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Millennium Post

Media and its moment of truth

In a freewheeling seminar-cum question-answer session, organised by a media house under the name of ‘media-fest’ last week, two noted firebrand editors-anchors – one from an English channel and another from a Hindi channel – justified their strong opinion-effervescing voyage in their studio discussions saying they do have a right to hold an opinion and without opinion, of course, laced with facts the great cause of journalism could not be served.

Truth (loosely mentioned as fact) is nothing but perception built on the basis of past knowledge and present observations obtained through sense organs. In epistemology, therefore, truth, as we know about it, is neither absolute nor pure because capabilities of sense organs vary from man to man. Your truth may not be same as mine. Both these editors-anchors had their specks on. Had they removed their specks, the composition and quality of audience, they were addressing, would have got blurred suggesting that their truth (fact) would have changed in a moment. This also suggests that their truth is not the same as it was when they had removed their specks.
Sarp-rajju bhram
(snake-rope illusion) of advait Vedanta more than establishes it. Same rope can look like snake if light conditions are changed. More so when you have a prior knowledge that two days ago a snake was spotted in the hall. Brahm satyam jagat mithya, the basic theory of Shankar’s Mayawaad which was fully endorsed by Western Philosophers including Bradley hinges on this logic. A derivation of it is that there is no truth that human-being can discern with certainty.

Now to the core issue. The two editors-anchors claimed that they try to ferret out facts before forming opinion. How many ‘facts’ and under what trying circumstances? Now suppose they have got certain facts about the beheading of two Indian soldiers ostensibly on Indo-Pak border in Kashmir. Within a few hours they arrive at an opinion after collecting ‘all facts’. And they concluded that it was ‘dastardly act’ by Pakistani soldiers. Their gesture and utterances in the studios clearly show a sense of outrage and they wanted the ‘Indian government to respond in matching terms’. Obviously, their arguments also evoke as much drawing-room outrage across the country. Their dishing out their opinion-cum-fervor for ‘teach-Pak-a-lesson’ diktat there can emerge three doubts. Either they have lacked in informing all facts to the viewers or they have selectively ignored them or they did not know about them. The question is whether they informed the viewers of geo-strategic, geo-diplomatic, Sino-Pak and Indo-China situation, India’s strength and vulnerability, neighbour’s rogue character of state, its nuclear arsenal vis-a-vis India’s. ‘Just-teach-a-lesson-once-and-for- all’ zeal carries attendant problems of loss of enumerable human lives, putting a halt to development and throw the nation into a vortex of an unintended crisis. Did they tell the masses or in their name to the government of the day that there could be other quiet but equally powerful ways of hamstringing a brat Pakistan? Just an outrage in line with general public mood (of a section only which reacts on anything from rape to ramp to rubrics) will not help serve higher levels journalistic cause.

Even if this section is in majority, it is not ‘the nation’. If a referendum is sought on whether Ram Mandir should be built on disputed site, they will have majority in its favour, but this cannot be dubbed as the desire of ‘the nation’. A democratic nation is formed of majority opinion plus recognition of minority rights, constitutional government and government by discussion.

There is another logical fallacy. When somebody feels weak in his argument and he needs to buttress his ‘opinion’ (or fact?), he takes recourse to aptvachan, that is, quote a verse from the Gita or other credible scripture or a saying of some great men. Here when these two editors-anchors in question say ‘the nation wants to know’ the fact , they actually can be accused of committing two ‘wrongs’, one, that they never undertook any referendum on the issue and two, that even if the majority wants India to ‘teach a lesson’ it is not justified in the same way in which a
mandir
on the site is not justified merely on the basis of numerical strength.

Taking up major issues is good effort, a great contribution. Raising the issue of beheading of Indian soldiers on a high pitch is a national cause, even according to their own admission. Even common citizens also feel it that way. But suppose a month later another ‘fact’ comes to them to the effect that it was a handiwork of some Kashmir terrorists who wanted to create a rift between the two countries or that it was the job of some criminals-smugglers crossing over to the other country and who, first tried to bribe the two soldiers but when the latter did not fall for it they were killed in that manner by the former. Will it not cause a blot on an otherwise respectful institution of editor? What answer will be preferred by an opinioned (if not opinionated as distinguished by one of the two editors) editors to the nation for which they claimed to have dished out their initial opinion (truth)? There is another logical fallacy in their stock argument which is known as selective appropriation of facts. Your viewers do not know with what perseverance and with what resources (both are limited and subjective) they have obtained all facts.

The third argument against editors-anchors lurching towards this or that side under what they termed as opinion is that the institution of editors enjoys certain amount of credibility for being impartial. An editor of People’s Daily or an editor of Saamanaa or Panchjany has same freedom of expression that these two editors-anchors have. But there is a difference between how viewers attach credibility to the former on one hand and the latter, on the other. Technically speaking our (media’s) job is to create a marketplace for competing ideas. We should give all facts with perspective without appearing to be glued to one or the other side (of facts). More so in case of studio discussions. Unlike newspaper editorial columns where it is one-way opinion followed by readers comment, studio discussions have a mechanism where discourse is guided by the moderator or anchor (in present case editors). Since its character is instant, interactive and informative, the role of moderator shrinks to that of guide rather than a participant.

Take the case of Raja Bhaiyaa. If in his programme the editor-anchor demands arrest of hitherto ‘almost confirmed’ culprit of DSP’s murder, and a few weeks later it turns out to be a handiwork of somebody else, will it not compromise for good the credibility of the institution of editor, leave aside that of an independent channel? The danger in expressing opinion as editor-anchor, therefore, is if opinion went wrong subsequently on fact-count, it will cause immense damage to the institution and people remain deprived of considered and balanced view that can help shape their own perception.

The author is general secretary, Broadcast Editors’ Association
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