Media, lies and videotape


February 24, 2016

This file photo shows Indian student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar being escorted by police into Patiala Court for a hearing, in New Delhi on February 17 (AFP)

A parody social media account, a doctored video and an irresponsible section of television media have just contributed to creating a charged atmosphere of pseudo-nationalism in India. Are they ready for the push-back?

The battle between the defenders of freedom of thought versus the proponents of thought control that India has been witnessing over the last two weeks has singed the ruling dispensation.

It is a different matter that those in power are going about their business quite brazenly with an eye on achieving a long term goal. But, the issue now appears to have scorched yet another important pillar of the Indian democracy which should have played a more critical role given its powerful reach.

That is the fourth estate (after the executive, the legislature and the judiciary) in the democratic structure that India has adopted. In common parlance it is called media.

To be fair, it is not all media which is involved in the most peculiar situation that has arisen in the country. Unlike some small time print media at the localised taluka or district level which write incendiary articles to spread or provoke violence or cause division in society, the newspapers and magazines have largely been cautious in the current situation.

It is a section of the television media which has simply gone overboard to take the profession of journalism to its lowest of depths. At no point in the past, indeed even at times of social tensions, has the media played this kind of a role.

From all the information that is emerging now it appears that some television channels played video footage which was clearly doctored.

What this video showed was that anti-India slogans were raised in the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The student’s meeting was called to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru who was convicted in the dastardly attack on India’s parliament in 2013.

The raising of these slogans was neatly blamed on the president of the JNU students union or JNUSU, Kanhaiya Kumar. He was arrested under the charge of sedition the next day.

This happened despite the fact that he had addressed another meeting, a little later, in which he makes a speech that contradicts the specious charge of sedition by the police on the basis of a complaint filed by a parliamentarian of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. It is still not clear as to who, indeed, raised those slogans.

If a producer at one of the channels is to be believed it was another video that had anti-India sloganeering which was played.

This video was aired because the video that the channel’s reporter had brought of the incident at the JNU did not have anti-India slogans. The producer has since quit his job in disgust to maintain, what he calls, as ‘sanctity of journalism’.

Nevertheless, the issue boils down to the simple fact that these media organisations did not bother to verify or authenticate whether anti-national slogans were, indeed, raised and whether Kanhaiya had raised them or whether the video that was aired was doctored or not. One of the basic requirements of journalism is to verify the information.

They miserably failed in doing their elementary duty. The result of playing a video whose origin was unknown to, not one but, three channels was that a hysteria was created in the entire country over an issue which, primarily, revolved around space in the university campus to conduct a meeting.

It is a different matter that there have been several others in the country who have objected to the hanging of the attacker of India’s supreme symbol of democracy. In any case, universities are places where such debates are bound to take place for the healthy development of the student community.

But, what has turned out to be dangerous in the questionable role of the section of the media has been the impact of its actions. It has, literally, led to mob violence.

A legislator of the ruling party has threatened to take law into his own hands and has beaten up journalist. He also believes that he has a right to deliver justice if there was anything anti-national.

He also brazenly says that he would have fired if he had a gun. Then a section of lawyers or hooligans in the garb of lawyers have threatened and beaten up journalists inside the court where Kanhaiya was scheduled to appear.

Worse still, Kanhaiya, the accused himself, has been denied a fair and free trial when he was beaten up inside the court hall by some people masquerading as lawyers. It should be remembered that the action of these channels was soon followed up by the federal Home Minister, himself, linking the entire issue to be the handiwork of a terrorist organisation from Pakistan.

Unfortunately for the minister, the basis for his linkage was a parody social media account of a man in Pakistan who is responsible for the Mumbai terror attack. So, what has happened is that a parody social media account, a doctored video and an irresponsible media have just contributed to creating an atmosphere in the country of pseudo-nationalism.

And, those who should have ensured that lies were not spread used the immense power of the television medium to dish out precisely that, lies based on concocted visuals. It is a well established fact that lies spread faster than the real news because they always appear more convincing to the viewer or listener.

The most unfortunate aspect of this entire issue is that slogans for Afzal Guru which used to be raised only in Jammu and Kashmir have now spread to the entire country. That is the service to the nation that this section of the media and the protagonists of thought control has contributed.

It appears that to raise their television rating points (TRP), facts can be slaughtered at the altar of revenue targets and worse, divide the nation. In the bargain, they have defeated the very purpose of their existence which is to protect the democratic fabric of the nation and the very idea of India.

Sailing cars

Finally, it appears that it needed ministerial intervention from the federal Shipping Minister, Nitin Gadkari, for a simple solution to reducing freight charges and pollution on the highways.

The authorities have realised that it is cheaper and faster to deliver 800 cars from the east coast (southern city of Chennai) to the west coast (Piparav in the western state of Gujarat) by a ship. This roll on–roll off vessel can also carry 2,000 cars and deliver it at the other end in six days time.

It is being reported that if only five per cent of the traffic is shifted to coastal shipping, the saving would be around R20bn (RO112.34mn approx) annually.

The reduction in pollution from numerous and huge trailers transporting eight cars would, obviously, require a full fledged study. Government sources, however, have been quoted as saying it could be around six per cent.

Tailpiece

Slowly and steadily, people appear to be gaining confidence in smart phones to make financial transactions. During the last year, if statistics are to be believed, the number of mobile transactions has surpassed payments through cheques.

It appears everyone is doing online transfers now that banks have reduced the time for transfer of funds once you register the recipient to half an hour. But, there is another development that could well change the way we deal with financial transactions. And, this is an issue that has bothered software engineers for quite some time.

In a couple of months, Indians will be able to do all their transactions through the mobile phone instead of the plastic cards that you carry in your wallets. The plastic cards, of course, will continue to exist if you choose to use them but it can be said that over a period of time, they would become redundant.

Thus far the mobiles are being used to make payments from your banking application or bank mobile wallets. But, a technology interface developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) will ensure that you can transfer money and collect the money in real time as well.

This makes India the first country in the world to facilitate use of mobile phones for such money transactions. Of course, the NPCI says that all aspects of security are covered in this interface.

In fact, if you visit India after April first week, there would be about 29 banks which would be providing this facility. Majority of them have already begun testing the interface. Since it is a money transaction, it is generally assumed that you will be more careful.

And, you will not emulate a police officer who gave away his highly confidential PIN number to some fraudster to vanish with R10,000!