Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Calcutta Club Debate: "Is media misleading common people?"


The media are misleading the masses.

That was the rather damning verdict of the audience this evening at The Telegraph Calcutta Club National Debate with the team arguing for the motion — “This house believes that media is misleading the masses” — winning the show of hands.

It was a debate dominated by the C-word — from commitment to commerce, content to cricket — as Shobhaa De, R. Gopalakrishnan, Sandip Chatterjee and Swapan Dasgupta proved just a bit more persua-sive than Iqbal Chagla, Raj- deep Sardesai, Mukul Kesavan and Ramachandra Guha. The British deputy high commissioner in Calcutta, Simon Wilson, was the moderator.

Playing the “female Judas”, as she said she might be perceived, and opening for the proposition was writer and columnist Shobhaa De who felt there was a degeneration of the media because news itself was for sale.

The “Big C” — commitment — that journalists had started off their careers with, has been replaced by another “C” – commerce — she said. De then attacked the content of news citing the media’s obsession with John Abraham’s buttocks and Rahul Mahajan in Bigg Boss as examples of where the media has gone wrong.

Barrister Iqbal Chagla ripped apart De’s argument saying John Abraham’s buttocks and such “asinine content” did not define misleading.

He cited examples of the media reporting a senior lawyer in Delhi caught red-handed attempting to bribe a witness, taking up the case of the Jessica Lal murder among others, and asked the audience whether these were “misleading” the public.

He took the audience back to the “dark days” of the me- dia when even Rajiv Gandhi had to turn to the BBC for confirmation of his mother’s death because All India Radio would not dare say Indira Gandhi was dead. “A free and fearless media was and is something that I cherish and commend,” said Chagla.

Gopalakrishnan, a director of Tata Sons speaking for the motion, likened the problem of the media dealing with news to a condom salesman playing with many kids — all product complaints!

“The media does not deliberately mislead the masses. The media misleads because there is an embedded conflict of interest and it does not know how to deal with it,” felt Gopalakrishnan.

Sardesai, who identified himself as the soft target in the shooting gallery, declared the proposition for the evening as preposterous. “The media tells the story. You cannot shoot the messenger just because you do not like the message,” said the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN.

His C-word for the evening, Credibility, which is what his profession depended on.

Neurosurgeon Sandip Chatterjee — who according to Guha batted in the middle order like another famous Bengali Sourav Ganguly — drew the loudest cheers from the packed Calcutta Club lawns. He rubbished the notion of an all-knowing media that can talk about any topic under the sun because the brain after all has limited hard disk capacity.

Blasting the media for playing to the gallery, he accused them of leading the masses not from darkness to light but from darkness to further darkness. “The television-toting young men are more dangerous than the gun-toting young men because the gun-toting man only harms one individual, the television-toting young man who thinks he knows it all destroys not the individual but the very fabric on which our society exists,” said Chatterjee.

Writer and columnist Mukul Kesavan who spoke against the motion said the masses very often misled the media. “The media exists to entertain… and acts as a vehicle for identification and aspiration… that is not misleading.”

Dasgupta accused the media of taking up the mantle of the prosecutor, judge and executioner and even God. “The word sorry is absent from the lexicon of media. The media is never sorry,” said the senior journalist and columnist.

“Batting at number 11” in the 90-minute war of words, Guha stressed that the media did not mislead the masses, they “led the classes”.

But when stumps were drawn, the historian-cum-cricket-writer and his team of “nay-sayers” were beaten by the ayes” from the crowd that represented more class than mass.
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