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Chats Leaked: Has The Fourth Pillar Of Democracy Crumbled Because Of Media’s Hunger For Power?

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Social media has exploded today with apparent chats of a popular journalist with a top minister being leaked, exposing lobbying for power and name-dropping that seems to have become a style-statement in media. As you go through the chats, you cannot help but wonder, when did the fourth pillar of democracy in this country go from being objective and neutral to a TRP-hungry beast itching to flaunt its influence? When did political muscle become a must-have for Indian journos?

The network associated with the same journalist was in news some months ago for alleged rigging of TRP, but that is not the only offence it could be guilty of. For years now, some news channels have been peddling fake news, nationalism and media trials to an extent that a young journalist associated with one channel actually left her job after feeling disillusioned. Read more about her powerful commentary it here.

But is there just one news channel in India, that is guilty of these misdemeanours? Does Indian prime time media even remember what the basic definition of journalism? Does it even consider ethics as one of its primary virtues today?

Also Read: Navika Kumar, You Disgraced Journalism by showing Rajput’s Dead Body on Television

In June 2020, the nation lost a rising superstar, Sushant Singh Rajput, untimely. But his demise was just the beginning of a mind-numbing media circus that put journalism to shame. The actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty was put on a media trial. The same anchor whose chats have been leaked today famously screamed “Mujhe drugs do” on repeat during his show, speculating a drug nexus in Bollywood. WhatsApp chats of actors were leaked on news by an anchor of a rival channel. On another channel we saw a journalist, sitting in a car with its windows rolled up, shouting, “Deepika kya aap drug leti hain, bataiye?” at another car supposedly carrying actor Deepika Padukone, that too with its windows rolled up. That’s how oblivious and naive media thinks its audience is.

This callous and desperate behaviour of media in the past few months hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In December 2020, News Broadcasting Standards Authority ordered Zee News, Zee 24, Zee Hindustani to air an apology to Rakul Preet Singh for their reports vilifying the actor in the alleged Bollywood drug scandal that broke out after Rajput’s death. Bollywood’s top production houses pledged to take Republic TV and Times Now to court “irresponsible reporting” and calling them names during a trial by media in October last year. Numerous op-eds, stand up sketches and memes have been generated, calling out Indian media’s wild behaviour. But do we ever wonder what has fuelled it?

Dig beyond the layers of TRP frenzy, and one wonders – Is media today is run by journalists who do not believe in breaking stories, their only aim is to keep the spotlight securely shining on their faces?

Reporters today think they are now bigger than news channels, and thus popularity has managed to overshadow basic virtues of journalism like fact-checking, and presenting all sides of the story, and not the one that you believe in or suits your agenda. These journalists are not above dropping names of ministers and officials, flaunting access to power and inside information to consolidate their position as the gods of newsrooms. One is forced to wonder if this is another Radiagate moment for Indian media?

The Radia tapes controversy (broken by Open Magazine in 2010) was one where telephonic conversations between Niira Radia, a political lobbyist and top politicians and journalists were leaked. The tapes, when leaked, purportedly had top Indian journalist flaunting a hotline to then government. A bit like the written chats tweeted by Prashant Bhushan that we have reproduced above. The revelations in the tapes raised big questions about media’s role and how biased and involved they might have been in the mega crore 2G scam.

In May last year, SheThePeople.TV interviewed The Wire‘s Senior Editor Arfa Khanum Sherwani. When asked what her advice would be to budding women journalists in the country, she said “please remember that you are not the story, you are just delivering the story. You are the storyteller. So please take away from you and focus on the story that you are covering.

Look where the focus is today, and you realise why Indian journalism is in such a shambolic state today. There will come a day when Indian media will hold no credibility, if it hasn’t come to that already. When people who subscribe to these reporters’ brand of truth will shun them, as their true agendas are laid exposed. The pillar has crumbled, but when it collapses for sure, it will leave a democracy teetering and in a state of unrest and its subscribers disoriented. But do media leaders of today even care?

Is breach in Arnab’s privacy justified though?

The recent leak of Whatsapp chats has also raised questions on whether or not someone’s private messages should be released into public. “It is not ethical for anyone’s private messages to be leaked, or even accessed, without adequate permissions,” Columnist Harini Calamur tells SheThePeople, and it is a statement that we fully agree with. She, however, adds, “The fact that journalists have been breaking the law and putting people’s life out on public display is normalising this. People like Arnab Goswami are responsible for this invasion of privacy. And, now it has happened to him.

According to seniour journalist Dr Tabeenah Anjum, an informed citizenry is important for a robust democracy. “So why should a journalist’s privacy be any more important than any ordinary citizen’s privacy?” she asks. Anjum adds that the ethics of violating a person’s privacy should be weighed against how much the violation serves the public interest. “If a chief minister is colluding with a gangster, would the public interest not be served by making the chats public?
The screenshots of purported leaked WhatsApp conversations between Republic TV executive editor Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta, former CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) who is an accused in the TRP scam case, is now a homework for Mumbai police, who are already investigating the case. They need to investigate if these chats hint towards conspiracies & unprecedented access to power in this government by Arnab.

Featured Image is a screengrab and used for representational purposes

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