'Blasphemy' Controversy: Why Should TV Media Be Let Off The Hook?

by Dr Moushumi Sen Sarma - Jun 18, 2022 01:30 PM +05:30 IST
'Blasphemy' Controversy: Why Should TV Media Be Let Off The Hook? TV channels make us look like we are quite incapable of having balanced, courteous, articulate debates.
Snapshot
  • Controversy is the currency on which media channels thrive, but if we want the nation to progress, we need less sensationalism, less controversy.

    We need to be mindful of our image in the world that is being broadcast by our own media channels.

I feel for her. I know how it is to get emotionally carried away and say, even shout something in the heat of the moment, only to find that you have accidentally detonated a bomb in your own face.

It seems to me that people on Indian television are doing this all the time, shouting themselves red in the face, hurling insults at each other, not letting the other person get a word in edgewise. But it is one thing to do it when you are a minor fish in the vast ocean that is India’s political landscape, and quite another thing when you happen to be the spokesperson for a party that is under intense global scrutiny.

But was she really insulting that certain other community? That part of the world populated by the brethren of this community certainly believes so.

But as a lot of people have mentioned on social media, even posting video clips of pillars of society talking about the same topic, as evidence, what she said was what if she would bring into the debate simple facts that one can actually cross-check and find in what we call in academia “primary literature” - the source.

The problem is however, two-part.

One, I could state some well-known facts about you to your face, and you might find it insulting. We all know such examples from our own lives.

The second part of the problem is that often what we say is not that important as how we say it. In theatre, a common device to train actors to emote, is to make them say the same phrase in multiple ways, conveying a different emotion each time.

During the course of the debate, Sharma happened to commit both mistakes, and in a style that has become the accepted modus operandi for all these live-streamed shouting matches.

Part of my family is somewhat unfamiliar with Indian culture. When they chance upon one of these 'shout-fests' while changing channels, they are completely taken aback and dismayed. “Why are they shouting at each other like that?” they want to know.

Truth be told, I myself cannot stand it for more than a minute before I end up switching off the idiot-box or exit YouTube altogether to spare myself a headache. I am actually surprised that not more controversies have erupted over the past few years since this shouting became fashionable.

Or maybe they have, and I have been living under a rock. Actually, I have been living abroad, which kind of amounts to the same thing. I did not have my finger on the Indian pulse, so to speak, and therefore was really taken aback to find that television journalism has hit such lows and nobody seems to mind.

But I will guess that people who are not exposed to Indian media channels day in and day out, do find it disturbing, offensive, and even insulting. Internet trolls latching onto Nupur Sharma is one thing, certain apparently friendly countries lodging protests through the highest official channels is quite another thing.

What could have happened to trigger that? Simple. Get a clip of that 'debate', edit it to make it look like Nupur said what she did without any provocation, and I promise you, most members of other cultures will find it quite appalling.

It is important that people in the public eye mind what they say and how they say it. Sometimes stating the truth is the last thing you should be doing. The truth will not always win you an argument, nor will it win you friends, and it will most certainly backfire if you are going to shout it at them.

Take an example from the PM. What he must have to put up with just to keep the country running! But please show me one example of him losing complete self-control in public since he became Prime Minister.

Or take the example of our Minister for External Affairs. Recently, I watched proudly as he parried one cynical question after another from foreign journalists, in his answers he called a spade a spade with such a devastating calmness that everybody got the message without being able to take offence.

More importantly and urgently though, we need to be mindful of our image in the world that is being broadcast by our own media channels.

They make us look like we are quite incapable of having balanced, courteous, articulate debates; every discussion looking like a fight in the village square - about whose goat ate the clothes hanging on the washing line. Nothing bad about village culture, there is something liberating about being able to let off steam like that, but I do believe debates on national media channels should go back to the golden age of restraint.

I know controversy is the currency on which media channels thrive, but if we want the nation to progress, we need less sensationalism, less controversy. Sometimes, we just need to quieten down and put our noses to the grindstone, and I do believe the time is now.

We are at that cusp of time when our actions as a nation could either propel us into becoming a global powerhouse, or we could gouge out bits of our own flesh and end up as the backbencher we were when we got our Independence. Which one would you rather be?

Dr. Moushumi Sen Sarma. Thanks to her father’s central government job, she grew up like a nomad in India. After a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from the Indian Institute of Science, she worked as a scientist in the USA for seven years, then became a writer, mother, and actor. She has been living in Germany for the last twelve years, but keeps looking for excuses to come back to the motherland, proudly waving her (still) Indian passport.

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