Who will scrutinize the role of Media?


By Patricia Mukhim

India's Daughter, the controversial documentary, seems to have created not just a rift but an unbridgeable chasm among media practitioners. There is a section which believes in absolute media freedom. It feels that it should be left to the wisdom of the viewers to judge the documentary for what it is. There is another noisy section that feels Leslee Udwin, the producer-director of India's Daughter, has breached journalistic ethics and judicial propriety since the Nirbhaya rape case is still under trial.

Ever since Narendra Modi took over the reins of the government in Delhi, the media has been breathlessly reporting on who said what from within the Sangh Parivar. There have been bans and censorship on films and stand-up comedians. We as a nation seem to have lost our sense of humour and direction.

Then there is a double take on rape – a crime that Nirbhaya's rapists believe is brought by women upon themselves when they go out with men "friends" after darkness sets in. Now in the midst of this cacophony, something that runs counter to the logic of the antediluvian defence lawyers in the Nirbhaya rape case happened. A 75-year-old nun, covered from head to toe and quietly ensconced in her convent, a place normally out of bounds for men, was raped. And there were several cases of rape of children reported from different parts of the country as if some crazed men were trying to disprove the logic of the two notable lawyers who have since been temporarily debarred from the bar council. One begins to wonder if in their keenness to defend Mukesh Singh, one of the rape accused in this sensational case, they might not have internalised every negative image of women and whipped themselves up into a frenzy to prove that Nirbhaya had actually instigated the rape. It's an old trick used by lawyers to defend the worst criminals by pushing the blame to the victim in a crime, except that here it borders on the fanatical.


If all these incidents are not enough to create turmoil within the media itself then we would have to be super human beings. Further confusion arises from our own theoretical frameworks. Indians have for a while been using the prism of western, social and political thought to define issues in their won country without examining their provenance. Yet the male mindset in huge swathes of this country is that of the likes of Mukesh Singh and his lawyers. How do we juxtapose western social progressive analyses of issues in a third world context (never mind India's emerging economic giant rhetoric touted by some foolhardy economists)? How do these diametrically opposite thoughts held by men in Indian society intersect with what feminists (a western construct) in this country believe in? Just because we have adopted the western feminist values and have tried to work at reducing gender discrimination in India, have we been able to change persistent and embedded mindsets that have been sculpted by thousands of years of patriarchy?

Do we for a moment believe that no gender disparities exist in the media – a pillar of democracy that articulates everything liberal, including gender rights? Do women believe they can make it to the top rung in the media world? The excuses trotted out for why women cannot make it to those top rungs of the media ladder sound quite legitimate when advanced by articulate male bosses and media owners. But that is where the rub lies.

Gender sensitivity does not dawn naturally. It is a complex subject and the best way to understand it is through practical demonstration of gender division of labour. This brings upfront all the responsibilities and workload that women carry on a single day as compared to their male partners.

It is only then that men realise it is not easy to be a woman, a mother, a breadwinner, a caregiver for the elderly, a nursemaid and so many things besides.


If society and academia is divided between those who believe in western, liberal political thought and others that are stuck in medieval frame, the media cannot be too different either. Just because we are stylish and lucid in the way we speak English does not mean that our psyche is liberal and progressive. Hence, while a section of the electronic news media protested the ban on India's Daughter with a one-hour silence on its channel and only scrolling sensitive messages, another channel went on a patriotic overdrive arguing that Leslee Udwin had violated all media ethics and that the BBC, which is showing the documentary, has done what is expected of a once colonial ruler – which is to damn India yet again as a country of rapists. Needless to say, several feminists, activists and western liberal thinkers stood with the channel that had earlier decided to air India's Daughter until the government banned it. Others, including a huge section of cacophonous media panellists from political parties, adopted a hardened stance that India's Daughter is a slur on India.

The media rift is complete. What used to be a subtle game of who's got more TRPs and which is the most awarded channel and who says what about which channel, turned into an open, defiant warfare.

The media itself became the news and a particular anchor made it to the cover of a prominent magazine, which actually called him a "killer of television news". It so happens that this very prominent newsmaker comes from the Northeast. So instead of seeing this issue from the prism of reason, logic and objectivity, which is what media persons are expected to do, the issue has taken a somewhat chauvinistic hue. Some journalists from the region have blasted the news magazine for daring to take on a "son of the soil". Where, indeed, is media objectivity? When will we grow up to become confident individuals who don't have to ride on the bandwagon of one successful "national" journalist to make us feel good and give us a sense of identity and citizenship?


There is much that is wrong with breathless journalism, which is no longer about news but of hardened viewpoints and about putting panellists in a tight corner and pummelling them to submission. The din and roar is enough to send blood pressure soaring. Perhaps many of us find this entertaining but, like all other sensations, this too will soon burn out. One wonders whether what is retrieved from the ashes will help us cleanse our souls. The media critiques all and sundry but hardly welcomes criticism against itself. Is this why we are going awry? Do we have the time and courage to put the mirror to ourselves? Yet if we don't do it then who will? Of course we want our freedom and space but if we have lost the definition of what journalism essentially is, then who will point it out to us if one among us does not do it?

We in the media truly need honest soul searching!

(The writer can be contacted at patricia17@rediffmail.com)