All Rajdeep Sardesai is doing is selling CNN-IBN to its viewers. To the people already watching the show, all he needs to convey is the result and a few fair opinions, for which a panel sits adjourned. No. He has to turn into the devil’s advocate and ask people questions they are not privileged to answer. I believe that there is a line between journalistic inquisition and journalistic abuse, and when that line is crossed, it means the journalist knows his limits and is still willing to cross them just to make a point. Not acceptable. If he wishes to make a point, then he will make it if and only if he makes it from within the same limits in which it is resourcefully valid.
The moment I get maddened by Sardesai’s attempts to scrape the bottom of a shallow barrel, I switch to NDTV only to find the one journalist compared to whom Sardesai seems sensible (at least in this issue): Barkha Dutt. Dutt gained prominence with her apt coverage of the Kargil War, but the Kargil War was an issue that had pan-regional and pan-ideological fallouts. Being gravely intense and critically inquisitive is acceptable in such contexts, if not being necessary, but journalists I feel need to recognize and understand the fundamental differences between the stories that they report. Let me remind you that what I am talking about concerns the theory of journalism and not the content of that journalism itself. What Dutt does wrong is to cover each story without any consideration for its position in a larger system, be it a political, social, economic and/or religious position. In the process, the neutrality of her position—or the ideally mandated neutrality—becomes mired in what seems like her interests in prolonging her contract with her employer.
She creates news out of nothing!
Once I saw Dutt’s face, I switched back to CNN-IBN. I would have switched to some Tamil news channel, but there again, the channels that do have the funds to maintain a large studio and host a panel of eminent scholars are those that have a significant political backing. I think the needless examination by Sardesai of the various political leaders from the south and east of India was moderated by the presence of such scholars as Ramachandra Guha, Sashi Kumar and P Sainath. Guha, especially, was well-mannered, dignified and knew what he was talking about, which I have now come to associate with the ultimate freedom of speech: a freedom that does not come at the price of any securities or situational promises (which are more pleasing to the self).
The conclusion I choose to make from these observations is that while Dutt and Sardesai are hindered by their duties due the people who sponsor their individual appearance on the media, their approach cannot be allowed to continue: the information-creation and information-distribution arms must be necessarily exclusive, and so also the industry that distributes the information cannot participate in creating the information. Since such scholars are under no obligation to be frequent with the broadcast of their opinions, an institution seems desirable that will manufacture that obligation but place no remuneration-structures in place. As a result, people like Guha can be heard more often, the sort of opinions that have greater chances of reflecting the position of the common man can be heard more often.