The watchdog of democracy on its last legs
NEW DELHI: Trilokpuri was burning with communal tension, life destroyed and ruined for the panicking residents while journalists were attending a tea party and clicking selfies with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Not one of the 200 odd scribes present at the party asked the PM about the Trilokpuri violence in the capital of India and what, if anything, was being done about it.

The television channels blacked out the violence that had torn apart life as the Trilokpuri residents knew it for three days, before erupting into large clashes, with not a single line appearing on the subject. The print media did a slightly better job but only when it could not be ignored at all, with no reports about the build up and the situation prevailing in the far flung colony for several days. And even now most reports have stuck to the bare minimum with little to no effort being made by the newspapers to investigate the violence and bring out the story behind it.

For the lay readers two points have to be mentioned to give a basic perspective about this round of violence. One, Delhi as the capital of India has always been regarded as special where such violence is concerned with even a brick bat hurled with communal intent becoming front page news in the media till even ten years ago. This was not without reason, and not entirely due to the large newspapers obsession with Delhi. This was because in journalistic assessment, communal violence in the national capital that is supposed to reflect exemplary governance, is a major development, and hence needs to be highlighted.

And two, again from the journalistic point of view Trilokpuri is the seat of terrible violence against the Sikhs in november 1984 where at least 350 of the total 2000 odd Sikhs killed by rampaging Hindu mobs, were from this locality. The Sikh men were dragged out of their homes and set ablaze by the mobs, with bonfires of bodies across Trilokpuri in one of the most horrific massacres in independent India’s history. Given the fact that this was the first violence since then one would have expected the locality to be flooded by the media but that just did not happen. All the television cameras stayed away, as if they were all acting under instructions from invisible masters.

If the media had been active and reported the tensions the first day itself, of course in a sober and restrained fashion, the issue might have subsided and the problem resolved because of the publicity.

The question that needs to be asked and answered by the media houses is: Since when has journalism turned into a Public Relations exercise, and why? Is this the role of the media, or is it to question, critique, inform? How is it that despite being given the rare opportunity to meet the Prime Minister the journalists did not question him on just some basic issues and get his responses. For instance on what was happening in Trilokpuri and why was immediate action to pre-empt the violence not taken when tensions were rising? On the new Haryana chief minister: did the PM concur with Khattar’s offensive remarks against women? On the Maharashtra elections: his views on Shiv Sena and the NCP, on Gadkari. How is it that journalists were content in just taking selfies, chatting and coming out to write laudatory pieces without a word of information.

Former BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee met the media informally quite often at his residence. At one such lunch on a Sunday at his residence, with a similar number of journalists in attendance, Vajpayee’s managers laid out a veritable feast. Scribes rushed through the meal and then went and sat and stood around the then PM while he was on his last round of malpua’s to ask him a range of questions that he replied to in detail. They made it clear to him that the question of leaving with just a good meal did not arise.

This crony nexus is destroying journalism completely. The politician and the businessman have drawn the senior journalist into their ring with the seduction so successful, that the journalists no longer know what their job is and get a sense of worth only when greeted warmly by these new mentors. Journalism that was supposed to be independent, bold, honest and courageous has sunk into the backwaters of flattery, sycophancy where news becomes secondary to networking, and networking determines the status of the senior scribes and not their ability to report the news as it is.

The obituary can now finally start being written. The watchdog of Indian democracy is on its last legs, and the end of independent journalism is in sight.