‘Scum & Liars’: Could Shashi Tharoor be Right About the Media?

Shashi Tharoor lost his cool after watching media coverage of Sunanda Pushkar’s death probe. But can he be blamed? 

3 min read
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor loses his cool, but can he really be blamed? (Photo: iStockphoto) 

Scummy channel accuses me of evading questions. I speak to the police &investigators, not to self-appointed vigilante liars. Told them so.

These vile people have sunk so low today in their venal desire to profit from a personal tragedy that my 17-month-old silence finally cracked.
– Shashi Tharoor, Congress leader

These were the less than civil words of the otherwise erudite Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on being asked questions about his alleged complicity in the also-alleged murder of his wife Sunanda Pushkar.

Frankly, this is not the first time media and journalists have been targeted by people with clout and power. We are living in times when so many not-so-kind new names are being coined for the media. There was a time when someone wanting to deride journalists would call them hacks or news junkies, at worst.

Now we are called ‘presstitutes’ by some, news ‘traders’ by the others. As someone who has been a part of this tribe for almost two decades, it does bother me sometimes. But then I tell myself that perhaps we are to be blamed for this mess that we find ourselves in.

Mr Tharoor may have lost his cool, as he himself admitted in later tweets. But even in the clarification, his hatred for the media was for all to see.

‘Scum & Liars’: Could Shashi Tharoor be Right About the Media?

The question to be raised is that at what stage does the media cross the line? Is there a defined line in the first place? A bit of context is needed to address this. There is no doubt that mainstream media has lost a lot of credibility. Whether it’s TV or print, editorial filters in news organisations have indeed taken a hit.

Whether for ‘corporate’ reasons or political, or the pressures of competition, or the proliferation of news organisations that may have led to a ‘thinning’ of skill-levels - the ability, within most news outfits, to do full justice to a news story, is far reduced today.

In recent times, I do remember wondering during news meetings, as to why a particular story has been picked up. At times, it’s herd mentality – the competition is doing this story, let us all do it. And so, the entire media circus is often seen going after one individual, with many in the business simply ‘copy-pasting’ what the others are doing.

The concept of every piece of news being termed as “breaking” trivialises the media. (Photo: iStockphoto)
The concept of every piece of news being termed as “breaking” trivialises the media. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Often even trying to ‘out-do’ each other in terms of the ‘most screaming’ headline, or by labelling every trivial fresh detail as ‘breaking news’. The Sunanda Pushkar story being a case in point.

There is also the growing trend of going after the ‘softer targets’. Here again, read Shashi Tharoor. He is not the most powerful of politicians. Yet very visible. And so, the ideal ‘mark’ for newsroom heads.

Lalu Yadav is another favourite whipping boy. But the wily politician rarely seems to mind because he knows his political fortunes cannot be made or unmade by news channels. Ditto Mayawati. Ditto Narendra Modi. Ditto Sonia Gandhi. Ditto Jayalalithaa – all politicians who interact with the media on their own terms, preferring mainly to ‘address’ the media, rather than be ‘questioned’ by it.

Not verifying facts before putting them on-air is a threat to the industry itself. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Not verifying facts before putting them on-air is a threat to the industry itself. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Us journalists, are nowadays, increasingly making matters worse for ourselves by not always sifting fact from fiction. In the era of aggressive #hashtag journalism, it’s difficult to take a step back, gather and assess facts, organise information better, stay objective, and get it dead right.

Media today is not just a participant in news, it is actually jumping-in with a sharp opinion of its own (often built on sparse facts) and actively attempting to mould the discourse directly. And doing it in a tearing hurry, and therefore, often getting it wrong.

And then, yes, we will be called some not-so-nice names.

(Bhupendra Chaubey is a senior political journalist and anchor based in New Delhi)

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