One has long urged the mainstream media to grow a spine in the face of a government that demands supine obeisance and breaks election campaign and other rules at will. One always thought it is better media business, to tell the truth than to keep praising a government and a supreme ruler who seems to have many problems with democratic functioning. A ruler who cannot hold an open press conference for seven years is obviously not comfortable with the diversity of the Indian press. A ruler who proclaims that he has defeated the Coronavirus and that the nation led by him should be held up as an example to the world.
Whenever an issue of fact is raised, such as the shortage of oxygen, the non-ordering of vaccines, the craziness of asking for a particular ‘Indian’ vaccine trial to be completed by 15 August 2020, or the instigation of violence in the Delhi riots, or the number of oxygen-shortage related deaths, or the actual supply problems and schedules of vaccine procurement, the government, its ministers and minions generally come out with a campaign of ‘fake news’ and the ‘motivated derailment of the fastest growing economy and democratic polity in the world.’
The stories and photographs of bodies barely buried in mounds on the banks of rivers, including the Ganga, and the pictures of bodies floating in the river were published by several mainstream papers, including Dainik Bhaskar and Sandesh (in Gujarat). Perhaps they felt that the time had come to tell the truth – possibly it was no longer possible to continue lying to the readers they still had and who were all too aware of the needless fatalities around them. For a long time, Dainik Bhaskar was one of the cheerleaders (in webinar after webinar) of the pandemic economy returning to normal and “Bharat” taking up the consumption and advertising slack of the country’s metropolises and urban centers.
Perhaps the marked contrast with mainstream dailies that described the burial of the dead on the edges of rivers as a convention or practice related to religion or caste will win credibility and readers for those news media that spoke up.
Perhaps Dainik Bhaskar’s sharing its journalistic and photographic services with the New York Times or the Pegasus hacks were the last straws for a government that is seemingly unafraid of its citizens thinking that its shrill propaganda will always drown out plain facts and reason. In any case, it seems that the mainstream media has, over the past few months – with a little help from the courts and even the Supreme Court – been searching for its voice and perhaps even its spine.
It is refreshing to see media after media, digital, and small regional television channels join the outspoken digital news media platforms and a few honest commentators such as Ravish Kumar on NDTV India in speaking up, since truthtelling, eventually, is good business too. However, the challenge is far from over, as the government is determined to enact draconian laws that threaten the freedom of expression and privacy that are the very basis and spirit of a democratic country.
The readers lost during the pandemic can only be won back by seizing the opportunity, telling the truth, and realistically and honestly helping the community of citizens by extolling the virtues of science, tolerance, and change. It is our constitutional right and obligation.