Sunday, February 1, 2009

BARKHA DUTT AND 'FREE-DOOM' OF EXPRESSION

The blogosphere is abuzz with reactions to the slaying of the very concept of freedom of expression by Barkha Dutt whose arrogant dagger of intolerance has defined what may be the beginning of attempts to ensure 'free-doom' of those who use the internet to criticise the media. The rage of many has been tempered by fear-driven caution, and is a telling example of how easy it is for those with power and money to drown out the voices of ordinary people even on a world-wide platform the has become the bastion of the freedom of expression.

It is not possible that Ms Dutt and those at NDTV surf the net only to read about themselves. It is also not possible to believe that they are not aware of the kinds of criticism that many others face. Why, even George Bush did not react violently to the reactions that flooded the net after the famous shoes were flung at him in Iraq or to the various games that creative guys came up with to enable you and I to fling virtual shoes at him! Even CNN, an American channel, carried visuals of some of those games. The most powerful man in the world would have been upset, no doubt, but he chose to keep quiet while his wife simply expressed her displeasure.

India's media luminaries, however, seem to believe that they are beyond and above all scrutiny, criticism and questioning. They will have nothing more than 'self-regulation' even though some of them clearly deserve to be reined in and a few prevented from going on air without prior clearance. They will fight ferociously to defend their right to say whatever they wish to about anyone and anything. They will show their anger and arrogance as if they are appointees of the Lord in Heaven to sit in judgment over all on earth. Freedom of expression and the importance of a free media as a watch dog is something they will remind politicians about ad nauseum, only to scare them into behaving like rats while interacting with them.

Does it not logically flow, then, that those who will not allow even the high and mighty of the country to speak against them or criticise them because they are in a position to use the power of the media platform to destroy them, will do the same to ordinary nobodies finding their voices in a small corner on the net?

That old cliché about absolute power corrupting absolutely applies perfectly to the media which is enjoy unprecedented and unparalleled power today. Its only real competition is the internet. And mind you, this competition is not to be dismissed lightly. As internet penetration grows in India, its power will grow exponentially. Why? Because a lot people already know that media houses are not just business houses looking to maximise profits, but, in some cases, are as good as organs of certain political parties and are trying to push political agendas down the throats of unsuspecting citizens.

The perch of media stars is under serious threat by the truly free and democratic platform that the net is. Earlier, they were the leading and almost only agents of influencing and moulding public opinion. Many of them were always out of touch with real people and, instead of reporting as neutral observers, they had started imagining themselves as power houses that could influence voters, make or break governments, promote political parties they liked etc, no one to question. Not so any longer.

Media barons are beginning to realise that anonymous netizens can, due to the reach of the net, topple them from that arrogant perch that they have been sitting securely on till now thanks to the power of their platforms. They are as afraid of netizens as politicians are afraid of them. But they have not been able to do anything to stop them from saying what the media don't want to hear or others to know.

The gagging of Chyetanya Kunte by Barkha Dutt, who many believe is a mediocre and less than honest TV host who deserves to be taken off the air, is the visible expression of the real fear of mainstream media that the gaping holes in their houses and the ugly warts on their bodies are becoming visible to all. This is their first attempt to choke the freedom of expression of ordinary people by threatening them with 'free-doom' if they do to media personalities even a fraction of what many have done to Bush for example. Shoes can be thrown in cyber space at world leaders, not at those who write or speak about them.

Is this blatant bullying going to work? Yes, but not in the manner Ms Dutt or NDTV think it will. If at all, it is going to hasten her demise as a journalist of any worthwhile standing and that of the mainstream media as a trustworthy source of honest information and analysis. By succumbing to the brute power of the media, Kunte has actually awakened everyone to its real, ugly face. From now on, the slide in its credibility will only be faster and steeper. This had to happen sooner rather than later. Barkha Dutt has only given it a big push.

For those who want to read more, as they must, and get to other links, here are three posts by other bloggers that they will find useful:

1. Ego te provoco
2. NDTV arm-twists a blogger into submission.
3. The megalomania of Barkha Dutt