Soon, the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chalk up 100 days in office. For some mysterious reason this magic figure is considered an appropriate moment by the media to take stock. It is a rite of passage.
One expects that the verdict on his performance will be sharply divided. One take on the report card will show BJP scoring a century in as many days. The other take will give the party half a ton, and another will award the government less than pass marks. In a robust democracy with a lively media, all three perspectives must be seriously examined before final evaluation is made. The difficulty for citizens is they lack the tools and instruments to make an informed judgment.
So, what options does the voter have? He can speak with friends. He can go online. He can tap a person who has a reputation for being knowledgeable in such matters. But most, I suspect, will rely on the media pundit in the shape of the opinion page writer. I would go so far as to say that political commentary is the main resource available to most people to help them make up their mind.
So far so good. Unfortunately, at this precise moment a problem arises. Recently, I was talking to an old colleague, and I told him I had read an article by Mr X which I liked. “Oh, he is not to be believed,” he replied. “He gets all his information from...” And he then mentioned the name of a minister in the present government. My interlocutor added that the gentleman we were talking about had an axe to grind, an 'agenda'. Accordingly, what he wrote needed to be taken with a shovel of salt.
Frankly, we live in such ‘interesting’ times that it is virtually impossible to locate a commentator without an agenda. An agenda-less commentator is an endangered species. Which brings us back to the luckless citizen looking for views and positions he can put his faith in. Who does he turn to if all public affairs gurus are openly partial?
I will not be revealing any secrets when I say the credibility of the pundit is at an all-time low, if you exclude the Emergency. The prevailing atmosphere of suspicion and conspiracy theories is so toxic we should not be surprised by the strong inclination towards negativity in the people. As a result, even while he is perusing a 900-word column, the reader is wondering, “Why is this lying bugger lying to me?”
These days anyone who has spent a couple of years in the profession feels qualified to become a pundit. Nothing wrong with that, but the question is, what preparation did the said journalist make before he walked into the hallowed editorial space? When I became an editor in 1974, for over a decade I never dared to write an opinion piece. I was terrified because I felt too raw and too naive. Instead, I embarked on a course of self-education.
Sadly, there were, and are, no textbooks on column writing, no mass communication institutes which can teach you the craft. The sole guide: read pundits you admire — those with a standing for honesty and objectivity.
By objectivity i am not suggesting you abandon your prejudices and preferences, but keep them in check. And, sometimes, restrain them if the message on the wall is too clear. Pseudo-secularists and assorted Modi-detesters could not ignore the hawa blowing in his favour across the country in 2013. Whatever your predilections, you had to take note of the wind whose intensity was growing by the week.
If I can identify one quality the reader is looking for in an opinion column it is ‘trust’. The reader is aware from where the columnist is coming from, what his leanings are. Despite that, he needs to ‘trust’ the writer. He must feel confident the column, at the least, will acknowledge reality, not deny reality. In my 40-odd years of editorship the highest compliment paid to me, among zillions of abuses, went, “I don’t like your opinions but I don’t think you will deliberately mislead me.”
At a time when the entire media is increasingly perceived with suspicion, why should the column-writer remain uncontaminated by partisanship? After all, the pundit is a creature of the environment we all inhabit. He does not live on Mars.
The challenge for those privileged to contribute to the ‘heart of a newspaper’, then, becomes even more daunting. In a society where columnists and editors play favourites, the victim is the reader. Who looks after his interest? Media people day in and day out affirm their commitment to the reader, and the reader alone. Alas, the commitment doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
In short, truth and readability are essential for a column. Remember you don’t want to tell the truth in a way which puts your reader to sleep.
Is there any solution for the present depressing situation? I cannot easily think of one. However, if a solution exists it lies in the hands of the reader. He must reject those columnists (and the papers they write for) that flagrantly violate the basic canons of trust. The reader will be doing the media a favour and also the pundit, who must know he has been caught out.
This first appeared in the Times of India
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Media is not getting any information from the govt. Their 'sources' are drying up. They are desperating trying to invent, spread news and rumours. Arnab looks frustrated and blabbers nonsense endlessly.
These prim, sophisticated, touch-me-not puritans can hardly be expected to seriously discuss hygine, sanitization, health, filth, garbage, sewage,toilet issues. At best they can do is nit-picking, secular-communal endless discussions which does not require knowledge or indepth research. Just be prejudiced and take side and viola!
The "Reader's Right" is first to have unrestricted access to news and articles, both in the print and online media, without being assailed by "in your face" advertisements. Have any of the online readers of Outlook of late been able to read even one piece in the magazine without being bombarded by pop up ads which interfere ever so frequently with their right of reading it in peace? Do the advertisers not realise that far from promoting their products such crass promotional tactics only create an aversion for them subconciously in the minds of the targets?
Should all of us Outlook online readers not raise our collective voice against its editor for inflicting this torture on us?
>> He can go online. He can tap a person who has a reputation for being knowledgeable in such matters. But most, I suspect, will rely on the media pundit in the shape of the opinion page writer. I would go so far as to say that political commentary is the main resource available to most people to help them make up their mind.
You have an extremely low opinion of people's intellect if you think they rely on political commentators to make their mind.
Had that been the case, Modi would never have been elected. I don't think anyone expects an honest commentary from newstraders.
Hamas uses bollywood image for propoganda against Israel ?
I had sex with Chidambaram in Chennai - Ruksana
I had sex with K V Thomas sir, in his office. I did it to get the job - Ruksana
No media outlet has dared to report this news. Will Mr. Mehta reeport ?
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