“What do you think of Mukesh Ambani’s son and the Aston-Martin case?” I asked my mother last evening. “Which case?”, she asked me surprised, in reply, oblivious to what I was talking about; oblivious because people do not read the DNA or the Mumbai Mirror in Calcutta; oblivious because my mother steers clear of Facebook, which indeed was my source of the information in question; oblivious because of the media hushing up yet again what it thought would inconvenience them and their big bosses. The purpose of my article is not to investigate who was behind the wheels of the Aston Martin on the fateful night that it wreaked havoc on the streets of Mumbai; I leave the investigation to abler quarters. The purpose of my article is not to suggest that poor 53-year-old chauffeur who worked for the Ambanis and who surrendered to the police the next day, nearly twenty-four hours after the crime, was a helpless, hapless victim of his unfortunate situation — only attempting to save the sorry face of a rich man’s spoilt, young son; I leave the judgement to abler quarters. The purpose of my article is not also to probe into the veracity of the testimonies of eye-witnesses; I leave the enquiry to abler quarters.
I write this article to reflect on the role that the media plays in a civil society at large. Considered to be the Fourth-Estate of the nation, the media is supposed to be one of the fundamental pillars of a functioning democracy. The question that I wish to raise today is whether or not our trust is misplaced. Is the media indeed unbiased? Do not publishing houses implicitly patronize certain political parties or ideologies even if they do not openly endorse them? Is the present government of West Bengal all bad, as the media has been at pains to establish? Were the thirty-four years of “democratic rule” under the previous government in Bengal as uneventful as the media had portrayed them to be? Are not big media houses partial to their favourites, even when they do not unabashedly promote their minions? Should Saurav Ganguly have retired when he did? Is Sholay really “the greatest story ever told”? The point of mentioning these myriad instances — some serious, others likely to be brushed aside as trivial — was to highlight how we often allow journalism and the media to dictate our tastes, to monitor our choices, to govern our lives.
The curious case of the Aston Martin which Ambani’s drunk, young son is said to have driven the night it left behind a fine mess on the road (a mess which, wretched chauffeurs are later, perhaps, paid or threatened to take care of) and the media black-out of this incident left me wondering. The media is considered to be the unprejudiced watchdog of the nation. But who is to watch over these watch-dogs when they fail in their duties?
Hetal Parekh was left unattended by her parents for a short while under the care of their security guard. They came back to find their daughter raped and murdered by this same man who was in charge of her safe-keeping, Dhananjay Chatterjee. What happens when the rakshak becomes the proverbial bhakshak? The army is the guardian of a nation. God knows, they do a noble job but what happens when some of these army men go and rape unguarded women in the frontiers of the country? Whom should one go to when the security system collapses? The police force of a state is supposed to protect its citizens from crimes. What happens when these illustrious men engage in criminal activities themselves — be the act as small as accepting a bribe from a truck driver to something as gross as harassing an innocent woman trying to file an FIR of sexual violence against her employer? We elect people from amongst us to represent us in the government. What happens when these very people, corrupted by power, turn against the very people that voted them into office?
The media is entrusted to bring into public focus both the good and the evil of the society. What happens when this very institution that we have placed our blind faith in, fudges up evidence uses rhetoric to win over people, or blacks out information that the public deserves to know, simply to appease the super-powers? In short, what happens when these defenders of democracy turn into tyrants performing some of the most offensive crimes? What happens when the people or the institutions that we regard highly start misusing their power and position in an unwarranted fashion? To borrow words less polemical and more poetic than mine, “saawan jo aag lagaye, usey kaun bujhaye”?
Irrespective of who was driving the Aston-Martin, did not the incidents of the night merit a mention in the Dailies? The fact that only two newspapers ran the story, which they were quick to delete from their digital database, even without the findings of an investigation being made official and public, points the finger at someone influential, creating the mayhem and then calling the shots. The who’s-who of the media industry (and that is what it has become today; there’s no point denying it) were conspicuously silent on a matter which deserved some mention, as I wrote earlier, regardless of who the actual culprit might have been. Their hush-hush attitude on a subject of this magnitude is suggestive of their complicity in the crime, because as the Rig Veda says, suffering a crime quietly is as heinous as committing a crime.
I have been a part of this industry — the media industry — in a small way, at a point of time in my life. Journalists are asked by their bosses to give them “stories”. And no “story”, dear readers, be it in the journalistic parlance or a layman’s words can ever be objective. There can be no such thing as disinterested, indifferent reporting. News reports are covered by reporters. And reporters are human beings. As human beings they are bound to have their own agenda, their own ideas and their own ideologies, which unambiguously colour their reports. And if their colour is close to the shade that we prefer, they strike an even deeper chord with us.
It is time we sit up and take note of the bodies that we have belief in, the representatives that we rely on. Innocence and naivete are passe. We need to question constantly that which we had taken for granted for all this while; question, doubt, debate, deliberate. The world, as has been said since the most ancient of days, is clearly not just black and white. The greys are what we need to acknowledge and be wary of. This country is ours. This Constitution is ours. The people whom we entrust as guardians of our Democracy are human and not above folly. We have a right to know. We have a right to interrogate that which is not being made known to us unequivocally. A democracy can function only when the citizens of that political state are alive, aware and active. The onus is on them to uphold this democracy. But the onus is also on us to defend that which we have been born into, that which we are thriving in.