They say they’re “reporting the truth.” These are the new-age social media citizen journalists. I, like many other seasoned scribes, call them rumor-mongers. But let’s face it, they have the gift of the gab to fool an audience–delivery of speech, a reporter’s posture, the tone. But they aren’t disseminating information.
It’s misinformation – rumors, if you may. The embarrassing part: these people go viral. And Indians, a majority of whom don’t bother with the source, start believing it as the truth. It’s dangerous.
Allow me to give you an example. I recently saw on one of the social media platforms a self-proclaimed reporter bursting his lungs out over an otherwise common occurrence of an unborn child. In his P2C (piece to camera), he called the doctors “illiterates,” and even took the ward boys and others to task. He mixed Hindi and Urdu with such amazing grace,the end result was fractured information.
The boy, dare I call him that, took it far too personally – one of the first things taught in journalism is, never to get too close to your subject.
It was an outburst, at best. If he wanted to produce information, there were many other questions begging to be asked. But I knew he was only trying to be the hero.
That brings me to lesson #2 of journalism – the reporter never becomes the story.
Unfortunately, there are many like him, gender notwithstanding. It’s like saying, I have a calculator so I can be a banker. I have a smartphone with a camera, my face to boot, hence, I can be a journalist.
Let’s talk about journalism in Kashmir. Why only Kashmir? It holds true for the rest of India and Pakistan put together. If I were to describe it, the word “awful” strikes first. Reportage has come down to hear-say.
When was the last time you read a headline with a question mark and wanted to read that story? Clearly, the reporter isn’t aware of the story.
Check this. BJP cadres kill 20 Kashmiris in 24 hours?It would make you want to read the story because it’s begging for attention. It may or may not be the truth.
Same way, rumors coming through on the internet – the misinformation – are taking away from a common man’s need for the truth. It is, after all, about truth according to you, truth you want to hear. It may or may not be the actual truth, but it’s the truth that makes sense to you.
Journalism Rule #3: Be wary of the ones who are too sweet, or agree with you too often… they will be the first ones to stab you in the back.
Their Facebook and Twitter contacts tell them what they did was amazing.They will end up using non-editorial words like “fantabulous” and “braveheart” to describe the rumor-monger. After all, Kashmir, or India or Pakistan, for that matter, is no Vietnam where you’d get jailed along with the rumor-monger for supporting the rumor-monger on social media.
4D –Democracy: Deserve, don’t desire
India is democratic in the right sense of the word – a free-for-all. And go to the South Block in New Delhi, you’ll find it written in bold: “Democracy is better deserved than desired.”
There are journalists who blackmail their subjects, indulge in extortion. And quite like the saying, one dead fish spoils the entire pond, rumor-mongers are giving legitimate journalists, who really believe in the power of the fourth estate, a hard time.
It’s sad, but true. Officials are easily lured by quick fame and misinformation. They have an agenda, too. So, the ones seeking the truth have a harder time accessing officials than the rumor-mongers.
I can count on my fingers how many fakes have been caught posing as journalists in the past few months in Kashmir. They’re still going strong. That begs the question: is it even illegal to pose as a journalist? I don’t think so. A camera phone and a mic are all you need.
State of journalism? What state?
During an informal chat recently, a senior professor expressed great displeasure over the “deteriorating level of journalism” in Kashmir.
The well-informed academic, as upset as me, shared some thought-provoking examples to explain his point of view.
The basics of journalism: Share information in the simplest manner possible in an attempt to keep the audience – Muslim or Hindu, rich or poor, upper caste or lower caste – aware of what’s happening around them. It may or may not shape their opinion. But access to the truth is their right. It’s why we call it the fourth pillar of democracy.
The professor told me of a recent video he came across: “It was about a middle-rung horticulture official bragging about a few measures his department had undertaken. The official kept harping about what his office was doing, but the reporter didn’t once ask him any valid questions about fruit orchards or steps to be taken for better produce. It seemed like the one-sided story.”
Kashmir is Bihar
The academic then spoke of a valid story that went uncovered, even though he told a few “journalists” about it.
“A teacher actually hired someone else to take his class. All students cleared the exams. It was a 100 percent result. The absent teacher was rewarded for the job he never did. He took that reward,” the professor said.
If this was reported in a newspaper, it would be a very readable story. That aside, the fourth estate would come into play when the first three failed– the teacher and the department head would have probably been fired.
The professor says there are many such instances in his native Kupwara district that go unnoticed, only to make me feel ashamed as a journalist.
“We often see these so-called reporters holding a mic in their hands, shouting at the camera while following officials. I still wonder what they actually do?” he said.
The professor raised an important point. “To become a chemist, a person needs to have a degree in pharmacy. To become a doctor or engineer, a person needs to have a degree and/or experience in the relevant field.”
But to become a journalist… no degree, no license, no experience. Just a mic and a smartphone–and democracy.