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Gauri Lankesh murder: Media’s unhealthy swiftness to judge at the expense of accuracy

Author: Chitra Subramaniam
Publication: The News Minute
Date: September 10, 2017
URL:   http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/gauri-lankesh-murder-media-s-unhealthy-swiftness-judge-expense-accuracy-68199

Bravado is mistaken for courage and rude behaviour and language passes off as doggedness and persistence.

Like most who may read the following lines, I have closely followed events after the brutal assassination of Gauri Lankesh. The only thing that seems clear to me is that it is a mafia-like job, carried out with cold precision in the heart of a city. Two people come on a motorbike to kill the person and two more follow on another bike to make sure the job is complete. It happens, just like this, in southern Italy even today. There are no eye witnesses. Never.

Lankesh’s political views are of little matter to me for this piece. The ugly appropriation of her death by political parties is. The state funeral was a disturbing sign of that. The Chief Minister of Karnataka looked so small as he stood next to the slain journalist’s coffin. From all I have read and heard, she would have been the last person to expect this. Other politicians across political parties, NGOs, self-styled saviours of India's democracy and their ilk, all shamelessly pulling the death to their advantage was beyond galling. In the din, some of them succeeded in re-introducing themselves to India in ugly ways. Noted.

Since her assassination a few thoughts have been percolating in my mind. One is this. People who go out there to fight do not think of themselves as brave. They just do it. They are pushed by their passion, their belief and their faith in the correctness of their coarse. They continue to march on without looking back knowing well that arrows are reserved for backs of pioneers and some of these arrows come from within. No one I know who has done anything like this thinks they are feisty and courageous every morning before start of work. There’s often too much to do and too little time to think about themselves. Some people like to engage with intelligent opposition, some don't. That is a matter of personal choice.

At the height of the Bofors investigations, I received death threats read out as ‘live’ by professionals. I informed my editors who gave themselves high security, leaving me out in the cold. I made my own arrangements and learnt valuable lessons about life, journalism and media bosses. Had I been taken out like Lankesh, who would be blamed? More importantly what would have mattered most to my family?

There were placards in many of the protest meetings saying ‘I am Gauri’ reminiscent of the ‘Je suis Charlie’ campaign following that massacre in Paris. Terrorists in France get taken out. In India, we have tea and biscuits with them or keep them in prison for 25 years. France is also a democracy, like India. Faith in democracy is not restored when terrorists are protected and innocents are killed.

Let it be said without any frills - we in the media have drifted. I see in some young journalists an obstinacy to counter just for the sake of countering, whether or not facts are known. I see an unhealthy swiftness to judge and I notice a needless speed at the expense of accuracy. Some of it has to do with the medium itself – television and online space pushes speed – but not all. Some of it comes from not having read enough. And some of it comes from remarkable disregard for past practices and lessons learnt. Bravado is mistaken for courage and rude behaviour and language passes off as doggedness and persistence.

Since some of us in journalism are severely compromised with political parties and have large platforms, benchmarks are never allowed to emerge. This has as much to do with financial corruption as it has to do with intellectual corruption. Editors rape junior colleagues or make sexual advances in work places because there are precedents that were never stopped including by women editors. I can also say with some degree of confidence that in many newsrooms across the country, editors don’t spend sleepless nights worrying about the safety and security of their colleagues, especially junior colleagues, out on a story. When senior editors ask rookie reporters to stand up and fight back, they have to ask themselves more than once if their decision compromises the security of that person in any way. A straight line is not the shortest point connecting two dots. Taking one step back to leap further is also called strategy. So, we have a situation where journalists say that corruption is not important, secularism is, secularism is not important, safety is, or that safety is all fine but where's the story - it's a bit like saying the hand doesn't matter the foot does or the missing external lobe of the ear is not important as long as you can hear.

One reason I avoid participating in media debates and discussions is because I have stage-fright which I have been overcoming. But more important than that is I get tongue-tied when a corrupt journalist asks my views on corruption or an editor who shielded her rape-accused boss speaks on women and safety in work places and I find myself sitting on the dais unable to hold up a mirror.  It is deeply unfortunate that such a heavy price is being paid for clean journalists to come together and work towards good journalism.

Change is happening and journalists are learning and being mentored to preserve themselves from outside as also from within. Our tribe is expanding and I spot a healthy trend emerging which will not be pushed around by politicians and lobbies.  For now, its haphazard but if you look, a pattern is beginning to emerge. Good people, working hard, doing clean work, reporting, documenting, challenging and changing. This change may not be obvious because people behind it are not in the business of publicity seeking. The story is the star. Period.
 
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