of this blogger.

More sadly she says, in a comment on TSR that “one” suicide is no news but “many” suicides is news. It seems the blogger looks at farmer suicide as numbers which make her say that “one” suicide is not news and “many” suicides are news. “How many deaths does it take to be a massacre?”- Derrida is said to have asked in the closing hours of his life and is said to have answered the question as “One.”

News worthiness, according to the blogger, is decided by the media itself. Media as she sees is a private enterprise and has its own “business prospects”. By saying this she implies that the business interests of the media is more important than the expected job of the media. Worse she expects “subsidy”, “tax waiver”, “scholarship” and “travel grants” to do what is supposed to be the job of the media!

In anger I ask myself how could the editor have approved such an insensitive and inhumane post be published. What is the role of media-house while such insensitive views are being aired in the space provided by them, though the views of the authors may not be that of the channel/newspaper/website. Though the website may say, with its disclaimers, that the views expressed in the writings are that of the author and not the website but when the website allows such insensitive writings in their website the editor cannot excuse himself/herself with the disclaimer for (s)he has given the space. He/she too would be responsible.

Like in the case of DNA publishing the article by Subramanian Swamy where the views expressed by the columnist may not or is not the views of the paper. But by providing space for such a hateful piece of writing DNA did cause damage. How can it excuse itself by saying it is the view of the columnist and columnist himself is responsible for his views?

I ask myself if the blogger can be permitted to air such views on the grounds of “diversity of opinions and views”?

My problem with the post in question is not that the blogger holds a view which is different from mine. My problem is the insensitivity which the blogger’s point of view holds, which it is likely to pass on to the readers.

A friend of mine told me that it was fine if the blogger had aired her views in her personal blog and said that because she had aired her views in a public sphere he finds it objectionable. I don’t know if it is ‘fine’ if one shares his or her opinion in their personal blogs, given the easy access to the blogosphere. But yeah as my friend pointed out the website which is a collection of blogs is more of a public sphere and has more accessibility than personal blogs, which makes the insensitive writing more dangerous.

Antonio Gramsci wrote, “How the ideological structure of a dominant class is actually organized: namely the material organization aimed at maintaining, defending and developing the theoretical or ideological ‘front’… Its most prominent and dynamic part is the press in general… The press is the most dynamic part of this ideological structure, but not the only one. Everything which influences or is able to influence public opinion, directly or indirectly, belongs to it: libraries, schools, associations and clubs of various kinds, even architecture and the layout and names of streets.” Had Gramsci been alive now, undoubtedly, he would have mentioned the internet space too for it too has the potential to influence the “public opinion.”

The blogger through her words is strengthening the dominant class and weakening the causes of the wretched of the earth. She, in an ‘intelligent’ manner, is shaping the public opinions in favour of the dominant class! What is the blog in question turning the public opinion to? The bloggers ends her blog post saying media has a moral responsibility to its readers and no moral obligation as such. It is not a moral obligation or moral responsibility that the media has. It is the social responsibility and the social obligation that it has. Thus in an ‘intelligent’ manner she shifts the focus from social responsibility and social obligation to moral responsibility and moral obligation thus liberating, at her convenience, the media from social responsibility and obligation. By saying that press is a business the blogger is making people believe that the press need not have social responsibility for it is a private enterprise. By saying farmer’s suicide doesn’t qualify to be front page news she is trivializing the issue and pushing the issue to invisibility. By this the cause is being weakened and business being strengthened for she claims absolute liberty to the media as it is a private enterprise.

How much ever one says that the new media and its public sphere is more democratic for it provides for an opportunity of discussion, debate and dialogue these opportunities do not make any difference. What would be the point of all the debate after the damage has been done with words by passing on a good amount of insensitivity to the readers?

I ask myself if the blogger can be permitted to air such views on the grounds of “Freedom of speech and expression”?

I remember when controversy rose against the play ‘Mahachaitra’ penned by H.S. Shivaprakash many authors and activists defended him on the grounds of “freedom of artistic expression” and “freedom of speech .” Interestingly the author said he doesn’t want to defend himself under the banner of “freedom of the artist” and said he defends himself on the grounds of the “responsibilities of an artist” being sure that he had not been irresponsible in his speech and expression. H.S. Shivaprakash believes that the freedom of an artist or a writer is not absolute. He believes that responsibility must be over liberty to writers, for their speech and expression can make an impact. What Leni Riefensthal enjoyed was freedom what she lacked was responsibility. The impact of her work has been witnessed. Under the banner of ‘freedom of the artist’ she can be defended but not under the banner of ‘responsibilities of an artist’.

