Backstory: Happy Old Year

A fortnightly column from The Wire‘s Public Editor.

Will anything change in the new year?

Will anything change in the new year?

And for a new year (in the tradition of the Bombay journalist-about-town, the late Behram Contractor) some random thoughts and general observations about the media and other matters, some of them not my own…

*Isn’t it odd how media stories in 2017 seem to observe no boundaries and roll into new space with nary a thought about how 2016 is now in the dustbin of history and that the new year surely deserves another script?

*Isn’t it odd how plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose and all that…how everything appears to end, but doesn’t quite manage to do that?

*Isn’t it odd how the old ‘breaking news’ now slips, slides and slithers into brand new old news breaking?

*Isn’t it odd that while demonetisation continues to hurt almost every vulnerable section of society (‘Demonetisation – A Curse for India’s Elderly’, December 27; ‘Watch: Dalits and Adivasis Worst Hit by Demonetisation in Bundelkhand’, December 28; ‘Chhattisgarh Farmers Give Away Produce for Free to Protest Low Prices’, January 3; ‘The Costs of Demonetisation: Upset Farmers; Traders’ Pain to Continue’, January 4; ‘The Costs of Demonetisation: Shoe Sellers Lose Out; Milk Trade Stalls’, January 5), it doesn’t seem to have seriously dented the teflon surface of the prime minister (‘Why Demonetisation Is Unlikely to Impact BJP’s Long-Term Prospects’, January 5)?

*Isn’t it odd how a prime minister-in-election-mode seems to permanently inhabit a holographic representation of himself in public address mode, where the locations may change but the crowds look the same; where the words of the speeches may change but they always sound exactly like the those that came before? And doesn’t this raise the question whether this hologram will ever be put to the test of viscerality (‘What to Expect in Indian Politics in 2017’, January 1)?

*Isn’t it odd that media persons who are meant to serve as fourth columnists for a democratic regime end up acting like fifth columnists for the ruling party (‘Home Ministry Files Provide Glimpse of Ties Between Hindustan Times Editor and BJP’s Amit Shah’, January 5)?

*Isn’t it odd that this particular senior journalist’s attempt to elicit “comments and response from the PMO and the BJP party president” with regard to a political opponent appeared more like a straightforward application for a rewarding political assignment? And if all senior journalists sought such “comments and responses” from the powers-that-be, where would that leave Indian journalism?

*Isn’t it odd how Indian politics keep throwing up family sagas and that the latest serial, Kyunki Netaji Bhi Kabhi Neta Tha, has all the makings of a successful run in 2017 (‘Mulayam Singh Postpones Samajwadi Party’s January 5 National Convention’, January 2)?

*Isn’t it odd that male politicians in India, regardless of political affiliation, can always be trusted to stand up and be counted when it comes to making the most demeaning, completely disgusting and unqualifiedly sexist comments at all times? (‘Dented, Painted, Sexists – G. Parameshwar, Abu Azmi Join Long List of Politicians Who Run Down Women’, January 3)?

*Isn’t it odd that while women have striven to break metaphorical cages through ‘Pinjra Tod’ action (‘Watch: Pinjra Tod’s ‘Women Reclaim the Streets!’, October 4) and defied the night by loitering with the intent to overturn patriarchy through their ‘Why Loiter?’ campaigns, a senior minister of a Congress government in Karnataka sees nothing abnormal about male gropers springing, vampire-like, at sundown from under the pavement slabs of his capital city?

*Isn’t it odd that those who are assaulted, stripped, stalked, groped, acid-attacked, raped, harassed are being shamed by the very ones voted in to protect their constitutional rights, even as their assaulters and attackers are provided an incredibly long rope to grope another day?

*Isn’t it odd that the Ministry of Home Affairs’ main success has come to be measured by the number of civil society organisations it has strangulated at home, either through turning off FCRA approval or using the police to foist false cases and intimidate (‘Home Ministry Cancels FCRA Licences for 20,000 NGOs’, December 27)?

*Isn’t it odd that the BJP government seems to be taking its acute antagonism to the country’s first prime minister to such extraordinary lengths that it mandates its human resource development ministry to reduce the premier Jawaharlal Nehru University to the dust from which it rose (‘The Ongoing Attack on JNU’s Democratic Academic Structures’, January 1)? And shouldn’t this ministry now be renamed the Ministry of Human Resource Undevelopment?

*Isn’t it odd that so many among us seem to be so indifferent “towards the state and the quality of education at all levels”, as one reader of The Wire noted? And what does this say about the future of the country?

*Is it not odd, therefore, that although just a week of 2017 has gone by, it already seems so familiar with so much of its news breaks appearing like reruns of the year before? That this year is already saddled with a great deal of the baggage that had washed up on the shores of 2016?


Meanwhile a reader, P.K. Modi from Singapore, feels The Wire should see itself not just as a source of news and analysis for Indians but a platform of record worldwide. This, he argues, would need more attention to be paid to annotating the content for a global audience. He writes: “The online news/articles are read worldwide and can be read many years later. Hence, it would be better to add more details to provide perspective to a larger audience and for a longer time frame. For example, instead of just saying, ‘On November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation’, it may be advisable to say, ‘On November 8, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation’.” Thoughtful suggestion but for Indian readers, who comprise The Wire’s core readership, the redundant information (we know that Modi is the prime minister of India, don’t we know it!) it would certainly be a huge drag. Editing media content for foreign and long term audiences has necessarily to be different from that for the local and the immediate.