The Indian Institute of Dogmatism

Transparency is the essence of any democracy and India claims to be the world’s largest. The previous Congress-led government in the country takes credit for bringing transparency in governance. The party face Rahul Gandhi couldn’t speak of anything substantial during the last general elections other than the Right to Information Act that the Congress government enacted.

However, the times have changed now, the values have changed, and the idea of transparency has reached a higher level. It’s perhaps the first time in the history of the independent India when policies of defence, foreign relations, border security and military plans are discussed so openly. The journalists no more need to cultivate sources who reveal what is discussed in closed-door defence meetings. Everything is on record. Transparency is at its peak but values at their bottom.

The present technologically advanced newsrooms are well equipped to broadcast the meetings live.

What differs is that the meetings are not chaired by the defence minister but by some patriotic self-styled military commanders who call themselves journalists.

Various self-styled defence experts accompany them, the newly appointed one being Major Gaurav Arya who left the Indian Army at a young age for unknown reasons and now leaves no stone unturned to malign the image of Kashmiris and the Kashmir conflict.

Commanders of the regiments that make some sense and an effort to prevent a full-scale military war are labelled as ‘liberal journalists’ or ‘designer patrakars’. This is to make the common patriotic audience stay away from the channels that serve journalism.

Television newsrooms are fast turning into virtual war-rooms, broadcast journalists into guarded commanders (yes, guarded by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party) and television anchors into proxy defence ministers.

The matter of concern in this situation is that India does not have enough defence institutes to meet the television military requirements. So each regiment now has its own training camp.

There are nearly five reputed institutes of journalism in India, with the Asian College of Journalism being at the first place. They have a good entrance process and hence good students join them. An institute’s reputation depends on two main parameters – quality of the students and that of the teachers. These institutes have both and so is their output. There are many reputed media organisations always ready to hire their pass-outs but such groups have a relatively smaller audience as compared to commercial media giants, particularly the television news channels.

The channels need people for commercial journalism – the work that brings high audience rating points and hence a better revenue. Students trained in professional and ethical journalism won’t fit their agenda.

So here is a quick solution! Many of them now have their own journalism institutes, which I earlier referred to as ‘their own training camp’. Most of them offer post-graduate diploma courses in broadcast journalism. They compete with other institutes on two fronts – their faculty includes prominent broadcasters and the students have a greater opportunity of getting a job in the concerned channel. And this is the matter of concern.

I wonder what the students are trained. My mentors have always encouraged me to never compromise on my first right – the freedom of speech. That makes journalism a sacred profession. But we have television channels like Times Now and ‘journalists’ like Arnab Goswami who call for gagging of a section of the media and journalists to be tried and punished. Prominent broadcast journalist Barkha Dutt earlier reacted to this, saying, “This man is journalist? I am ashamed to be from same industry as him.”

If journalism is what Goswami does, then there are at least 30 more such people joining the industry every year, and hence 30 more ‘journalists’ fighting against the freedom of the press, 30 more potential self-styled military experts, 30 more war-mongers.

The fight for the rating points has turned miserably filthy. Now we see ‘journalists’ on the prime time television praising the army for committing an internationally recognised offence like using a human shield in Kashmir, labelling critics as ‘anti-nationals’ and planning cross-border attacks in a newsroom turned ‘war-room’.

How can we expect the same people to train young aspiring journalists into professionals who uphold the democracy? Their syllabus would perhaps have chapters like ‘everything is fair is love and war’. Their practical exams would perhaps not be on teleprompters but on sound-level meters. The louder a student shouts, the higher the student scores. And if this is going to be the future of journalism, then I am speechless.

Even though the loyal Indians rejoice over the country’s global ranking in sectors of economy, military and sports, they fail to raise concern over the press freedom, which the country lacks miserably.

India ranks at 136 among 180 countries in latest ‘world press freedom index’. Well, that’s an awful record for a country that claims to be the world’s largest ‘democracy’.

Media is known as the fourth pillar of democracy but, unfortunately, the jingoistic journalists are themselves shaking its foundation.

It won’t be surprising if these journalists run a campaign to celebrate India’s lead over Pakistan by three ranks in the press freedom index while turning a blind eye towards the 135 countries ranked better than both of them.

This is an opinion. A draft of it was first published in The Kashmir Walla magazine