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Column: Sorry, Mr. Chief Minister, Cheerleading Is Not The Media’s Job!

By Sandeep Sahu

Speaking at the annual day function of Prameya News 7 on Tuesday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said the media, whether print or electronic, should ‘always’ focus on ‘positive news’. But is it really the job of the media to spread positivity? Aren’t our governments, including Mr. Patnaik’s own, already doing a remarkable job of it? “All is well”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tells a boisterous crowd of Indian Americans that has packed into a football stadium in Houston, US in September in 11 different Indian languages and the crowd goes into raptures. “Aapan Mane Khusi To?” our popular Chief Minister asks at every second public meeting and the public shouts back in unison, “Bahut Khusi.” A visibly pleased CM then says to even greater applause, “Mun bi bahut khusi.” Maybe that is what the CM meant when he called on the media to focus on the ‘positive’. And in a country where hero worship is a religion in its own right, such ‘positive’ vibes are infectious.

But should the media also become part of the ecstatic crowd and cheer along with the rest? The answer to that, I am afraid, has to be an emphatic ‘No’. The media’s job, as I see it, is to cut through the maze of lies, half truths and garnished truths that governments, businesses and others of all hues keep serving to the public through their extensive propaganda machines. Instead, its job is to tell the people the real, unvarnished truth; to read the fine print and between the lines to separate the truth from the half-truth and expose the lies and half-truths routinely pushed by governments into the public domain. To put it crudely, the media must play what is derisively called ‘the drain inspector’s role’ to perfection.

Take the full page, coloured advertisement with the mandatory picture of the smiling visage of the Chief Minister that adorn the front page of all newspapers, including national ones, today. “Odisha wins prestigious World Habitat Award”, it screams. [The reference is to the Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission (OLHM), nicknamed ‘Jaga Mission’ for convenience, that seeks to provide land to slum dwellers.] But what it slyly leaves unsaid is it is one of the six bronze medal winners across the world, the Gold medal jointly going to Karnataka (for a project that gives land rights to the marginalized Koraga community) and Catalonia, Spain (for a scheme that provides liveable housing to the poor by renovating empty homes). Notwithstanding the fresh revelations, our irrepressible Law minister, who of late has developed a foot-in-the-mouth disease, continues to maintain that Odisha has emerged ‘No. 1’ in the world! For obvious reasons, the state government would not want the ‘whole’ truth to come out. But should the media buy into the partial truth hook, line and sinker? Or dig deep into it to ferret out the whole truth?

There is more. A note published on the World Habitat website quotes Bimala Maharana, one of the supposed beneficiaries of the ‘Jaga Mission’ thus; “I am extremely happy with the new look and facilities of the slum of the slum, including the development of the open space where people gather and socialize. It is such a delight to see our children and grandchildren paying joyfully in this secure and exclusive area. XXX Our slum has now become truly a liveable habitat.” Now listen to what the same Bimala Maharana, a resident of the Ishaneshwar slum in Bhubaneswar, had to say to OTV on the issue. “We are making do with this ramshackle house made with mud, tin and asbestos after it was completely damaged by Cyclone ‘Fani’. You can see for yourself. Twenty five years ago, they (government officials) had fixed this token on our door. No one has come to us since then nor has anyone told us that we will get land or house.” Forget the ‘new look’ playground that the World Habitat site talks about, the surroundings of Bimala’s apology of a house appear no different from any urban slum in the city; cramped, bursting at the seams and filthy!

The Bimala Maharana quoted on the World Habitat site is just a name without a face. The Bimala Maharana shown on OTV is a person in flesh and blood. So which Bimala should one believe? And this is not the first time a supposed beneficiary of a scheme has contradicted the government’s claim made on his/her behalf? If you remember, the much-touted KALIA scheme too had more than its fair share of such beneficiaries who later embarrassed the government with their counter-claims.

To cite another example of misleading government propaganda, the Naveen Patnaik government has been routinely claiming that Odisha is the ‘first state’ in the country to pass the Lokayukta Act when the truth is the honour goes to Uttarakhand, not Odisha. Undeterred by the truth, the government has persisted with repeating the lie ad nauseam for well over five years with the result that the average Odia really believes Odisha was indeed the first.

Dig deep into any government scheme or claim – housing, reduction of poverty, evacuation of vulnerable people before a cyclone and so on – and you will find the ‘truth’ buried under a heap of half-truths, sugar-coated truths and downright lies. Since the average person neither has the time nor the inclination to do the digging, the responsibility of doing the job and separating the wheat from the chaff for the benefit of the people falls on the media. If that makes the media negative, irresponsible, a perennial whiner, a ‘drain inspector’ or even anti-state, so be it.

Sorry, Mr. Chief Minister. Cheerleading is not the media’s job.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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