Will real journalists please stand up?

Updated: Jan 18, 2020, 07:26 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

The older I get, the harder it is for me to find members of my profession willing to stick to the basic ethics of journalism.

What has saddened me most over the past couple of years is not the rise of attacks on journalists in India, as much as the capitulation of so many professionals in our industry. Representation pic
What has saddened me most over the past couple of years is not the rise of attacks on journalists in India, as much as the capitulation of so many professionals in our industry. Representation pic

Lindsay PereiraAn official spokesperson for the ruling party at the Centre recently conducted a poll on Twitter, asking his followers to vote whether a senior Indian journalist should be the spokesperson for a terrorist organisation. His followers celebrated the poll, welcomed it, and then vilified the journalist in question. This happened because we live in an age of propaganda, fuelled not just by the rise of social media, but by enablers masquerading as journalists among us. You know who they are.

I began my career as a journalist a few decades ago, first with a magazine, then a national newspaper that once famously published a blank front page as an act of protest against the government. The celebrated edition appeared before my time, but is still the one I still remember vividly because it made me feel that my profession of choice meant something. There was a righteous power there, at work whenever I published a story that generated tangible results. It was a time when journalists doing their job were respected, because what they did was recognised as potentially life-changing.

To be around when my colleagues are referred to as sell-outs and 'presstitutes' — a term coined by supporters of a particular party who includes people accused of murder, rape and terrorism as members too — is disheartening on many fronts; mostly because it negates everything I thought I once knew about journalism.

It took a while for us to arrive at this point. There were snide remarks at first, directed at anyone who dared to raise their voice against acts of megalomania, narcissism or bigotry -- all of which have become common now. Those remarks gave way to attacks, and people dictating that those questioning the government 'Go to Pakistan'; the implication being that anyone who dared to disagree with the propaganda unleashed upon us [journalists] was inherently a traitor. History has shown us time and gain that the creation of divisions, the making of cults based on political figureheads, and stifling of dissent in any form is a precursor to terror. We, however, continue to ignore them, and those attacking journalists are emboldened when the prime minister himself follows them on Twitter.

What has saddened me the most over the past couple of years is not the rise of attacks on journalists in India, it is the capitulation of so many professionals in our industry. One of the basic rules a J-School or our mentors teach us is neutrality — the ability to be unbiased and not allow personal opinions sneak into the news pieces we produce, and always keeping in mind that a journalist's responsibility is to just inform the readers. I have lost count of the number of former colleagues who wilfully ditched this tenet in order to push a bigoted agenda. Almost overnight, dubious financiers created fake media houses that hired these colleagues, paying them to move even farther away from the ethics of journalism.

A study released in December last year revealed that nearly 200 serious attacks took place on journalists since 2014. These were allegedly committed by criminal gangs, government agencies and members of political parties, security forces, and even religious sects. Forty journalists were killed, and of these 21 were murdered for reasons linked directly to their work. There had been three convictions, but none of the other cases were anywhere near justice. This report ought to have horrified us, given that these were men and women committed to showing us the truth, their lives cut short simply because those truths were inconvenient for some people. An attack on a journalist is an attack on all of us, because it means that someone, somewhere, is trying to prevent us from knowing something that affects the entire nation. There was no outrage because we have allowed bigotry and propaganda to matter more than honesty and the future of our country. Because so many of us who were once real journalists have helped destroy the integrity and dignity of the profession — recognised as the fourth pillar of democracy.

In the end, all of my colleagues will have to answer to conscience at some point. I hope the rest of us can find it in ourselves to forgive them though, because honest journalism has the power to make positive changes for all of us, the righteous as well as the bigoted. We are fighting forces mightier than us in an attempt to save the Constitution because it means everything to us and our children. Prime ministers will come and go, but how we treat each other today will directly affect how peacefully we sleep tomorrow.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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