Playing blame games


We are in the numbers game now. ‘Influencers’ on the social media with million-odd followers are sought after instead of authentic media platforms. Political posturing, bias, sensationalism and fake narratives are here to stay as also the expletives and cuss words. Gajanan Khergamker takes a critical look at the New Age Media and says “no one gives a damn”.

The barrage of expletives and cuss words hurled on the ‘media’, to an arguable extent, is misplaced yet convenient. The media in India has never vouched against indulging in such acts; a self-righteous public considers an anomaly or an illegal diversion of sorts. As for the bias and sensationalism, the readers asked for it. It is the very basis of New Media.

Over the ages, Media, primarily Print, that went on to metamorphose into TV and then Online, exploded into the colossal Social Media that engulfed the rest. Social media, over the turn of the millennium, transformed from secretive chat platforms for the nubile, underexposed few provided by selectively-public forums like Orkut and Yahoo, into ‘discussion’ fora.

Rabid, staccato quipping need of the hour

The public discussion fora, some open for all while other few for closed ‘like-minded’ sorts, gave way to public opinion platforms where the opinionated could voice their bits, however skewed. All that was needed was a rabid staccato quipping of sorts.

Most in the media industry died a swift death crumbling under the weight of their collective ego, exposing in ruin, the fallacy of the much-tomtommed ‘readership’ of numbers that seemed magical at the onset. The magic of numbers did its disappearing act. And then came the resurrection of sorts.

The ‘Find Love Or A Lover’ platforms got mature and developed sheens of sorts that ranged from News to Opinion, Expert Advice to ‘Groups’ of select ‘Loves’ – Of ‘common’ goals and potential ‘careers’. News as such was relegated to just another ‘Interest’ like ‘Travel’ or ‘Music.’

Journalism retired in time

Erstwhile careers of proofreaders who could comb out errors in the copies of the senior-most journalist with unassuming ease came to an end. The proof reader died overtime with the profession. Today, mistakes are commonplace occurrences, and nobody cares a fig.

The editor who refused to let his copy go to print unless it was whetted by the proof reader, almost always a senior of his ilk, too died over time. Today, editors are mostly self-styled with no journalistic experience as a rule. The senior reporter, who retired as such after more than thousands of bylines generated at the speed of two stories per day, as was the mandatory need of the hour in the good ol’ days, was relegated to a swiftly-dwindling memory. Today, anyone and everyone with an opinion is a reporter if not an ‘editor’.

Mistakes made in print were grievous but only to the extent of ‘spelling’, ‘dates’ or ‘terminology’, and the reporting or editing perpetrator would be pulled up for having committed murder. Today, the errors are dangerous and risk changing the entire narrative intended, but nobody cares.

Risk of losing job was real

The risks of losing his/her job were high and the infamy associated with the faux pas spread like fire across the industry – threatening career and a future in one clean sweep. It didn’t matter if you were male or female. What did was that you had messed up and would ‘have’ to pay: If not with your job then with a cut in your annual ‘increment’ for the slip. Now, retaining your job depends on how you further the employer’s narrative and not the credibility of your work.
Professional memory would retain the news of errors in ‘News’ for years together and, if you were the perpetrator, you would mostly go underground, read ‘on leave’ or simply lie low and hope for people to forget: Not that they would. Nobody would.

The reader would react faster than ever. The ‘erring’ scribe, then, would refuse to show up to office the next day professing some medical condition no-one would believe. Now, a reader cannot as much as reach a reporter on phone, leave aside meeting him.

Media out of reach now

Almost always a few readers would land up at the newspaper office with the copy in hand demanding a refund of the price of the newspaper and answers from none-less-than the editor. Then, the public had access to the newspaper office and the editor was always accessible. Unthinkable today!

Over the years, ethics and equity succumbed to the numbers game. The demon of ‘readership’ gave way to the dragon of ‘views’ and ‘likes’ as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook took over public interest.

Sadly, today everyone with a smart phone has turned into a ‘publisher’ of sorts. They generate news, opine on it, distribute it widely, attribute it to all the wrong entities and act on it without any thought. If and when things go wrong, which almost always do, if not sooner than later, they blame the media.

And, the media too, on their part, has, owing to the complete absence of checks and accountability, lost the plot. To notch eyeballs and win the Numbers Game, they give the usual ‘mandatory’ checks, the convenient miss.

So, substantiating reports, checking sources for authenticity and conflict of interest, weeding out bias and ensuring there isn’t backlash or a law and order problem are processes of the past and, now, relegated to text books. This is the reason, we find innumerable media reports of people testing positive for Covid-19, even ‘after’ taking the vaccine, suggesting that the vaccine would completely protect you from contracting COVID-19 or that taking the vaccine was, in effect, useless. Now, protected by the Freedom of Speech and Expression and spurred by the need for eyeballs and the time-tested sensationalism, the media continues to post such dangerous stories. If they don’t, few will visit their portals, if they do, they are charged with being sensational.

My way or the highway

Governments and the Who’s Who began dealing directly with ‘Followers’ through personal and official social media accounts. If they didn’t wish to deal with you, they’d ‘Block’ you. It’s either My Way Or The Highway. Everything in the media and Social Media has been restricted to posturing and has a dedicated fan ‘following’ whose numbers are taken very seriously.

For a media today, whose numbers are taken seriously and attributed a respect wholly misplaced, considering the numbers themselves are falsified and procured through dubious means, bias is a given. For a reader, who ‘follows’ a media house because it matches his ideology or belief, any diversion from the narrative is ‘fake’ news or ‘biased’. And why not? It just doesn’t suit him. But, that he chose to ‘follow’ it when it suited him, was an endorsement of his bias, is conveniently glossed over.

Numbers game all that matters

We are in the numbers game now. Now, ‘influencers’ on the social media with million-odd followers are sought after instead of authentic media platforms. And we all know why influencers ‘influence’.

The discerning lines between media houses, social media players and influencers are blurred with the viewer oblivious of the difference.

Why, of late, everyone with a Smart Phone takes the double ticks, blue ticks and ‘status’ on WhatsApp with utmost seriousness now. They are the new Publishers who decide what to publish and who should read what they publish. Journalists with their decades of experience be damned.

Political posturing, bias, sensationalism and fake narratives are here to stay. And so are the expletives and the cuss words. Like they say: You win some, you lose some.

Gajanan Khergamker

Gajanan Khergamker is an independent Editor, Solicitor and Film-maker. He is the founder of the International Think Tank DraftCraft.