NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar last week delivered an impassioned monologue on the state of the TV media. Here is an abrdiged version, translated from the original Hindi.
Namaskar, I am Ravish Kumar.
You all know that your TV has fallen ill. In the entire world, TV has developed TB. We are all ill. I am not saying others are ill so I can call myself a doctor. I am also ill. First, we became ill and now you are becoming ill. Everyday, some among you write letters threatening to either beat us up or set us on fire. Are we responsible for delivering that poison to you which is, in reality, the poison within us?
I am not a doctor. My TV is also ill in the name of debate. Everyday, you listen to noise which may make you wonder whether it enlightens you or takes you into darkness. From the debate, accountability is fixed. Instead, in the name of accountability, targeting is happening. The concept of debate arrived on the television screens to bring clarity to issues in society. But, very soon the debate became a game to kill public opinion. Public opinion is a cluster of multiple opinions, but debate TV is killing the variety of public opinion. It has become a way to perpetuate the rule of 'one person' public opinion.
Anchors and spokesperson who have no boundaries while expressing themselves, are deciding the boundaries of freedom for you. It has become necessary to ask yourself what are we watching and why are we watching it. You may say we are watching what is shown to us. And, we say we are showing what you see. Within this, there is a number one as well as a number 10 like us. If someone is on top, somebody like me is fail. If TRP is our goal, why are you our fellow traveller? Is TRP your goal, too?
This is why we want to take you into the dark world of TV so that you alone can listen to the noise and understand the hopes and the fears that the group of anchors give birth to everyday. We would urge you to recognise and understand that yelling. This is why I am taking you into the darkness. There is no technical fault. Your signal is perfect. This darkness is the picture of today’s TV. We have deliberately made it dark. Just imagine, I have shut off all the lights in your drawing room and I am talking to you in your ear.
I know I will continue to do what I have been doing thus far. Nothing will change. I cannot change anything. We anchors are one among many. We anchors have begun shouting and threatening. When we speak, our veins get pronounced. And, watching us makes your blood boil. A war of perceptions is on. Information is no where and even if it is there, it’s very less. It is not helping us in thinking in different ways. We need to ask the toughest of questions to those in power. But our job is not to dare them. It is not to rebuke them. It is not to shun them away. It is not to provoke them. It is not to threaten them. Our job is to question them, question them till the last. In this process, we often commit mistakes for which you have also pardoned us. But, many a time it appears that we are not committing mistakes but we are deliberately doing so.
The black screen during Ravish Kumar’s monologue
This is why we are taking you into the dark world. Please listen to our voice. Please make out the difference in the way we ask questions. Who is not worried and disappointed? If we fan that disappointment, it will create such a hot wave within you, causing a storm in you that will ultimately engulf and burn you, too. Do not look at the way in which TV channels have covered the incidents at JNU from a partisan viewpoint but from the societal and balanced perspective. Do you shout and talk to your wife? Do you shout and speak with your friend? Does your father shout like that at your mother? Why is it that the shouting by anchors sounds like that? ( Party ) Spokesperson are also like the anchors, threatening. Questions are getting hidden somewhere. None is bothered about the answers. Beat him, beat him, Catch him, Catch him, is what you hear. Once or twice, I have also got angry and shouted but I have not been able to sleep because of the tension it causes within me. I often wonder how our colleagues manage to shout and yell.
If answers can be obtained by shouting and screaming, then the Prime Minister should be shouting everyday to get work done. The Army chief should be appearing on television daily and shout. Everyone should shout at everyone. How can television be given so much liberty that instead of giving information, it is shouting at you and threatening us. How is it possible that it is creating a mob and provoking the mob saying- go and get him. He is a traitor. He is an anti national. What is an anchor who provokes mobs and collects a mob to act? What is he? In the entire world, it appears that the tribe of anchors who scream is only growing. You think he is correcting the situation by shouting. In reality, he not doing that.
Many spokesperson are abusing and threatening to shoot and kill. They do that to scare us so that we quietly endorse what they are saying. Everyday our TV anchors are delivering speeches like I am now. They have become spokesperson for nationalism. Everything is being seen from the viewpoint as nationalists or as traitors. The sacrifice by our soldiers is being politicised and in their name, people are called traitors. In this very country, the clothes of soldiers were torn at Jantar Mantar and their medals snatched away. Even those among them who had lost a limb or a part of their body during the war were not spared. Who goes to them to wipe their tears? Martyrdom is the highest sacrifice in our country, but is the political exploitation of martyrdom the highest deed?