In a society where there are thousands of people who do not have the freedom to live, like the farmer’s who are forced to commit suicide, it would be highly insensitive for the writer to speak loudly about his/her freedom to speech and expression, that too when with that very freedom of speech and expression, the writer dismisses the issues of the wretched of the earth not having any freedom, as a trivial issue and reducing lives of those freedom-less humans to mere numbers.

A Hungry Bony Boy
Begs His Mama For Food.
Mama, teary eyed
Points To The Sun Glowing Red.
Then, Give Me That Bread Now
I Haven’t Eaten Since Night
Stomach Is Growling.
Let This Hot Bread Cool Down Son
So Far, Yet So Scorching
It May Blister Your Mouth!
The Hot Sun Journey
And Dipped Behind The Mountain.
And Waiting For His Bread,
Bony Boy Went To Sleep Hungry Again!

Can the author be defended in the name of “freedom of the writer” or “diversity of opinion” in front of the boy that the farmer poet Late Shri Krishna Kalamb from the Vidarbha district describes? Especially when the writer wants to enjoy his freedom closing his/her eyes to the misery of the farmer who doesn’t have the freedom to live! The freedom of the writer is not above the freedom of the wretched of the earth. How can the blogger ask for “subsidy” and “tax waiver” for the media while to the wretched of the earth food is as far as the sun? How can the blogger demand for a “travel grant” to speak the stories of those bony boys and those teary eyes? How can the writer be defended on the grounds of “freedom of the writer” whose writing trivializes the issues of freedom-less wretched of the earth?

Karl Marx had something beautiful to say about the freedom of press. He said, “The first freedom of the press consists in its not being a business.” Interestingly the blogger in question is declaring that media is a business.

It is not just the idea of media as a business which strengthens the dominant classes but also the false notion and obsession that most of the media houses seem to have about “neutral”, “impartial” observation and presentation and also the attitude of the media personnel’s which they wish to call as “liberal” which accommodates all sort of views as “another point of which needs to be respected.”

Most of the media personnel- as they are taught in their media schools- believe that to take a side in their report means to be biased. When the world in itself is not balanced how can the reports be “balanced”? The world is not balanced. The reports cannot be balanced. One needs to take sides. To take side doesn’t mean to be biased. To be neutral is to be apolitical. To be impartial is to be apolitical. These apolitical attitudes can and will serve only the dominant classes. The idea of being “liberal” allowing all kind of views in the name of “diversity of views” also ends up strengthening the dominant class and not the wretched of the earth, by diluting the cause of the wretched of the earth by getting trapped in the false idea of a “balance”.

Utpal Dutt believed that, “Only if one identifies oneself with the cause of the proletariat and its struggle can one discover the intricate social connections beneath the simple incident and interpret it in truthful terms.” If one identifies oneself with the farmers or any wretched of the earth then even one suicide will mean more than a suicide and one will be able to see the structural violence which snatched the freedom to live from the wretched of the earth. But one sadly identifies oneself with the business of media and not the spirit of media which stands for and with the wretched of the earth.

“Here is the fastest growing media in the world, a politically free media, imprisoned by profit,” says P. Sainath in Deepa Bhatia’s documentary ‘Nero’s Guest’  and recollects a portion from Gandhi’s Talisman, while responding to a budding journalist. The portion of Talisman which he reads is: “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?”

Gandhi was also a writer, a journalist who fought for freedom but also realized the responsibility which is well reflected in his Talisman.

1 Comment

  1. suma embar said,

    dear Samvartha,
    I understand your anguish, and embarrassment and anger. You have rightly pointed out the dangers of manipulating the meaning of words like ‘liberal’ ,freedom of the press’, ‘business’ ,’news value’ , etc. The blogger ‘s write up mentioned by you -simply indicates our present social context: this is a country where even death has lost its dignity and life has been trivialised. we should all realise that journalists too are constructs of our corporatised culture now, with a few endangered exceptions, ofcourse. there is no use blaming such attitudes alone. look at our university journalism departments, the syllabus, the demands on media,the corporate tendencies in media houses, why blame just one person? In fact, the regional language rural press is more ethical, and the grass root level issues of the community are covered more consciously and with full knowledge of what the press can do, right from enlightening the people to dethrone the truant governments.whether the govt does its job or not, the regional press hasn’t forgotten its 4th estate position.We don’t have to lose hope, nor be scared that such blog articles will get popularity and mass support! Such article only proves how poor the intellectual and ethical background of some journalists is.
    Ultimately, what should matter to not only journalists but all of the urban white collar professionals is: we, nero’s guests, are all surviving, thriving by our profession, enjoying the fruits of democracy, while the farmers who feed us are dying because of their profession.
    -suma embar

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