DON`T you get tired writing about the same thing, asked my friend ST, after she read through several of my old columns her idea, not mine; we were reconnecting after a decade. `You`re always writing about what`s wrong with journalism but you`re still in it. Maybe you need to move on,` she said. `The news media is dead.
I thought asking industry insiders to take remedial steps to fix broken parts of the news ecosystem was me sounding an alarm bell, not the death knell. ST explained I sounded like her journalist friends in Australia, where she lives, who berate audiences for wanting bite-size pieces of information because they don`t trust mainstream media. She tells them to move on too, especially `since the media is biased, hypocritical and sides with its bosses`.
I admit, I was left feeling a bit bummed after this brief exchange. Were journalists really at risk of becoming irrelevant as ST warned? Thankfully, Vinay Shukla`s new documentary While We Watched about then NDTV reporter Ravish Kumar in New Delhi reminded me why journalism is relevant albeit at serious risk. Filmed over a two-year period when Kumar anchored a show on NDT V featuring well-reporte d stories that did not get coverage on other outlets, the documentary was sounding alarm bells on what is evident across Indian media now. News and analysis draped in hyper jingoistic, often inflammatory, language, with anchors like Arnab Goswami ready to label any dissent as anti-India, anti-Modi. Goswami once said being a nationalist was a prerequisite to being a journalist.
Kumar is the direct opposite. He comes off as measured, despite the clear level of pressure he`s under whether it is a staff member explaining why they have no choice but to resign or when he`s answering abusive, threatening calls from audience members enraged by his programme, he remains calm.
Goswami and his type we have similar ones on our screens too have shown that drinking the nationalism Kool Aid brings in higher ratings. But it`s for Kumar to decide whether he should follow that path and help NDTV out of its financial strain or continue to go against the grain and report on the `other` stories -unemployment, the state of the country`s infrastructure, Muslims` rights, essentially human stories. Kumar soldiers on but, as I`m sure you have guessed, has to pay a price. Advertisers pull out, ratings go down, staff is laid off or quit, cable operators shift their channel`s placement, even tal(e it off air when his show is on. Then the channel faces a tax investigation in 2019. Itseems all demagogues use tactics from the same playbook to muzzle their critics.
While we watched has received rave reviews, and awards, where it was shown at various film festivals around the world. It was screened publicly at a Mumbai film festival last week, a year after its release. I saw it on YouTube and encourage you to do the same, even though it`s not fair on the filmmakers.
While the film doesn`t cover recent events like Kumar`s resignation from NDTV after it was bought by Gautam Adani, dubbed Asia`s richest man, also known for his close ties to BJP, I believe it explains how the media got to where it is today. Kumar has since migrated to YouTube where he has an impressive following of 7.61 million subscribers. It`s ironic that he eventually got the `ratings` he wanted, but it came at a cost. In this case, credible journalism on TV is the loser, though I doubt Adani sees it this way.
Kumar`s story reaffirms my belief in the need for journalists here to bear witness totheir experiences.
No, the PDM government was not the worst in suppressing the press. The PML-N chose to take the high road and not constantly remind us about the media blackout they faced but to remind, you couldn`t mention Nawaz Sharif and his daughter anywhere.
Listen to former chairman PemraAbsar Alam`s testimony about how TV channels were manipulated during the Faizabad dharna and see the price he`s had to pay for standing his ground. Women journalists testified in 2020 before Pakistan`s parliamentary committee on human rights about how they were harassed, discredited, and intimidated for doing their job. This is not about who did it worse, it is us telling our stories so they are not downplayed or weaponised by our detractors. History must remember journalists who did right by their profession.
In accepting the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award in 2019 for his fearless journalism, Kumar said something that I hope will remind journalists why they shouldn`t leave as ST suggested to me. `Not all battles are fought for victory. Some are fought simply to tell the world that someone was there on the battlefield.` The writer is a joumalism instructor: X (formerly Twitter): LedeingLady