Jan 14, 2007

Defending the Media

Roomie and I were discussing the attitude of the media while reporting the Nithari serial killings case. His contention was - the media has already made up it's mind and convicted the suspect. He felt they should've been unbiased and stuck to reporting the facts, and leave people to form their own opinions.

I have a different viewpoint. I feel the media should be offering an opinion - creating and leading the public opinion if you will. I know the 'freedom brigade' will disagree with me on this, but I feel the media is required to take up this responsibility here. Because people on their own simply dont care enough to form an opinion. They are busy dealing with the tangles in their own little cocoons, and unsure if they need to take any stands at all. If the media passivly reports 'such and such shit happened', people will passively forget it and move on. However, if the media says 'This is WRONG!', they might sit up, take notice and maybe even try doing something to adress the issue. Even if they don't, they might at least support the cause of someone who IS doing the right thing.

An exmaple of this in the US was the 'War on freedom'. The Govt has an agenda, it needs public opinion in its favor. The media does the job by harping on the threat posed to US security by Saddam and Al-Qaeda. The man on the street does not know who was responsible for 9/11 and how. Most Americans dont even know what or where Iraq is, and what Saddam really did. Yet US troops have to go and fight there, and they need the country behind them. I'm not saying the opinion formed was correct, but it is certain that the public opinion has been created consciously by the media. The point is - to draw attention and support for a cause, the media has to go beyond a black-and-white, dry reporting of facts.

Of course, the other question is raised about the credibility of the media. Given the power to lead public opinion, where is the certainty that they will not misuse it? I admit there is no answer to that, but power and responsibility always go hand-in-hand. And so do responsibility and trust. There are laws to prevent and punish deliberately dishonest reporting. But more than that, we'll have to trust them to get it right more often than not. I know they often seem to create too much of a fuss over trivial issues and create some unnecessary controversies in the war for TRPs. I will not defend that - it is wrong. But that's a fair price.

I'm very happy when things like these happen:
- A team of IAS officer is embarassed into canceling their plans, when the media tells everyone they were going for a govt-sponsored holiday on the pretext of 'studying monorail technology in other countries where it's successful', 10 days before they retire! The media ensured people form and voice an opinion against such blatant misuse of the taxes they pay.
- A couple elopes. The girl's politican-cum-industrialist father uses his contacts, and the boy is thrown into jail without justification. The media reports it, and questions are asked of the policemen misusing their authority and being influenced by outsiders.

The good work done by the media in exposing abuse of power by the authorities alone outweighs all the cons of creating some unnecessary controversies. It keeps the balance of power from tilting too far from the common man. You and I should be thankful for that.

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