Journalism is considered so vital to democracy that it’s often referred to as the fourth pillar. As both an informer to the masses and a watchdog, keeping the tyranny of power in check, its value cannot be overestimated.
That being said, it’s no secret that journalism is in a rather sorry state. In a time of cutthroat competition, with everyone battling to grab eyeballs, the media’s duty to inform has been replaced with a mission to sensationalise.
Which is fine when there genuinely is scandal.
But based on what I witnessed this past Saturday, we’ve gone far past that. It’s no longer just about reporting scandals, it’s about manufacturing them even where none exist.
On a rare Saturday off from work, I headed to Jantar Mantar, Delhi’s protest-centre, to witness AISA’s protest against the recent Handwara killings. I was there neither as journalist or protester, but an interested onlooker.
Having witnessed more than a few protests at Jantar Mantar and given the evocative subject of the protest, I expected a large turnout. Other journalists seemingly expected the same and were on hand at the protest’s scheduled start time of 1 pm, photographers in tow.
Unfortunately for the assembled journos, the scene of the protest was underwhelming at best. A combination of exams and sweltering heat (it was the hottest day of the season), resulted in just a handful of protesters gathered under a tree with others trickling in ones and twos.
Which was fine by me. Evidently though, it was far from fine for two photojournalists who’d been sent to cover the protest.
In the aftermath of the alleged pro-Pakistan slogans raised at JNU, Vijay Verma of Press Trust of India and Mukesh Aggarwal of the Tribune were probably hoping for something similar here.
But there was no drama to be had. So the two of them, comically oversized cameras in tow, decided to create some. Even as a dozen-odd protesters gathered under the shade of a tree talking quietly among themselves, Mukesh Aggarwal approached them in a shameless attempt to antagonise them.
Zeroing in on the most obviously Kashmiri members, Aggarwal got in their faces and snidely asked whether they’d brought Pakistani flags to wave. When the Kashmiris told him his question was offensive, Aggarwal, rather than backing off, was only emboldened further, attempting to further goad them by calling them anti-nationals.
Not to be outdone, Aggarwal’s peer from PTI, Vijay Verma, defended his friend’s right to ask the question by terming the assembled protesters as anti-Indian. Verma even threatened those assembled, shouting at them to remember that they were in Delhi and not Srinagar.
At no point, either during or preceding any of this, had the protesters assembled even spoken a word that could be termed anti-Indian. Heck, the protest hadn’t even begun. Not one speech had been made. Yet Verma and Aggarwal were doing their best to goad those assembled into a fracas, one that would make for a better story to take home to their masters.
When a friend and I intervened to break up the exchange, Verma went from trying to antagonise the assembled Kashmiris to flat-out swearing, referring to those assembled as ‘behen c**ds‘ and even telling them that they wouldn’t cover the protest.
When we tried to remind them that they were here to cover the protests rather than to impose their own views, Verma and Aggarwal were having none of it. Unable to create a fracas worthy of their cameras, they retreated a few yards away, bitching audibly, before finally disappearing.
Perhaps they were inspired by the wave of so-called nationalism and patriotism being pushed by the likes of Zee’s Sudhir Chaudhary and Arnab Goswami. But what it seemed like was two men desperately trying to rile peaceful protesters in order to create a scandal worthy of the front page.
The media is often accused of selective coverage, but the way both Aggarwal and Verma wilfully ignored a story they were ostensibly assigned is more insidious. To them the story was secondary, their egos and ambitions came first.
Hilariously, when PTI put out a story on the protest, it included the observation that the protesters “held the protest amid minor disruptions from some people believed to be from right-wing groups.”
This despite the fact that the “right-wing groups” were far less antagonistic than PTI’s own photographer.
Further, while the right wingers chanted pro-India slogans, at no point did they resort to abusive language, threats or derogatory aspersions. No, that behaviour was solely from PTI’s own man.
The actions of both Aggarwal and Verma fly in the face of the self-aggrandising ‘About Us’ sections of both PTI and The Tribune. While PTI claims to take pride in its “contribution towards the building of a free and fair press in India”, Verma’s actions were anything but. He was unprofessional as well as unethical and unapologetic to boot.
Even more alarming, the rest of the media relies on news agencies like PTI to give them ground reports while The Tribune boasts to the world that it produces “news and views without any bias or prejudice of any kind. Restraint and moderation, rather than agitational language and partisanship”.
They should maybe also let their own employees know this too.
As for Verma and Aggarwal, they need to be named, shamed and weeded out or they will corrupt the next generation of journalists.
The Logical Indian community requests PTI and Tribune to take strict action against their Photojournalists.