In Kashmir, everyday anti India slogans are shouted. In today’s Indian Express, a police officer has said that how many of those shouting anti-India slogans can be arrested. We need to know as to how many have been arrested in the last year for shouting anti-India slogans since the BJP-PDP government was established . What is their number ? Almost every day, Pakistan flags are shown there or some terrorist organisation supports IS. What does the Kashmir issue have to do with the Muslims living in other parts of India ? There is no connection between the two. The issue of Kashmir has nothing to do with Islam. The Kashmir issue has its own complexities. It should be left to the government. The PDP believes Afzal Guru is a martyr. The PDP has not said yet about Afzal Guru what the BJP believes, that he is a traitor.
Despite this, the BJP chooses the PDP to lead their government. But what is tragic is the fact that this experiment is being devalued in the name of branding a few students at JNU as terrorists. What BJP did in Kashmir is a grand political initiative. History will give Prime Minister Narendra Modi a good place for this. Questions will continue to be raised over BJP leaving its principles. If Afzal Guru is a terrorist in JNU, what is he in Srinagar? There will be no end to the debate on complex issues if we look for a yes or a no answer. These issues can only remain in a logical society. We will become a mob. This is not good for democracy.
However, in the world of channels, all rules have been abandoned. Earlier we were taught that those who incite violence, make provocative speeches, cause enmity between two sections of society will not be shown or printed. What do you do now when anchors have begun to speak like this? They are giving all freedom possible for the spokesperson to say anything they want. Kanhaiaya’s speech video ran dangerously on TV screens without checking its authenticity. Now, TV Today network and ABP news have shown that it was a doctored video that was shown. If there has been a cut here and there, some slogans have been added elsewhere. If the videos are so different, it deserves a proper investigation. Then, how were we forced to come to that conclusion ?
Slogans were shouted against the JNU on the streets. Students were called traitors and anti-national. Will the channels take responsibility for showing doctored videos ? Will the anchors scream an equal number of hours to say that the videos shown were not the correct ones ? That their veracity was questionable ? In some, if Kanhaiya is talking about freedom from poverty, it has been shown as he was talking of freedom. So how was it believed that he was talking about freedom from the country ? Our colleague, Manish, went to his house to realise that his family is so poor that it lacks the capacity to even offer a cup of tea to media people who reached there. If a student in such a poverty stricken situation does not talk about freedom, will our politicians sitting in the lap of wealthy industrialists talk about it ?
Kanhaiya Kumar’s photo was shown in various angles for viewers to see him as a terrorist and a traitor. In one video, Kanhaiya is shown giving a speech with a disputed flag of India in the background. A photoshopped picture was added. Photoshop is being used often on social media now-a-days. It is so dangerous. Who are making groups on social media and fanning such things? Who is making Umar Khalid a terrorist and a traitor before any kind of evidence comes forward ? he also should not have run away. He should come out and say what he spoke and why did he deliver that speech.There is a difference between Kanhaiya and Khalid and the mob is slightly lenient on Kanahiya, but Khalid does not get this liberty.
Should we not have waited to run the verified video ? This is why we have made the screen dark. Today we will make you listen to some voices. Maybe some of you may go away from watching this screen. It can also be that some of you will listen to the voices which for weeks together have been haunting you. First you listen to the voices that were heard in the studies of various channels. We have not got all the voices in all channels but we play those which we could download. I am not interested in mentioning names because it could be that I may also have done so or may do so in the future.
What journalists have said is not any different from what spokespersons. It is as stormy as what anchors have said. They are no less terrible. Anchors have also said things as terrible as spokespersons. But, the manner in which the journalist has defined the nationalism is dangerous. My intention is only to present this picture to you. Please listen. And, listen carefully. Feel it while listening. But the way journalists have defined traitors in the name of nationalism, it is scary. My only aim is to caution. Listen to this. Listen to this carefully. Feel these words as you listen to them. When you listen to them, please note when your blood boils. When do you get excited. You have to keep in mind that none of the facts have been proven till now. Like the two channels have told you that the video has many versions. Thus no conclusions can be drawn about anything.
Your screen is dark because it is a repentance of Journalism for which all of us are responsible. Let me remind you, you can not see me. There is no technical fault. This is an attempt to reach your conscience so we can listen to what we say, how we say it, what happens by saying what we say.
Translated from the Hindi by Imran Qureshi)
A shorter, edited version of this appears in print