The coronavirus third wave surge has been tremendous across the country. It is immaterial if the Omicron virus is milder or not, or if the Delta variant has lost its teeth. It is immaterial if ICU beds are filling up or not. It remains imperative that we should take growing infections seriously, because mutations in this are happening too frequently, and who is to tell if the next variant is as dangerous as the Delta or worse?
Within this, elections have been announced, the Makar Sankranti Ganga Sagar mela has been held, the Kenduli mela, also in West Bengal, has also been okayed. There is a possibility that the highly popular Kolkata Book Fair might also be held. These definitely pose as super-spreaders. We can only recall the perils of the Kumbh mela last year and what happened to the country afterwards.
Now there has been a rift of a different kind, pointing to a complete distance being created between the media and the legislative, as well as the executive. The media in Bengal especially the largest network out there, ABP Ananda has been campaigning hotly against the government’s decision to allow the mela and how the government has ignored Covid norms and warnings for apparent political gains. The Bengali news channel, which had been supporting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of late, has now become a hardcore critic of the administration. Mamata, however, has paid no heed.
Does that mean that the media has, in Bengal and in many other parts of the country, become irrelevant? Has it lost teeth? Debates, evening after evening, point out the fallacies in the state’s Covid policies, and the administration keeps ignoring them. Reams of data are shown, pointing to an unimaginable growth in infections also pretty unmanageable and the dangers posed, yet the administration seems bent on going destruction’s way.
It is another matter that even Mamata’s nephew, Abhisekh Banerjee, her heir apparent, has come out against these moves of the CM, creating a position quite against that of the administration. People are talking about a rift, right down the line in Trinamool Congress. There has been talk about the young brigade differing in opinion, supporting Abhisekh. Mamata remains unfazed.
The media has stopped short of calling it a real rift this seems so much like the rift in the Congress, when Rahul Gandhi wanted a complete change in the party structure and beats around the Covid problem-bush instead. But the fact of the matter is that it is the media that, really, has been given the short shrift.
Experience says that this has become quite like the fable of the shepherd, who used to call “wolf, wolf” for fun and the villagers would rush to his rescue, when he would laugh at them. When the wolf really came and started taking away the sheep, and he shouted “wolf, wolf”, no villagers came to his rescue, thinking it was another of his jokes. The media today is quite in the position of the shepherd. Even the viewers do not believe in the media anymore. They are not sure which position of the media house is the true position.
The entire episode is pretty dangerous for the media industry of the country. It has already lost its credibility with the legislature and executive, bending backwards when asked to bow, and now it is losing its credibility with the viewers. No wonder social media has bigger takers today, resulting in unverified ‘news’ proliferating the landscape. This has resulted in mob lynching and in complete breakdown in law and order.
This media house ABP was the one which bore the brunt of Mamata’s revengeful tactics when it once went against the TMC and its supreme leader. As a result, its iconic chief editor Aveek Sarkar had to quit the scenario, leaving the reins the house to his brother Arup Sarkar. Now Arup’s son Atideb runs the show. Now, while ABP’s print media publications, including Ananda Bazar Patrika and The Telegraph, root for the TMC, its Hindi news channel, ABP News, roots for the BJP. ABP Ananda, the very popular Bengali channel, was definitely pro-TMC, till recently.
Now, suddenly, the equation seems to be changing. This does not leave the intelligent viewer with any option but to switch to another channel, or simply switch off television news. How much credibility does that bring to the media? This, in one way can be termed as the media abdicating its responsibility. And since nature abhors a vacuum, social media rumour mongers are filling up the gap.
Has the entire newscast system become compromised? This is the time to take guard, to bring back some form of morality to the system. This is the time to call out the false “wolves”. This is the time to rebuild declining credibility of this noble profession of journalism.