Spineless Mainstream Media

DESERVING: Journalist Ravish Kumar was awarded the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Award for “harnessing journalism to give voice to the voiceless” The Ramon Magsaysay Award is regarded as the Asian version of the Nobel Prize

By Our Special Correspondent

The following is an English translation of a speech by the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, Indian journalist Ravish Kumar, at The Wire Dialogues, in New Delhi on February 24, 2019

Note: The National Handicapped Finance & Development Corporation (NHFDC) has been set up by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (Government of India). It is a registered company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, and is not for profit company wholly owned by the Government of India. It has an authorized share capital of Rs400 crore. NHFDC is the apex institution channelizing funds to persons with disabilities through State channelizing agencies nominated by State governments.

What was once considered unacceptable and unethical in the public domain has been made entirely acceptable and ethical by the mainstream media in the last five years. Not only is the media celebrating existing immoralities, it is also scaling new heights of impropriety. Crudity is the new definition of refinement — the mainstream media’s vulgarity has destroyed the norms of Indian democracy that once prevailed in the public domain.
To be vulgar and immoderate is no longer wrong – be it on the street or in the studios of news channels. This is not the work of one odd channel or anchor; hundreds of them are at it all the time. Sure, you are free to single one out as the leader of the pack — what I want to say is that they have all been flag-bearers of decline, glorifying falling standards.
This transformation has been made possible by the complete fusion of the mainstream media and politics. In the process, the media has recognised the political supporter as the only kind of viewer there can be. Since the consumers and supporters of this media are adherents of a particular ideology and political party, the dividing line between viewer and party supporter has been erased. It is by ending the sheer diversity of information in news that this section of political supporters as viewers has been created. I think of them as the informationless horde, which has grown quite big. For that reason, I take it seriously, refraining from making fun of its follies. When ignorance takes the place of learning, it is no laughing matter.
Periodically, this horde is tested for its singular lack of information. For instance, following the Pulwama incident, the debate was not on the prime minister’s silence but on why Sachin Tendulkar had not spoken out! We have made the cardinal mistake of presuming that the expansion of communication media implies the expansion of information. But that is not so. The sharp erasure of the diversity of issues is what leads to a deprivation of information — a state of informationlessness. And that is what has happened across a proliferating mainstream media.
The ‘national curriculum’ project that mainstream news channels have been running for five years now has been crystal clear about its intent from day one: to snuff out the engaged viewer within you (who asks questions). Only then would the process of seizing democracy without killing it be complete. It is quite another matter that blood has flowed on the streets in the process – the crowd did not spare anyone, be it Subodh Kumar Singh or Akhlaq. That is the kind of impact the national curriculum launched by the present-day dispensation has had. I believe this project has succeeded, overwhelming our democracy and our consciousness of being citizens, of being the people.
The mainstream media launched its national curriculum as soon as the Modi government came to power in 2014. At its core was the idea of ensuring a continual process of Hindu-Muslim divide. For that, it was necessary to create a growing sense of division among citizens. So, the media has been trying to break the people’s very awareness of the idea of citizenship. Since information and questioning are the basis of citizenship, the possibility of either has been severely curtailed. Our mainstream media does not question the government; on the contrary, it interrogates the people on behalf of the government! The political line emerging from these channels in the wake of the Pulwama blast has shown that clearly.
Enemies are being manufactured from within the ranks of citizens. To that end, a sentiment of ‘Hindu frustration’ and ‘Muslim frustration’ — armed with half-baked information — has been generated within all of us. The frustration was there earlier too, but has been magnified several times over and ‘installed’ in the media. For that reason, today’s mainstream media is not the people’s media — it is a media for Hindus. To be more accurate, it speaks for those playing politics in the name of Hindu religion, those professing Hindutva. Five years ago, who would have thought that this Hindutva media would occupy almost 90 % of the mainstream media space! Yet it has happened so.
