Calling out the creepy-crawlies in the Indian media

Some journalists, who were convinced of nano chips being embedded in our Rs 2000 notes, would do well to check the dictionary meaning of the word, ‘plagiarism’

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Sujata Anandan

I had never even heard of the poster in the Holocaust Museum in the United States listing the early signs of fascism before Mahua Moitra, the Trinamool Congress’s first time MP, made her brilliant and searing debut in Parliament.

I looked it up immediately, of course, but that search still did not show me anything about its provenance. If Moitra had not mentioned the Holocaust Museum,  I would have thought she was doubly brilliant in so lucidly articulating what many of us liberals have been saying in bits and pieces in disjointed fashion over the past few years.

But while savouring her speech that must have got under the skin of the fascists she was pulverising, and pondering over the Holocaust poster, the word 'plagiarism' never popped inside my head because she seemed to have given full credit where it was due.

Yet, as  it turns out, there was more to the provenance of that poster on early fascism than most of us, including Martin Longman, an American journalist, who had based one of his articles on that poster, knew.

Yet, section of our own godi media,  always crawling when not even asked to bend, were quick to run Mahua Moitra down and accuse her of plagiarising Longman’s article published in context of the way the United States was turning out under the Donald Trump presidency - which is little different from what we are becoming under Narendra Modi.

However, that is the difference between the media in the US  and in India – it took a US journalist to call out the right wing journalists in India, more loyal than even the king, and in no uncertain or flattering terms.

When Longman first realised how he was being defended by people in India opposed to his very ideology, his instant reaction on Twitter was to call them right wing a..h...s. Later naming the journalist who has previously - and Longman may not know this – been to jail before for blackmailing an industrialist and then Congress MP  (he threatened Navin Jindal with negative coverage if he did not cough up Rs 100 crore), Longman described them as cheap shot bootlickers masquerading as journalists (actual words - I am very familiar with this kind  of cheap shot bootlicking masquerade as journalism).

Apparently there are many such journalists like our own godi media in the US  but unfortunately not enough like Martin Longman in India who display the courage to not just call out members of their own fraternity but also take on the leader of their nation quite fearlessly.

And, indeed, I do not see any reason why our journalists should not be equally fearless. Or, perhaps, that has something or more to do with what is often derogatorily referred to as Lutyens journalism.

As former journalist and minister Arun Shourie, known for some fearless, brilliant journalism in his time, had once told some of us in Mumbai, he had noticed that the boot-licking kind of journalism and the fear of the ruling dispensation was manifest less the further you moved away from the centre of power, that is, New Delhi.

That is why newspapers like The Telegraph and The Hindu probably have more courage to take on the ruling dispensation (who the government has now favored with the denial of its advertisements which is a substantial part of their revenue).

But even without this kind of arm twisting of the media houses at a corporate level, I have noticed over the years that there is a tendency among Lutyens journalists to creep and crawl before ruling dispensations, whoever they may be. Some of this is driven by personal ideology which can be forgiven. For, in my personal view the demand for neutrality on the part of the media is quite overdone and overrated.

A journalist is as much part of society as anybody else and he or she should be entitled to their own biases and ideologies. The problem arises when those biases and ideologies begin to interfere with their objectivity (as different from neutrality) and their ability to speak truth to power or call out the wrong doings of the government.

Unfortunately, even in times when there were no early signs of fascism in the country, individual journalists were willing accessories vis-à-vis ruling dispensations and quite amenable to cover-ups in the interest of personal gratification.

One can actually pick out on the fingers of one hand those who took on the previous regimes in no uncertain terms. But if you scratched beneath the surface, it would be obvious their authenticity came from their ideological opposition to the party in government at any particular time.

They were not speaking truth to power for the sake of that particular truth. And when the ideological bedfellows of some of them are now in occupation at the Centre, they have lost their ability to speak the truth altogether, let alone to power.

Fake news, complete untruths (like that of a nano chip embedded  in the new Rs 2000 notes that defied all the basic principles of counter checking and substantiation demanded by good journalism), contribution to communal disharmony by skewered reportage, doctored reports (like that of the tukde tukde slogan at Jawaharlal Nehru University), have taken over much of the Indian media space and much of this is emanating from its proximity to power.

Which is why I think Martin Longman’s response to the defence of his honour by right wing bigots in this country is a timely reminder on where we are going. He not only tore apart the allegation that Moitra had plagiarised him but had the courage to admit where he had gone wrong in the said article – not checking the provenance of the said poster and failing to attribute it to the original writer.

He could have sat back and said nothing and allowed these sections of the Indian media to demonise Moitra, who he had never heard of before, on false premises. But then, unlike some in the Indian media,  he has the courage of his conviction. And, clearly, he is no right wing a..h..e.

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