The state runs on taxes, and is liable to its citizenry, however the individual is unable to demand accountability. The Indian citizen has no serious platform to voice her concerns, of harnessing institutional power to fight systemic battles. Consequently, we now have a country where citizen activism is either all or nothing. It’s an all out battle, which the common person struggling just to survive, exhausted amid the delays, chaos, chronic infrastructure shortfall/failure and pollution cannot wage. Activism cannot and should not be at the exclusionary cost of personal life, and livelihood. Media must provide serious relevant coverage, accurate information, and democratic access to voice public concerns. This is media’s non-negotiable obligation to society, by virtue of preferential access, mass reach and the ability to shape public opinion. Yes, the Mumbai attacks are a wake up call to our government, but also to our media, one of the original and last bastions of democracy. India urgently needs renewed civic engagement, and it is the media’s responsibility to create that platform, not as a temporary reaction to some outrage, but as a permanent social structure.
Much has been said about the stumbling state response to the terror attacks in Mumbai, however we also need to question the role news media, and its commercialization has played in the run up to the status quo. Our government has yet again proved incompetent, but the media is equally culpable because of its fitful coverage (typically post-fact) of systemic lapses, and growing shift to mercenary reporting. Our news media has become irrelevant, derelict in its obligation to the society to serve as a platform to voice citizen concerns and shape public opinion, and has lost its moral authority as a watchdog of the administration and establishment. In India, media careens between froth, marketing, reporting, opinion, and reacting. Seriousness is often dislodged by commercialism: editor of leading national daily turned gourmand and celebrity interviewer; front page coverageof celebrity weddings, gastric troubles; fatter “lifestyle” supplements; hour long adulatory shows on news channels about an Indian superstar who frankly claims to have no ambitions other to have fun and entertain the masses etc. Predictably, the preponderance of coverage of the attacks and its aftermath is superficial too: trending to human interest, pandering to mass emotional outrage, instead of focusing on systemic problems. “Serious” reporters are doing talk shows of sorts, calling on their guest panel former soap stars, actors, and socialites. Reports are rife with accusations of the administration’s callousness, dropped balls, and self-righteous calls for more heads to roll. Journalism in the face of a real crisis is laced with passionate rhetoric, not real questions and solutions.We are a democracy of a billion plus people with the largest youth population in the world, large sections poor and uneducated, inadequate social services, and a country in transition. It is imperative that our influential intelligentsia focus unfailingly on meaningful issues since the opportunity cost is enormous. The government is increasingly sidelined by private enterprise; unprepared peasants are migrating to straining cities; and the nouveau riche anxious to express their nascent individuality is turning to incongruous consumption. Our academia is intently focused on the graduate’s financial remuneration, and naturally, commercial interests don’t provide any discipline. Entertainment czars consume our attention, shape public opinion, and increasingly control our daily life by forming a nexus with private industry, and entering the administration. We have mall adjacent to mall adjacent to mall, and almost no democratic recreational space. Mostly the middle-class Indian comes in contact with one another to consume, an individualistic pursuit, thus developing no collective voice or opinion. Further, democracy in India has many pitfalls: the educated vote counts as much (or as little) as the uneducated. Nepotistic, political power is concentrated; political will is weak, and further emasculated by our coalition government structure. Any one can start a new political party, garner a few electoral votes, cobble together a patchwork government, and sporadically threaten to fell the government if their personal demands aren’t met. As a country we can’t afford to feed or educate our children. We use our poorest as cattle, carting heavy burden on their backs in crowded urban markets. Our farmers are committing mass suicide. Religion is a recurring flash point. There is so much going on in India that we can’t afford to dilute our focus on the important issues with front page/prime time coverage of entertainment. Moreover, print media, especially national newspapers are newspapers of record, and the current news standards will leave many important events that shape our country undocumented for our future generations.