The trickiest part about news is that it just happens. It happens irrespective of whether the media is present or not. It happens irrespective of what time it is. It happens when it shouldn’t.
A friend knocked herself down with a couple of drinks at the end of a long, hard day’s work. She had just about caught 20 winks when she got a phone call. A phone call that changed the course of the next twenty hours of her life. A phone call that snatched away in a moment all the sleep she had accumulated.
The Kanchi Acharya had been arrested.
It was now well past midnight. It was raining cats and dogs and probably cows. You know country roads, cattle is omnipresent. So, Kanchipuram was seventy-five kilometres and over two hours away, thanks to the pothole-ridden stretch. And my TV journalist friend started out in search of truth. And arrived at a version of it four hours after the arrest. At another version of it a little later. And, yet another version a while after that. And another. And yet another. That’s the thing about truth or rather what we think is the truth. It keeps changing.
Which is why, in most cases, what gets reported is not exactly the truth but a version of it.
Is it really possible to get to the bottom of truth when you are miles away from when it really happened? When there are multiple versions of it, different sides, multiple perspectives and changing contexts?
Whatever it is, the role of the media is to get to the truth or the closest we can get to it.
No matter what it takes, some may say.
And that is where lies the debate of ethics.
An investigative sting-operation ‘Tehelka’ style might lead to the truth, but are the means to arrive at the truth right? Where does private space end and public space start? When the media is a watchdog and caretaker of the greater good of the society, should truth be told if it is likely to work against the principle of greater good? Or is it okay to hide the truth in the interest of a society’s greater good?
These are debatable issues. There can’t be a fixed answer to these complicated questions. What works in one case might completely back-fire in another. Which is why, judgement is so important in making decisions while pursuing or bringing news to light. And, judgement is a result of human interpretation of a complex situation, which is why ethics today play a great role in the media. You might have been wrong as you may later discover with the advantage of hindsight, but what is important is was your judgement made in the context of the greater good of the society?
That, I think, is what defines character. That is what defines ethics. That is what defines good, the very virtue media stands for.
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I just wrote this for a friend for her college magazine. Now, I’ll just ask her to cut and paste from here! he he!