The mainstream media, in its new Hindutva guise, is certainly not going to confront the dispensation or the establishment. On the contrary, it is their defender, for they too are of the same persuasion.
This is not to say that citizens did not perceive themselves as Hindus earlier. But that understanding has been replaced by a new perception of being Hindu — one who is shorn of courage and running scared of the people standing alongside him. One who looks at the person next to him with suspicion, seeing in him a Hindu who is anti-Hindu. And, by extension, anti-national.
It is for the first time that I am seeing a Hindu who is fearful of other Hindus. Put it down to the contribution of the present-day mainstream media. Its conduct goes completely against those Hindu conventions which are claimed to be superior and are constantly lauded. The Gita may say that anger destroys our powers of discrimination, but our news anchor who takes its name continues to rave and rant in the same breath, speaking only in anger.
The mainstream news media and the social media have forged a new kind of bhakt. Or maybe this new kind of bhakt has helped the media become what it is today. I feel that every citizen ought to be a Kabir or Ravidas — that is, be able to challenge the everyday practices of established religion or the government of the day. Without the example of Guru Ravidas, we would not have been able to comprehend what the purity of mind and heart is all about. A dip in the Ganga would have been the only way to prove one’s faith, and Tendulkar would have had to go to some news channel to prove his patriotism. Today’s mainstream media is against all Indian traditions. What it seeks to do, and has done, is fashion a bhakt who is completely bereft of information. One who is informationless is loveless as well.
This is the baseline of our democratic system now. Its very basis has changed; so too its reference point. If you ask a question, you will be accused of being the following in that order — a Congress agent, a Naxal, urban Naxal, an opponent of Hindu unity, a supporter of Muslims, and, finally, an opponent of Modi, which is where the accusations come to rest. In reality, this final point of offensive defence — why do you oppose Modi? — happens to be the starting point for the end of our democratic system.
To forge a feeling of ‘Hindu frustration’, the media played up a fear of Muslims — in fact, the entire project of building Hindu anger has been centred on this idea. It is worth noting that the project ended up having the same impact on Muslims as it did on Hindus. Just as the Hindus stopped asking questions of the government, the Muslims, out of fear, did the same. In fact, the latter have not just stopped asking questions, they have been abandoning their political right of representation as well in a bid to stem further polarisation in society – they are withdrawing from public and political spaces. Political parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also been affected by this build-up of fear – they too have withdrawn from asking questions on these issues for fear of losing out.
I see before me a craven India where everybody is putting their respective fears forward. It is imperative that we regain our consciousness of being citizens or else we stand to lose the India we attained after a century of struggle. Both Hindus and Muslims need to liberate themselves from fear. For that, they will have to free themselves of the mainstream media.
If one studies the speeches of politicians, the angry demeanour of news anchors, the slogans gracing TV screens and the language of WhatsApp messages, a certain mental complex becomes apparent. A Tendulkar whose language does not reflect that complex can be an anti-national; so too lieutenant-general Syed Ata Hasnain. Today’s mainstream media has shown that stupidity, vulgarity and immoderation can provide a revenue model for good business.
It is not that this process is not being challenged. Members of the public are posing questions to the government through YouTube. A new kind of media is emerging, such as The Wire, Scroll, The Caravan. Then there are newspapers like The Telegraph. We too have been making an effort. The numbers of those who understand what the media ought to be are on the rise. Intrepid female journalists who are fighting the system also provide hope. In terms of the scale of what they are up against, all these efforts are small. But I have faith that these signs of hope will grow with time.
For now, what can be said is that our present-day mainstream media is no longer the fourth estate of democracy, it is the first estate of a political party. Thanks are due to the BJP and Modi ji for bestowing such a spineless mainstream media on India. Really, Modi ji, I am tempted to ask: from where have you got the temperament of a fakir? Only an unworldly fakir can give his blessings to a media such as this.
I often wonder what the prime minister feels when he sees himself on news channels broadcasting their pure devotion to him 24/7. But then he is a fakir. Why should a fakir bother himself with all this?
(Note: Translated from Hindi by Chitra Padmanabhan)
Courtesy: The Wire

