Arnab-Barkha face-off amplifies disturbing trends

When a section of the Indian media tries to make a case for prosecution of industry colleagues, it’s a disturbing trend. It’s more worrisome when the case being made out is based on the assertion either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us, implying that plurality of opinion (no matter how unpalatable the `other’ view is) is not welcome and that everyone needs to subscribe to just one narrative.

Is it a case of bloated egos?

Could be.

Is it a case of a section of powerful media succumbing to political pressure?

Very much possible.

Is it a case of corporate vested interests at work?

Why not? As most Indian media organisations, especially the big ones, are owned and run by corporations who treat media just as a business.

Or, is it an example that in a big democracy like India a pillar of democratic right --- freedom of expression --- now is being readied for sacrifice at the altar of short-term gains?

The Arnab Goswami-Barkha Dutt (AG-BD) spat that’s keeping the nation interested presently and consuming lot of online space probably is the result of all the reasons listed in the previous para - and much more.

While the AG-BD scrap, which has spilled over everywhere, has managed to corner eyeballs (wonder whether BARC would have data on this saga), another media related development seems to have largely gone unnoticed.

According to the Mukesh Ambani-controlled online publication Firstpost, controversial teleevangelist Zakir Naik, accused of allegedly spreading hate through his sermons on his TV channel Peace TV, has slapped a Rs 500 crore defamation suit on Times NOW and AG.

Why are we mentioning this defamation suit by Naik at all here? Simply because such cases will chip away at the foundation of Indian democracy and Indian media’s role as a watchdog or the Fourth Estate. This will also encourage vested interests in the country to take on more often a divided news media.

Coming back to the face-off between AG and BD, it echoes many things, but more sharply two facts: growing intolerance in the country towards plurality of thought and opinion and increasing commercialisation of a news media where fact and fiction mix freely without alerting the consumer.

Old school journalists have been aghast at the public display of verbal fisticuffs and washing of dirty linen (and egos) terming such behaviour from two high-profile news anchors as “shrewish and infantile," egoistical and unworthy of such perceived role models for youngsters in the media.

On the other hand, there are supporters of AG too, who is said to have started it all when during one of his recent shows he advocated that everybody who’s seen as anti-national (to be defined, probably, as per standards laid down by him and like-minded people), including media persons, should be legally prosecuted and punished. BD and some others media pros waded into the debate sullying the waters further with views and counter views.

Where does that leave thousands of faceless and not-so-high profile journalists trying to eke out a living being a watchdog far away from the limelight?

That’s a question that the media itself has to answer if it has to regain its fast-losing credibility and also protect its freedom that’s so essential in a democracy like India. For the present, it seems the Indian media is reeling under the Donald Trump effect.

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