I am sure most of us have not forgotten how our main stream media, especially TV Channels, dealt with Mr Sashi Tharoor for his famous ‘cattle class’ tweet. The reaction was much more than what was necessary for a simple tongue in cheek reply to a pointed question. Anchors competed among themselves, to establish that the Tweet in question was more of ‘foot in the mouth’ than ‘tongue in cheek’.
We were subjected to many debates where it was sought to be established that it is not right for the public personalities to communicate on social media because it can lead to such gaffes. More often than not, I felt that the outrage being orchestrated was directed against the medium than the message or the messenger.
My suspicion grew with the similar or even worse reactions that the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, continues to face on his use of Twitter. Each tweet of Mr Abdullah is dissected in the News channels and subjected to almost cruel criticism.
To prove my point, let me describe a recent incident involving Omar.
When the Tamilnadu Assembly passed a unanimous resolution seeking to save three persons sentenced to death for killing former PM Rajiv Gandhi and 16 others, there were too much jubilation in the State and too little protest in the country. A brazen political interference in the administration of justice did not find much protest, at least as much as it deserved. Therefore, I was only happy to read the following tweet from Omar Abdhullah:
“If J&K assembly had passed a resolution similar to the Tamil Nadu one for Afzal Guru would the reaction have been as muted? I think not.”
Afzal Guru is a Kashmiri. There are many people in Kashmir who would love to see Afzal shown some mercy and let off from the death penalty. There are bound to be pressure from those Kashmiris upon Chief Minister of the State. Under such circumstances, when another State passes such a resolution seeking mercy for killers, it would make any Chief Minister to think about the repercussions in his own State.
Quoting Afzal Guru’s example was a brilliant move, because it achieved three objectives at the same time: (i) Afzal Guru’s life is such a politicised issue in India; everyone was bound to understand the double standards when it comes to political reactions on administration of justice in similar terror cases, (ii) it highlighted the dangerous path being pioneered by Tamilnadu Assembly, and (iii) it highlighted our prejudices about all matters relating to Kashmir. His question stood vindicated when the Punjab CM wrote to President and Prime Minister seeking mercy for another convict who had killed 30 people in a terror act in Delhi and whose mercy petition got rejected by President. Again, there were only muted protests against this act as well.
However, I was surprised to see the reaction of Times Now Channel and its Editor, Arnab Goswami in their News Hour programme. Arnab went ballistic (though that in itself is not anything new) on how a Chief Minister can send such a Tweet. He was more outraged about a CM making such a suggestion in a sarcastic tweet than the Assembly passing a unanimous resolution!
Arnab ended his programme with a message directed to his viewers but clearly addressed to Omar. It almost challenged him to come on TV to take questions and explain the meaning of his tweet! The arrogance of a TV Anchor (an Editor, no less) and the contempt for Twitter as a medium was obvious in his words.
What generates such caustic reactions from other media, when a politician or other public figure uses a direct medium such as Twitter or Face book to communicate? Is it the fear of losing a monopoly over news and views?
When more than 100 people re-tweeted that message in question and many more discussed it over Twitter, there was nothing left for the Channels to tell us. They had little chance to twist the message in any way that suited them. Yet surprisingly, they tried precisely that... Times Now while doing a show based on a tweet did not find it necessary to put that tweet on their screen and let the viewers judge for themselves. The viewers are supposed to listen to the omniscient Anchor for whatever little Gyan that they deserve, not read a statement by themselves and decide what is right or wrong.
Just listen to the criticism that many Anchors of TV channels are subjected to on Twitter, for their biased views and faulty reporting. Till now their monopoly had helped them to pass their views as news to the unsuspecting viewers. However this is not possible any more, with more and more discerning people accessing direct information through internet and especially social media.
This is the danger that the main stream media is facing from social media. Howsoever they may wish, this phenomenon is not going to go away. It will only increase with more and more people getting access to some form or other social media. Therefore it is high time for the mainstream media to understand that truth and adapt themselves for survival. It is no more possible to monopolise dissemination of information.
However, old habits just refuse to die. Instead of adapting themselves to the changing world, they discuss issues like ‘should public figures stay away from social media like Twitter’! They try to intimidate and chase the newsmakers away from social media. They expect that no newsmaker must speak anything outside a TV Channel. If at all any newsmaker does such a mistake then s/he should immediately come to the Channels and explain their position to the obnoxious Anchors.
But the tide is turning for sure. Not for any longer, the main stream media can continue their monopoly on news. More so when we have younger leaders like Omar Abdullah who are willing to face the challenge and retort, again by way of Tweet:
“Just in case anyone is under the mistaken impression that I’ve been bullied off twitter- sorry but here I am & I’m not going anywhere :-)”
Well done, Mr Abdullah... You have earned our respect; both for speaking the bitter truth and for facing the challenge and staying put!