What After Pimp & Tout? Journalism Hits New Low; It’s Time For Restraint

‘Godi’ media is so ancient! Now we have B&D media. Browse YouTube, and you realise the expression has already entrenched itself in the public discourse on the media. For the uninformed, B and D stand for words ‘Bhadua’ (pimp) and ‘Dalal’ (tout). Neither needs to be explained to the lay reader. Godi or lapdog perhaps was too tame to capture the utterly spineless and sycophantic conduct of some people in the news media. It had to be replaced with something having more sting and venom. Going by the speed things move in the age of social media, we might find worse words in use soon.

These are interesting times for the media indeed! Particularly, television and social media. Never in the last many decades since Independence, we had the media treated with such lack of respect; never in the years we had media personalities so deserving of contempt. Media houses and editors were known to have their bias towards ideologies and parties and people hated them for it, but both largely took care not to cross the red line of decency. It was never a perfect world, but considering the low we have hit now, it was not that bad after all.

Note the words: ‘bhadua’, ‘dalal’, ‘boot-licker’, ‘chu…ya’, ‘coward’, ‘kutti’ (bitch) and ‘billi’; and expressions: ‘namak haram’, ‘galli ki kutte’, ‘gandi nali ka kida’. One well-known panelist used the expletive ‘mad….od’ during a television debate not long ago. In any decent society, such language in routine life would invite condemnation, and perhaps punishment. Students in schools would face penalty, at homes children would be asked to wash their mouths and in a public place the culprit might get thrashed for uttering such words. Our television channels and the social media hammer it into us on a daily basis. Add to this the generally unintelligent, uncivil, toxic and irrational character of our primetime debates.

If bad language quotient in a Netflix web drama or a movie can raise demand for its ban and boycott, the goings on in our news media surely needs a closer look. At the least there can be a demand to put certain news-linked programmes in the ‘Adult’ category with a clear label ‘content contains violent behaviour and foul language’. The idea may appear odd now, but it won’t once television debates and social media conversation sink into abuses involving mothers and sisters and relentless foul-mouthing of opponents. It must be remembered that such programmes are viewed largely by the family audience, which include impressionable children.

We have a rough idea when it all began, and it was heartening. Close to a decade ago, with the UPA government mired in allegations of corruption and policy paralysis, the new brand of aggressive journalism appeared a welcome break from the brand of diffident journalism that reeked of a cosy, unholy arrangement between the political class and the media. Questions were asked to power. Journalists, finally, seemed to be doing what they were supposed to do. They had shattered the glass barrier between them and the rulers to reclaim their status as the democracy’s watchdog. But the inherent corruption in the trend surfaced soon. With the change of political dispensation, the heroes reduced themselves to lapdogs in indecent hurry. Competitive hero worship and sycophancy became embarrassingly brazen.

The ideology they were eager to embrace was rather low on intellect, sophistication, civility, respect for finer values of democracy. It demanded absolute subservience, thus had little patience for dissent or logical argument. Professional ethics, decorum and principles no longer mattered as they basked in the glory of being champions of ideology. The fall in the quality of journalism was only logical. What we witness now is the absence of shame and self-respect. Not many respectable people can accept being called ‘bhadua’ or ‘dalal’ on a live show beamed into millions of homes.

Now the big concern: Is journalism a respectable profession any more? The normalisation of the vulgar surely takes the sheen off it. The more people watch reporters behaving like jokers in a circus or anchors indulging in undignified behaviour, the more they are likely to lose respect for journalists. This goes for print media as well where biases, political and otherwise, are thinly veiled. This compounds the general problem of perception about them, which was never too positive in any case. The blame lies to a great extent with proprietors, who usually have a strong political leaning or business interests to protect and expect journalists to do their bidding. The bigger culprits, however, are journalists who choose to sacrifice all sense of dignity to please bosses or their political string-pullers. As role models go, they are perfectly bad ones for budding journalists.

Can journalism redeem itself? It’s not difficult though it seems so in the current political climate and the vitiated social media ecosystem. The simple way is to exercise restraint in language. Bad language may be good for TRPs but in the long it is destructive to the cause of the media. There are still quite a few journalists who go about their job in a dignified manner despite being assertive. We must act before we find a new low.

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