TO QUESTION or not to question, is the question. That indeed is the question that is haunting me, and dare I say, to very many like me, for quite some time now.
The question assumes an even greater relevance in this ‘age of selfies’.
The profession of pen-pushers has always been associated with the need to question, and question, and question more. But if we are in such complete awe of any person that we jostle for selfies with them, shall we ever be able to put difficult posers to him, or her? Questions, that may unsettle them?
So should journalists be jostling for selfies with others, whosoever, however high or mighty?
I can already guess some of the questions coming my way.
‘What’s wrong about (or with) selfies? I am a huge fan of this person. He is such an inspiration to me/us? It was such a privilege.’
Picture perfect, I say. But there is a problem here. True, scribes too are part and parcel of the social milieu they come from. And their perceptions are very much shaped by the social milieu.
It’s also true that the sciences engaged in mapping human behaviour do not ascribe to the theory of 100 per cent objectivity. If the subject of investigation is human behaviour, subjectivity is bound to creep in.
But would that imply that the scientist then wantonly abandons his primary tools? Can an intelligent observer of human behaviour afford to ignore the larger picture? Should they not at least try to maintain a bare minimum distance from the subject in order to arrive at an objective assessment? After all, one has to observe things from a distance if one wants to present an unbiased picture. Try one must, even if cent per cent detachment from the subject may be an impractical idea.
For journalists, therefore, very much like social scientists, it’s imperative not to look at things from the prism that others have reserved for them.
Selfies are selfies. But what about the questions?
If we are not supposed to ask questions then what is this business of high tea with the collective of scribes? Is this journalism? Or, as we all suspect, are we PR guys masquerading as journalists?
We are no longer asking questions. We are churning out ‘truth’ as others want to get it manufactured through us. That, indeed, is a colossal tragedy.
While there is nothing wrong to stress our social affiliations or groupings or even the primordial loyalties, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell us from the well-oiled propaganda machinery.
And, the way we have been giving our basic journalistic ethos a go-by, whatever we may be left with, we are bound to jostle for those selfies more often now at the cost of professional pride and competence.
It’s the job of a journalist to inform. It’s not just about taking dictations.
Which brings me to what Romila Thapar was quoted as saying in that New Delhi meeting: “There are more academics in existence than ever before but most prefer not to confront authority even if it debars the path of free thinking. Is this because they wish to pursue knowledge undisturbed or because they are ready to discard knowledge, should authority require them to do so.”
The whole debate here is about the path of free thinking. If we have the liberty of thinking, then as a natural corollary to that, we also have to have the liberty to ask questions — difficult questions, questions that make others grope for the exit route.
In the imperfect society that we live in today a plethora of questions are begging our attention. So why are we not asking those difficult questions?
Have we, in our over-zealousness for selfies, forgotten to delve deeper into our inner selves and look at things as they are, and not what we have assumed them to be.
And, if we have wilfully chosen to be silent, can we do justice to our profession?
It’s even worse if our silence turns out to be a selective one.
I believe there’s no pressing need yet to write an obit piece on the journalism of courage. But one must confess that the trend in the Indian media these days is forcing us to revisit the moot point time and again: to question or not to question?
That, I reiterate, is the question.
(This article first appeared in the Times of Oman on October 30, 2014. Below please find the page)