Good journalism is still around

This morning, a trusted scientist called my attention to a tweet thread by Jordan Fischer listing the many good stories journalists in the US had done that had improved the lives of people. The scientist then tagged me, presumably to respond to his request for someone to compose a similar thread of stories that journalists in India had produced to similar effect – but which he also suggested could push back against the low credibility Indian journalists had among the people who had abhorrent names (you know which ones) for our ilk.

The two of us had a short exchange during which I wrote an extended reply on my Notes app and shared a screenshot of it, to save me the trouble of threading it out. I’m pasting this reply below.

I’m glad Jordan did that thread but … I’m yet to see a reasoned rebuttal to the activities of journalists that makes moral as well as logical sense, and that’s why I’m reluctant to have to explain myself in response to such requests (to publish a thread of things journalism has done right, etc.).

For example, I’ve had an uncle watch the news on TV every night for a month and not once ask why channel X was freely showing a man being murdered or beaten unconscious or why channel Y was making ludicrous (to me) claims about a vaccine’s safety based on studies of mice – but he would take umbrage at every single report by The Wire, if only to ask, “Is this really true? Are you guys sure you’re not making this up?” This is not reasoned opposition to how different journalists are doing their jobs, leave alone journalism as an enterprise.

Beyond the level of taking exception to individual pieces, I’m yet to meet a person who, for example, has questions about why it’s not good for journalists to submit to external regulation or how different business models affect editorial decisions. It’s always been about how “irresponsible” we are to criticise the government at every turn, with a clear and widening divide between groups of people who are often pro-Hindutva and people who are not that the law of large numbers simply doesn’t explain. This is clearly, if only to me, not about journalism. It’s a contest of views, missing the point though it does, about the role and responsibility of every enterprise that claims to serve the people in a nationalist country.

And those who think journalists ought not to speak truth to power, but help expand the scope of such power – that’s when we become “press******s”. (I’m as averse as any journalist to use this term; I invoke it here to be clear about the sort of thinking I associate with it.) We don’t seem to become “press******s” when we pillory the Gandhi family for their dynastic politics, but we seem to do when we investigate corruption in the BJP. We don’t seem to become “press******s” when we pull up the West Bengal government for its incompetent response to the COVID-19 crisis, but we seem to do when we turn our attention to the ‘Gujarat model’ and its effects on public healthcare.

This doesn’t seem like it’s about what journalists are or aren’t doing but about what journalism stands in the way of. It’s about people undermining journalism for personal gains. And power is personal. It’s a personal choice to call journalists foul names because it’s a personal choice to decide which lines are okay to cross en route to whatever goals the utterer has in mind.