News needn't be convenient. Don't shoot the messenger

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Updated: Nov 02, 2017, 13:32 PM IST

In the past few months, I’ve seen many journalists crib about the excesses of the government, slam them for the lack of morals or turn on their own organisations for suppressing stories that were inconvenient. But more disturbingly, I’ve seen journalists come under attack for reporting the news as they see it. And some of these attacks aren’t just by Twitter trolls.
 
In April this year, a HOOT study said that 54 attacks and 25 cases of threatening journalists took place in the preceding 16 months. Nearly two months after scribe Gauri Lankesh was shot outside her Bengaluru house, the case remains unsolved and the killers at large. The 2017 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders ranks India an abysmal 136 out of 180 nations. While we are doing better than Pakistan (139) and China (176), it is a sad commentary that even strife-torn Afghanistan (120) ranks better. A report by the Press Council of India states that of the over 80 journalists killed since 1990, there has been a conviction in only one case.

Matters, it seems, have come to such a pass that the central government has issued an advisory to states last week to ensure all attacks on journalists are investigated promptly and perpetrators get prosecuted in a ‘time-bound manner’. The advisory to the Director Generals of Police says, "States should also take all preventive and deterrent action as deemed required. States are already empowered to provide security to individuals based on threat perceptions."
 
"The Fourth Estate is an important institution of the democracy. It ensures that citizens are able to express their opinions freely without any fear and coercion as provided under the Constitution of India. It is the duty of the state to ensure safety and security of the journalists who ensure that the Fourth Estate discharges this key duty," the advisory said.
 
I question why such an advisory is required? Aren’t state agencies committed to ensuring freedom of the press? We have laws. What we need is a better implementation of the criminal justice system. This isn’t just about press freedoms, it is about people being killed for just doing their job – telling a truth that was perhaps too inconvenient.

Blame it on the Scribe. Carry on Trolling!
 
Trolling any journalist is easy. Perhaps killing them is too. On my own twitter profile @prasadsanyal, I’ve described myself as “News junkie, Foodie, Sickular, Presstitute”.  The self-inflicted rhetoric was my way of holding trolls at bay. When it comes to dealing with those on social media out to get me because they don’t agree with my views, I’m at an asymmetrical disadvantage. These ‘truth-adjudicating’ self-appointed guardians of civil society are anything but civil, and delegitimising media outlets and journalists are a harbinger of troubled times.
 
Some of this anger vented at the media is self-inflicted - that I’ll admit. A responsible media is one that is committed to the integrity of news and, has checks and balances to ensure that the reportage is not skewed. That said, a story has many sides and what a journalist chooses to tell is shamed by her socialisation and milieu.
 
A responsible society not only engages with all news sources at its disposal but also encourages, through constant engagement, a more bi-partisan approach where every angle in a story can be adequately represented.
 
Media outlets are a reflection of society. Drawing room conversations blaming journalists for sensationalising news should also be an occasion to introspect. Are we as a people becoming increasingly vouyeristic? If people don’t like what they see, then perhaps it is time to stop reading, watching and consuming whatever content is being offered and look for alternatives.
 
Remaining silent or blindly condemning aren’t the only two routes available. Most media outlets have robust feedback mechanisms. Engage respectfully and be the catalyst for the change you want to see.

(This blog was first published on WION)

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