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HVK Archives: Shoddy journalism is India's bane

Shoddy journalism is India's bane - The Sunday Observer

Rajeev Srinivasan ()
July 26 - August 1, 1998

Title: Shoddy journalism is India's bane
Author: Rajeev Srinivasan
Publication: The Sunday Observer
Date: July 26 - August 1, 1998

I learnt when I was in Paris a few weeks ago that this year,
1998, is the centenary of Emile Zola's ccuse..... speech.

Zola, the French novelist, wrote a letter to the president of
France on 13 January 1898 referring to army officer Alfred
Dreyfus who had been falsely accused of spying for the Germans,
stripped of his position and honours, humiliated, and sentenced
to life at the infamous Devil's Island prison. Dreyfus was a Jew,
and the case became a symbol of the widespread anti-Jewish
feeling in Europe. (There was a film made on the subject,
starring Paul Muni.)

Zola's letter was a cry of anguish at two things - the injustice
done to one man and the moral decay that it implied in his
beloved France. The letter got Zola into trouble, he had to go
into exile, he achieved his goal: the government fell, Dreyfus
was exonerated, and the real culprit, a Major Esterhazy, was
brought to book.

The point is one man, just by the power of his words, was able to
right a wrong.

Which leads me to wonder: are there are any Zolas among the
Indian writing classes?

When I read Indian columnists, I am forced to divide them into
two camps, with very few exceptions: the ignorant/lazy and the
intellectually colonized. The exceptions I can think of are: the
late Nikhil Chakravarty, Arun Shourie, N Vittel, Madhu Kishwar,
Praful Bidwai, K Subrahmanyam, Tavleen Singh. These writers, plus
a few others, I respect, even if I don share their views.
Because they do their homework, think things through, and have
something worthwhile to say. For instance, I disagree with most
of Bidwai's positions, but surely he demands consideration.

I accuse the majority of Indian journalists of abdicating their
responsibility, by failing to think. I am amazed at the amount of
absolute tripe that masquerades as houghtful commentary -
frankly, even I, no professional journalist, can find holes in
their so-called arguments, simply based on their faulty premises
or logic.

I accuse these journalists of being completely innocent of
elementary economics, history, and rhetoric. Surely a tribute to
the pathetic state of the liberal arts curricula in Indian
universities. I find that these people latch on the some simple,
easily refutable claim and then rant and rave about it. If they
were to spend more time on research (then the minutes they do)
and on writing (than the half-hour they do), they would realize
the absurdity of it all - but, of course, they don have to, as
the consuming public lets them get away with it. A frightening
thought - do a people get the journalists they deserve?

The second type of wretched Indian journalist is the terminally
brainwashed variety, The type that consumes the disinformation
handed out by the media barons of the West who ave their own
axes to grind. The type for whom the ultimate in wisdom is Time,
Newsweek, and The New York Times.

I accuse these journalists of being utterly blind. Because the
media empires of the West work hand-in-hand with their
governments - major American papers, for example, are practically
foreign-policy propaganda mouthpieces of the US government, as
Noam Chomsky has demonstrated convincingly (Manufacturing
Consent). While the US media do offer dissent in terms of
internal affairs, when it comes to foreign affairs, they, the
mercantilist government, and the military-industrial complex are
of one mind.

I accuse these Indian journalists, furthermore, of destructive
criticism. A simple case in point is the recent furore over child
shooting others in schools in America. There was much hand-
wringing and heart-searching in the US media about the causes of
alienation among children, about pervasive gun availability. But
no American writer said, t is because American culture stinks.
Remember, this country was built on a culture of violence. We
glorify the bloody conquest of the West. We massacred the native
American. We imposed slavery on the black sports. We deserve this
cycle of violence - what goes around comes around. They would
never say that: there is a certain ingrained respect for their

Imagine, in similar circumstances, what our clueless, brain-
washed, purveyors of second-hand wisdom would have said in India:
ndian culture stinks. It is 5,000 years of Hinduism that causes
these problems. If only we could get rid of Hinduism and any
vestiges of Indian culture, we would be so much better off. It is
unfortunate that a millennium of foreign rule hasn wiped out
all of this. Maybe we could have the Chinese come in and teach us
a few new things?

Okay, I exaggerate, but consider the following true-to-life
story: an article about Bosnia by some Indian journalist, where
he went on and on about he second holocaust=94. I was appalled. I
was thinking, I have news for you. The second holocaust was in
India. Partition. The single greatest forced migration of people
in history. Several million killed. Or maybe Cambodia - 25 per
cent of the population butchered - at least two million.

All things considered, how many have died in Bosnia-Serbia-
Croatia? At the most, a lakh. But in our semi-educated
journalist's mind, the deaths of white people loom much larger
than those of Asians.

This is not to imply that one should ignore the Western media.
Use them for facts and figures and analysis, but, for heaven's
sake, don accept them as the gospel truth. Use you judgement to
understand the undercurrents and the vested interests. ll the
news that is fit to print isn printed - there is self-
censorship, bias, and slanting.

I think the India consumer needs to revolt against shoddy
journalism just as much as against shoddy products.

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