Friday, 17 December 2010

The New Guerillas of News

Everything was going fine, just fine. And then suddenly, in the midst of a warm season of 9% GDP growth and a sizzling sensex, when India was the toast of the world, came the shocking Niira Radia tapes and all hell broke loose. No, it's not that one knew about the telecom scam or how vast sums of money had been looted. But till the first stone was cast, no one in the media wanted to pick it up. No one wanted to risk the wrath of the Government and the corporate sector, both prominent players in this ugly scam as well as important stakeholders in the media.

WikiLeaks is the same story. Much of what has emerged till now was known to everyone, including the fact that the US foreign policy has many faces, not all of them very pleasant, as they present it to be, till Julian Assange took the daring step of putting millions of classified cables on the Internet for everyone to see the sheer impact of lies and chicanery that go into it was never that obvious. The next lot of posts, one hears, will relate to US banking and its dark secrets. This again is not new. We all know why the economic recession happened but to see the truth in chilling cold print is another matter. What's protected under the code of secrecy is usually the ugly truth be it in politics, banking, telecom or war. That's precisely why a new journalism is now emerging to combat this.

Some call it citizen journalism. Others call it whistleblower journalism. I think it's simpler to call it the journalism of the eighties. Post the proclamation of the Indian Emergency, when everyone was sick and tired of the lies the Congress had told us, journalism came back on steroids to redefine its role. It's the same mood now. Everyone's fed up with the diversionary tactics employed by the media which has over the past two decades, made food, celebrity quirks, the private lives of movie stars, travel and lifestyle, music and brands, the opiate of a reality-shy generations that prefers reality television instead. So a new, muscular journalism is once again emerging to challenge Bollywood and cricket. Not many agree with Mr. Ratan Tata and now, Deepak Parekh that such journalism cannot trample on privacy and business. The focus right now is on probity. Probity in public life.

The new journalism is actually about self-service. WikiLeaks and the Niira Radia tapes offer you vast amounts of raw data to wade through and come to your own definitive conclusion. After that, you can read or listen to what journalists like Barkha Dutt have to say. You don't have to depend on people like me to tell you what's right or what's wrong. The facts are out there in the open in front of you. It's easier that way and you're less likely to be led astray by manipulative Governments and occasionally compromised journalists.

But doesn't that make the job of the common citizen more oneous, more tiresome? Who has the time to wade through so much raw data? I agree not many. But people like access to unprocessed, uncontaminated data. It gives them a sense of power. It's like going to a party which has a buffet lunch. Most people don't even see the entire array of food on offer, leave alone eat it. But it does give them a huge high to see such a spectacular spread out there, from which they can pick and choose what they want. It's the power that choice offers. It's the same reason why people take so many channels from a DTH menu even though they may watch hardly a few channels. No denying that people love choice. They like access to variety. The bigger the variety, the more empowered they feel. That's what WikiLeaks is all about. That's indeed what the Niira Radia tapes are also about. They make us believe we have insider information available us to make up our own mind. It is about democratizing information. It makes the common man feel he is participating in the process of history. And, as we know, it's the bad stuff that finally makes history. Not Lindsay Lohan's sexual craving or Yana Gupta's missing panties.

So, much as the US Government may try to browbeat WikiLeaks or corporate leaders in India may appeal to the Supreme Court to protect their privacy, the common man loves the anarchy. Every new leak gives him a sense of power. It gives him the access to stuff that's officially denied to him. That's what is important. And that's what journalism is all about: Our right to know what Governments hide from us. We know nothing will ever change. Our good-for-nothing leaders will continue to loot us, cheat us, lie to us, extort us. The only time to celebrate is when we access their darkest secrets and embarrass them. That's why Julian Assange and whoever leaked the Niira Radia tapes are the new heroes. They are the new-age guerrillas of the media. They are the ones empowering us to mock the rich and mighty who have made a mockery out of democracy.

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