Who neither can nor will may hold his peace. What can be more just in a State than this?” Euripides
If the medium is the message, the media maketh the image. Journalism is the deus ex machina of our age, which miraculously harmonises conflicting aspects and proposes appropriate solutions. The media has often restored reputations of leaders by reinventing them; the Russian press hails Vladimir Putin seizing Crimea, using the old KGB excuse that the peaceful protestors were “fascists” destabilising Ukrainian dictator Yanukovych; Indira Gandhi, the autocrat of the 1970s, is a decisive leader in 2014. Russian textbooks today explain Stalin’s massacres of the 1930s as “rational”. If history is written by victors, losers are often airbrushed by the media. By censoring Narendra Modi’s confession on Ahmed Patel being an old friend with whom he has shared many a dinner, the government’s official mouthpiece Doordarshan has only tried to do Patel a favour. By editing out Modi’s paternal feelings towards Priyanka Vadra, some DD producer played safe with his job. But the danger of self-censorship in the age of free media is that government journalism often makes the government look stupid.
This is by no means a Doordarshan disease. We know so little about our luminaries because their reputations were crafted by stenographers parading as hacks. Most people aren’t aware that Patrick Henry who coined “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” kept his wife locked up in the basement. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the American Declaration of Independence, impregnated his slaves. Mahatma Gandhi reportedly referred to Africans as ‘kaffirs’. Woodrow Wilson was a racist. A while ago, BBC portrayed its former member and sexual pervert Jimmy Savile as a hero. The American media glamourised O J Simpson. Azharuddin and Sreesanth were icons until match-fixing allegations proved that the media had made a fool of itself.
Official media, especially in dictatorships, are the best propaganda vehicles, denouncing patriots and extolling tyrants. The tragedy of such regimes is that factotums govern by fear, which generates self-censorship. The comedy of India’s official media is that in spite of the country being a democracy, fear of bureaucrats ensures that censorship is alive and well. Doordarshan is ostensibly a media organisation, but has a long history of protecting the interests of any ruling party. Most sections of society—corporates, bureaucracy, police, Army, academics and even political parties—are anticipating a change in government, but Doordarshan stays true to its DNA. His Master’s Voice will continue to ape its tuneless melody, as long as the master is in place. Any master.
Patel is a seasoned politician. It is in his nature to protect himself from mischievous statements that would harm his career, especially during elections. But DD has soiled its much-muddied credibility further. It was the loyal mouthpiece of Emergency in 1975 when the free press was muzzled and independent-minded journalists were jailed. Attempts at professionalising it by the NDA were sabotaged by DD officialdom, which guards its fiefdom with an impressive lack of imagination, sticking like barnacles to the official keel. Manish Tewari’s attempt to bring professional anchors and producers to clean up the broadcaster became a farce.
‘Breaking News’ and Balika Vadhu have replaced Chitrahaar and Buniyaad. Arnab Goswami may be blamed for histrionically pulverising opponents with “the Nation Wants to Know”, but he can never be accused of nepotism or self-censorship. Do we need such a Doordarshan? The taxpayer is paying Rs 3,035.65 crore for half-truths and lipstick on government policy—in the 2013 budget, the total outlay for I&B ministry went up by Rs 900 crore. The grants-in-aid for Prasar Bharati were Rs 2,180.37 crore. In 2012-13, the government invested Rs 282.66 crore in DD. The Nitish Sengupta Committee, set up by the government to look into the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990 calculated the total value of DD and AIR assets at `55,000 crore. It’s time to professionalise this Jurassic Park and sell off its obsolete assets for development programmes. It’s time to lose our censors. Who watches Krishi Darshan anyway?