Do Some of the Pillars of Democracy need a Shake-Up?

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Democracy has rested on four pillars. The legislature, executive, the judiciary, and arguably the most important, the press. All the pillars need improvement, some far more than others. The world press, for instance, has really become dirty. When in reality, it should be a transparent communication channel between the citizen, the country, and the world.

In an increasingly connected globe, traditional media surprisingly continues to wield disproportionately high power. And it has been responsible for numerous crimes, the world over. From keeping entire populations in the dark, to convincing them about who the good guys and bad guys are. By encouraging unsolicited violence on other countries. Press has made large sections of otherwise peace-loving populations completely convinced of the need for war. Not always because any country was under attack. But because politicians and industry stood to benefit from tricking citizens and getting them onboard. And with business people and politicians ever interested in wielding influence over large media houses, it makes one wonder how we are allowing ourselves to be subjected to lies.

The Indian press too, continues to scale new depths by doctoring news or hiding it altogether, to favor various political parties.

Anyway, interestingly, the Congress, among the bigger corrupt parties, recently figured a simple way to fix the distorted media problem. After taking a lot of bashing by two leading TV news channels for some time, the party recently banned the channels from their press conferences. How much is a TV news channel worth if it doesn’t have access to a certain section of national news? Not as much as it had before, right?

Mahendra Palsule highlighted in a good post, about the fifth pillar in a democracy, the (silent) citizen.

Think about it. Let’s assume these two channels got a reality-check after this banning. Imagine then what we the people can, and must do, to get the press functioning the way it is meant to, not the underhand way it is paid to. The day the masses stop consuming lies served to us by these media, we will have withdrawn the right we gave them, and which they continue to abuse.

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The Earning of Trust

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The Earning of Trust.

I recently subscribed to NewsLaundry. It is a very young but self-proclaimed “media critique, news and current affairs portal”. It claims to operate on the obvious but often forgotten premise that news should be for the masses. And not for advertisers, or to distort reality for the masses.

Current times are seeing increasingly low times for the media and the news. Between fake and distorted news, influencing an action in the masses has been reduced to an equation. And those who can just manage to see beyond the superficial intentions, can see a much greater rot.

Having worked extensively in the small & medium business and startup space for over a decade, it got me thinking of the growth of a startup, which in many ways, is directly comparable to the growth of an individual. Words and deeds, and the way people treat others, etc., all add or subtract from their reputation.

In the business world, I have seen some truly promising startups struggle. And in some cases, the only holding them back, the limited reputation due to their recency in the game. On the other end of the spectrum are large companies. Already having established reputation, benefits they enjoy are often disproportionately higher than their incremental capabilities and passion. All thanks to reputation. To summarize that, the life of a business starts with abilities and energy that often far exceeds the reputation it commands; till, over time, it gets to a stage where it has the reputation it needs, but then must ideally invest into ability and energy to maintain it. Something often forgotten.

In an ideal scenario, it should have been the veterans of media setting examples for every starry eyed journalist passing out of college, on what media truly stands for in a domestic and a global setting. In reality, however, many of them have reduced themselves to being corporate or political (or both) mouthpieces. Essentially having sold their souls to ‘influence the masses for power and profits’ kind of devils.

Which paves the way for the startups to step in and do what the stalwarts should have. Clean up the mess. Many years ago, when I started my design strategy consulting practice, I had written a few lines about the importance of these startups and young companies. Sharing the same here:

“Time and change are formidable resistances for even large, global companies. Imagine then, their effect on Start-ups and Small & Medium Businesses.

The world however, needs more enterprising young companies, to lead global innovation, to keep larger businesses on their toes, and to maintain a good pace in innovation and technological advances for the benefit of mankind. In fact, most often, it is these young, innovative companies that are also closest in touch with present and future needs of consumers, understanding and responding rapidly to global and local problems with innovative and logical solutions.”

By the looks of it, seems like the young will also have to be the ethical torchbearers of the industry. The journey will be challenging and mostly uphill. And the possible reward? Future generations of truly free and ethical minds seems like a worthy enough goal to make this seemingly impossible pursuit meaningful. Wishing NewsLaundry the best on its journey to keep news unadulterated!

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Do You Like Your News Well Done, or Rare?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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Image: source

A few years ago, my dad had pointed out how refreshing it was to hear All India Radio. All India Radio is India’s national, public news radio station. He said it was a welcome change to listen to just the raw news, especially after years of private news channels on TV.

