Monday, July 29, 2013

NDTV debates free speech, misses it by a mile

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference.
“…but Amit, Amit, let’s not lose focus of the larger issue.”
Thus interrupted the anchor. Read this in isolation, and you would believe that Amit was completely losing focus of some larger issue and was merely ranting away at his will.
This interruption by the anchor, Kashish, happened on her show – The Social Network on NDTV. What was discussed on the show? NDTV describes it thus:
On the show today, we discuss how the removal of a website — — intended as a satirical take on Narendra Modi… and whether in the run up to the 2014 polls, the vibrant space of social media is under threat of being appropriated to settle political scores.
This show was to discuss the removal of a website and it’s consequences. Amit Malviya was mentioning why this website (on which the whole show was based) sounds very dubious and was reeling out facts that were exposing the dirt behind the creation and closure of the website. And as these facts were being recealed, two things caught my eye.
» The anchor tries to interrupt and asks Amit to focus on the “larger issue”.
» The smirk by co-panelist Nikhil from Medianama, that implied blatant dismissal of Amit’s arguments.
Before we get into discussion on how this programme exemplifies all that is wrong with the way TV media has killed decent discourse, let’s get some background check.
The website was put up and brought down within a day.
On the day it was put up, the link to this site was almost immediately tweeted by many mainstream journalists. It was soon pointed out to them that there existed a from 2010 , and was also pointed out that none of them ever bothered to tweet about it.
Congress workers, leaders, eNREGA recruits — all of them went gaga over this site which is a rip-off of
The very next day, the site was brought down. The owner said he was being forced to shut it down because of pressure etc. He also took the name of to show how sattire is only acceptable against the Congress and not the BJP. Faking news owner, Rajesh Roushan, gave a befitting reply to that harangue.
The mainstream media latched on to this news almost immediately. They were 100 per cent sure that this was muzzling of free speech. Without a doubt, they believed that this website was genuine in the first place and the owner was being hounded by BJP to close it down. Established journalists like Praveen Swami even called upon “Modi Bhakts” to dare to host this site again. But even before he had made that clarion call, many “Modi Bhakts” had already offered to do the same, but to no avail.
Not to be left far behind, Sagarika Ghose sent two tweets:
Attack UPA and everyone loves you, attack Modi and you are attacked, hunted down and forced to quit …

BJP says website issue is technically flawed. Conspiracy theory or technicality? Tweet me! Will try and do a debate too.
Please note the generalisations: “everyone loves you”, “attacked, hunted-down” etc. Pretty strong words for this situation, but such things don’t bother Sagarika Ghose — the important thing is that the BJP has to pay for a foolish act of an anonymous owner. Facts be damned.
Meanwhile, active tweeter Suresh Nakhua did some research behind the scenes and came up with this superb expose of the website.
NDTV is unruffled by all these facts. They come up with the show: “Muzzled by the fan mob” and it is on this show that Amit Malviya was asked to “focus on larger issue”.
The entire show is based on the premise that the free speech of one gentleman, who merely wanted to potray satire, was muzzled. It somehow became an accepted fact that the owner was indeed hounded to close the site. What exactly is the basis for this conclusion? Why was Amit Malviya not heard when he was reeling out facts exposed by Suresh Nakhua? At the beginning of the programme, NDTV aired the views of three viewers. Two of them were anti-BJP, one was “neutral” – why this blatant one-sided presentation of an argument?
Why was Nikhil from Medianama smirking when Amit was presenting these facts? Is it so unimaginable that this website take-down episode is indeed a fraud perpetrated to diminish the BJP?
The owner of the site sent a separate mail to NDTV, which was read out on the show. He/she was saying something on the lines of ‘no one is responsible for this and all that he/she said earlier was exaggerated’. His innocent intention “was to point out that election campaigns were moving further and further away from policy.”
This point was something that Nikhil from Medianama also brought out on this show — that there are no policy-based debates that will get him interested. For starters, this particular show and debate was not on policy, but on a fradulent website attempting to create ripples.
As far as policies are concerned, I will just quote three speeches of Modi in recent times – first at the SRCC, New Delhi; second at FICCI, Kolkata; and the third at a Network18 event in New Delhi. All three focused on various policies and how they have benefited the people of Gujarat. There were Q&A sessions on what kind of policies can make India a better place. Instead of debating policies, Sagarika Ghose was even caught lying on Twitter about Modi’s interactions. It is a pity that the anonymous owner and Nikhil from Medianama refused to get into those discussions, and instead tell us about the fall in discourse!
In fact, Nikhil from Medianama is so frustrated with the discourse that he wants “his space” back! I am totally confused on someone stealing someone’s space on the social media. How is that even possible? If you are not putting out views with fears of being bombarded with counter-views and questions, why are you blaming the medium for it? Are you not expecting any naysayers at all? If so, that is pretty naïve. If someone is abusing you, you are free to block and disengage – why this cry of victimhood of “my space is being appropriated”? This argument is peddled by almost every mainstream anchor and it is very difficult to understand the logic behind this argument!
The anchor Kashish also tells us that she almost stopped discussing stuff on Twitter! She apparently has gone through the tweets of another panelist, @gkhamba, for the past week and noticed that he hasn’t tweeted anything politically. She asks him if he deliberately avoided doing it, to which @gkhamba gives a nice reply!
I only wish the anchor had seen the tweets of @gsurya on similar lines. The abuse he resorts to is beyond shameless. Yet, NDTV, the champion of civil discourse on social media, gives a platform to this serial abuser (as it did earlier too, for other abusers). Not only do they give him a platform, they even allow his flawed victimhood narrative to go unchallenged by asking us to “focus on the larger picture”.
The highlight of the entire program though was these assertions from the anchor. From ~18:12:
“The whole idea of social media is also to allow people who want to stay anonymous to make their point. And here’s a gentleman who was only trying to do satire. This is not even regular trolling. This is not even trolling as we know it.”
Ah, the irony of this statement! Old timers will recall NDTV’s group editor’s constant complaints against “anonymous handles” on Twitter! And now we have “regular trolling” and “trolling as we know it” becoming part of our vocabulary!


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