Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The new Don Quixotes

The story of Don Quixote needs no repetition, famous as it is for bringing out the eccentricities of a man who has lost touch with the times and lives in a delusionary world. There are many such Don Quixotes around in India who hang to certain theories a little too much and at some point it goes to their heads.

The latest is the Don Quixotes of India media and public life versus the windmills of social media.

Very recently, an influential journo-tycoon mentioned on twitter, no less, that “Social media is power without responsibility”. The irony of this couldn’t be missed. The TV channels who I assume the journo tycoon think profess power with responsibility have themselves been guilty of callousness of the highest order. And yet, the pot called the media has the gall to call the social media kettle black.

In their kangaroo courts each night, where screaming hacks pronounce various people guilty as per the channels convenience is the first exhibit of power sans responsibility. Then when those cameras are thrust into the faces of those who have suffered immense tragedy, surely, we see responsible coverage.

Apart from this, in their coverage of events, there is a distinct bias towards the ruling party (which is apart from the leftist bias).

Two highlights would suffice. The first, as part of the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, most viewers would have been pardoned for believing that it was only Rahul Gandhi who was fighting the election against an unknown ruling party.  The second and more blatant case where a Congress spokesperson was caught with his pants down, quite literally, in his Supreme court chamber no less.  This entire episode was treated with almost amnesiac ignorance by TV channels. Contrast this with the coverage on the Karnataka MLA porn viewing episode and the Gujarat non porn episode or the case of Swami Nithyananda where media threw caution to the winds and had no qualms showing suspect footage and theories and accusations without either verification or caution.

Social media (twitter, for lack of a better word) took the media apart for this double standard.

It is question worth bearing in mind, whether the resignation of the spokesperson would have happened were it not for social media? It is also a question worth asking, whether the recent exposes based on RTI queries on the highest office in the country would have received such widespread coverage had it not been for social media?

I am not saying that social media is goodness personified, but the conflict of interest that is ever present in media is actually absent with social media. This is a very important point, which people tend to miss.

Most tweeters have a day job and news and politics is their passion. Quite unlike the television channels who make money out of news. Journalists of various ideologies have been found taped in calls, pictured in various parties with politicians and some of them are wedded to them as well. Many politicians own TV channels as well – which all in all points to a nice cosy relationship. Social media is the thorn in this relationship. The relationship between media and politics in this country is an old one – and sadly for TV tycoons, social media is slowly exposing these. This point bears repeating that and might sound counter intuitive, but social media actually has no conflict of interest, unlike media.
The big difference between social media and TV is interactivity. When was the last time you asked a question to the journo tycoon on your TV screen and they answered it? In social media, it is not only possible, it is also desirable. Social medias ability to make TV (or people) answerable is unimaginable, for those who grew up in the days that TV and media had unlimited powers to question people or to shoot and scoot. Today, you cannot. There is a band of netizens who are watching every move, ever ready to question.

Finally, and most importantly social media is rapidly changing the world. The world is networked. And so are people. This is the future. And it is now. Trying to wish it away won’t work. And the days when audiences awaited TV Prime Time news is gone as well. As Seth Godin says, the TV industrial complex has gone. So too for India, the media-politics complex has to end. Sooner or later. And the internet is here – with the power to individual people – and it cannot be gagged.

The sooner governments and people and media personalities realize this, the better, unless of course, they want to be tilting at windmills.

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