A media role reversal

The Padma awards presented a chance to the media to make good many years of complete neglect of the deserved. While the electronic media came up trumps, the print media failed in its duty

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The general complaint about the electronic media is that there is too much decibel around content these days, while content itself is weak, sometimes at variance with reality. It is also said that the print media is by far the more reliable, even today, and that history, for the record, will be written through despatches in the print media. Such estimates are rarely wrong, till they are. This time such an incident has happened.

The 2008 Padma awards were special for a very interesting set of winners: Media personnel. That year, three media anchors were felicitated with Padma Shri awards. They were Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Dua and Barkha Dutt. While Sardesai was Editor-in-Chief of Global Broadcast News, Dua and Dutt were both with NDTV at the time. All were rather high profile journalists. There remains debate as to whether this was right or wrong, but in a year when two international journalists won the Nobel Prize, this debate may not gather moss.

This year, the print media has been in focus for a very critical reason: their somewhat muted and slated coverage of some of the very special and extraordinary Padma awardees. That was while the electronic media lowered the decibels and placed content first, highlighting some of the best choices. These people deserved every candle watt of exposure. These were people from distant walks of life, people who have worked selflessly for the benefit of society in general, people who had never sought the limelight.

This year, awards for last year were also presented. Last year the ceremony could not be held, because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

This is not a comparison, just a pointer to the apparent role reversal of a system that is expected to do eloquent and correct reportage of events as they happen and provide commentary and opinion with right perspective. Of late, the electronic media has been castigated for its latent bias and incorrectness.

A lot of that merged into the print media, when pictures of actor Kangana Ranaut receiving the award were spread across pages. There is nothing wrong with that, except that this time there were more deserving winners, who may have finally missed the print media glare. Television news channels came out more competent and focused, picking out people such as Sujit Chattopadhyay, Tulsi Gowda, Mohammed Sharif etc. It was sad to see these sterling achievers moved to inside pages in newspapers.

NDTV (online), for example, published pictures of four barefoot recipients of the awards. How are bare feet an apt selection of a news item? They have been awarded because of their extraordinary work, their life’s work. Whether they want to be barefoot or want to appear in a suit is their personal choice.

In the video of Matha B. Manjamma Jogati blessing President Ramnath Kovind there was humility. In the award (for 2020) to Tulsi Gowda, an environmentalist from Karnataka, there was special attention. And in the giving away of the award to Chattopadhyay, there was respect. Think of these people, who have struggled for decades, with little means and barely any recognition, never giving up hope for those (which could be trees as well) they serve.

Think of the pride they carry with them, think about the people, who applauded their achievements so many more such selfless acts may happen. Think of the overall impact of the awards, moving away from age old political statements and choices.

And then, think of the credibility of the print media that virtually pushed these people into single column displays – some vernacular dailies, including Dainik Jagaran and Amar Ujala, though, did justice with special spreads – or pushed them into inside pages. For a day or two, maybe, people wanted to know their new heroes. They are fed up of the killings and of the pollution and of the poverty today.

Recently, Shah Rukh Khan’s 23-year-old son Aryan Khan was in jail for alleged drug possession, a case that was spread across many pages of the print media and many hours of television coverage. Yet, around that time, an Indian jawan Rishi Kumar of Bihar, also 23 years old, became a martyr at the hands of terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir. That was not even considered news.

The Padma awards were a chance to correct that anomaly. The electronic media came up trumps, the print media failed. We need to make amends, we have to. There is no alternative.