IT is an irony how much money there is for mind-blowing entertainment and holidays abroad in this country! But precious little to cater to the needs of children of a lesser god or so to speak. Goa’s senior most school for special children (many of whom have grown up into adults now), the Panaji-based Disha School for Special Children, announced on July 27, 2019, its year-long silver jubilee celebration of programs to focus on how important it is for parents to give their children with any disability an early start in life — so that they can do better for themselves in adjusting in normal society.
Speaking at a press conference to unroll the charter of programs commencing immediately right up to the first week of April next year to commemorate World Autism Day, Disha School trustees Anil Khaunte (chairperson), Anand Madgavkar (president), Sandhya Kalokhe (manager) and Rehana Haroon (treasurer) explained to media people how a better infrastructure of professionals and technology can improve the chances of children with physical, intellectual, learning and other disabilities, to do much better for themselves.
Alas, so dismal is the situation, says Sandhya Kalokhe that 25 years later Disha is still in search of land to put up a proper building to offer their 78 children (50% for day care) an assurance of shelter lifelong or as and when needed, “One builder did tell us if we could find the land he would build the building for free!”
So far the school has been functioning from premises which are more like a make-do shelter and here they also have their training workshops. In Goa there are about 30 government recognized schools taking care of children with disabilities and a certain percentage are severely disabled students who will need shelter as they grow older and upon losing their parents/parent would be left bereft and homeless.
Some kind of a hostel equipped with caretaking infrastructure is required for those growing into their 40s and 50s so that they may be aided to cope with their disabilities as also geriatric problems. There are several government subsidies, educational and training schemes, but none offer shelter of an enduring kind for the specific needs of older disabled adults. So during their silver jubilee year the Disha Charitable Trust has chalked up several programs to highlight the needs and issues of children with special disabilities, starting with their curtain raiser which took place on July 29, 2019, when goals and aspirations were spelt out and a cake cut amidst staff, students and well-wishers of the school.
Silver jubilee celebration year programs coming up include a boat cruise outing for Disha family members to understand the problems of parents and reach out to them to create a bonding; a drawing competition for all intellectually disabled students on Oct 1, followed by an exhibition of products made by them (greeting cards, bags, rakhi assortment, etc). An appeal has gone out to the public to please buy the handicrafts created by their students to inspire them and give them a sense of joy and independence. The products will be showcased on October 11, 12 and 13.
Then there is a street play coming up for World Disability Day on November 30, an education tour for special educators, a sports meet, a workshop for special educators from all over Goa (conducted by professional faculty Ms Dharaitri Krishnamurthy from Kathalaya in Pune (this entails a storytelling strategy to help the students). Then will come World Syndrome Day when a walkathon will focus on Downs Syndrome; there will be a panel discussion with experts in the field of disability and the need for early intervention, education and rehabilitation for the intellectually challenged.
According to Sandhya Kalokhe, the sad picture at ground level is that most parents to this day who suspect early signs of disability in children tend to keep them at home, fearing for their safety if they go out. The message must reach parents of disadvantaged children that there is much that is positive they can do for their children, especially between the ages of zero to seven years of age which it is generally accepted by educationists as maximum learning period. Early intervention can improve the future of even those afflicted by genetic-based disabilities.
Like autism , cerebral palsy, multiple disease, with spinal damage….today there are specially trained therapists for all kinds of disabilities including speech disability; and also psychologists and counselors who can help children and parents to better cope and manage, “but parents are reluctant to bring their children out!”

Disability conditions included in
Disability Act, 2016
• Blindness
• Low-vision
• Leprosy cured persons
• Hearing impairment (deaf and hard of hearing)
• Locomotor disability
• Dwarfism
• Intellectual disability
• Mental illness
• Autism spectrum disorder
• Cerebral palsy
• Muscular dystrophy
• Chronic neurological conditions
• Specific learning disabilities
• Multiple sclerosis
• Speech and language disability
• Thalassemia
• Hemophilia
• Sickle cell disease
• Multiple disabilities including deaf-blindness
• Acid attack victim
• Parkinson’s disease

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