It made sense too. Paid media often tends to take raw news, and use it to serve us a dish of their own, perhaps to justify job positions and salaries. And it has becoming increasingly normal for media outfits to add to the facts. And unfortunately what they sometimes add, is either their own, or sometimes others’ narrow or biased views. News in any form, is being increasingly hyped up by taking high-definition close-ups of trivialities leading to, or occurring after the event itself.

“In journalism, there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right.”   – Ellen Goodman

The result is a magical transformation of facts into a movie, with these directors, at their discretion, deciding which part of the story must draw our attention. And they will feed us their masterpiece with a pride and authority second only to a corrupt politician campaigning before an election. The news itself, portrayed as a form of pure, unadulterated truth; and the media outfit, the only keyhole through which one could see the world.

While the recent news related website startups did offer refreshing hope; after a point, some of them failed to live up to the expectation. Especially given the often impeccably written, but sketchy or poorly researched stories. The final stories would either be misrepresentations, or a close-up of only one angle of the elephant.

“Journalists should be watchdogs, not lapdogs.” – Newton Lee

It is an innately human trait, to convey events either filtered through, or supplemented by, own viewpoints.

However, if you take a step back and look at the pattern that has been emerging, you might see that news is taking an increasingly dramatic turn in this age of information overload, to actually draw our limited attention to events. And yet, the media have become veterans who sensationalize news to such a degree, that they can get our attention and reactions on just about any news piece they choose, irrespective of its actual importance or relevance.

At this rate news is being increasingly sensationalized, only the news that is increasingly shouted at us from all directions actually makes it to our heads. And almost every, more important news from what the media decides as being irrelevant, automatically getting filtered out. Imagine how ugly news might become in few years time.

Wall Street Journal

Image: Same newspaper, same date; different titles for different markets – one for liberals, one for conservatives

Because for every rape in a metro that is debated for 2-3 days, there are more gruesome ones happening in smaller towns and villages that have never, and will never be heard of. For every terrorist that is hung, there are thousands of families who have lost livelihood or their loved ones to corrupt politicians and scams.

If 16-years of fasting could not draw the attention of our so-called leaders to a matter as basic and important as our very independence and freedom, do you think the future is better off with increasingly sensationalized and fairy-tale type news, or just the bare, ugly truth?

Because the more our news has been dressed-up over the years, the more blind and deaf we have become.

India – The State of Affairs…

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India – The State of Affairs

Just when we Indians thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse…

We got an opportunity to host the Commonwealth games. But instead, Kalmadi and his cronies stretched their luck way beyond the Milky Way with corruption. And the Prime Minister’s office magically stretched a sanction to several multiples of the same. Wish someone would do that with my pay too. How Rs. 70000 crore of hard-earned money vanished over a span of a few years. And into how many Swiss accounts of how many politicians, we’ll probably never know.

Yet somehow, the poor are still poor, people still pay taxes in the hope of betterment of the country, and politicians still spend it thinking its part of an inheritance their grandparents left them.

And while the CWG scam unfolds, next month it’ll be 2 years since the Mumbai attack.! Two years.! That’s seven hundred and thirty days. And with our judiciary system sitting with their thumbs up their ass, we’re still trying the terrorist responsible.

Perhaps that’s why most crazies (terrorists n many politicians) have the impression that everything they shouldn’t be doing, can perhaps still be pulled off with ease and gotten away with, if it’s in India.

Left to the citizens, we’d have tried and sentenced the terrorist in less than a week after the attack. Who the hell cares about the defense. He is a culprit. He killed nearly 200 innocent Indians, and the legal system gives a f@(& about what he has to say about anything? News channels still manage to keep debating. Courts will have hearing after hearing. And before we know it, we might even be talking about it at the third anniversary.

More than anything else, it’s an indirect way of humiliating those brave Indians who faced the terrorists in that fateful attack.

At the bottom of it all, guess more than anything else, we Indians lack self-respect.

Take any small attack on Israel or on Israelis in the past. It would tell you what or how a nation should be towards its citizens. They’d hit back so hard, not only would it not instill fear in the enemy, but also cultivate a sense of belonging among their citizens.

Reminds me of a hilarious dialog from the movie ‘Bad Company‘ which describes the incompetence, if I may, of the concerned authorities. In the movie, the hero, Chris Rock tells the head of an FBI team, “Man, you guys can’t even find Saddam Hussein! If you told a woman at 8 in the morning, that her husband was sleeping with Saddam Hussein, she’d find Saddam by 8 that night!”

Look at it from the point of view of the brave Indian cops who nabbed the terrorist in hope of a trial and execution. To witness or read about the inane tantrums of the damn terrorist, two years after the crime.

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