The history of mankind can be broadly read through two different strands: of an audacious march forward, or of timid slavery to established, often repressive, certainties. Those who are frozen by the fear of the unknown, who have given into the uncomfortable assurances of present realities, often end up in stagnant cesspools, stoking the worst in humans, reducing us into a hate-filled, violent species.
Those who march into the unknown rewrite history, discover new lands, invent new technologies and establish inspiring human experiments, one of the greatest examples being the Indian democracy. That democracy, where hardly 15% of its 30 crore people were literate at birth, settled into a peaceful existence with a written Constitution, committing to constitute India into a 'sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic' that would secure for all its citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.
That glorious document and its commitments are now under an unprecedented assault, and mostly broken. Ironically, the very men and a few women, who swore allegiance to the Constitution and are duty-bound to uphold it, are leading the assault. Our globally feted independent judiciary is now keen to comfort the executive than the last Indian. The independent media is now a pale shadow of its past, at best an extension of the government's PR machinery or an appalling propaganda machine. Whispers of crackdowns, illegal snooping and criminal intimidations engulf the national capital like dark clouds.
The dominant media model, of selling the attention of audiences to advertisers, is now an albatross around media independence. The government is India's biggest advertiser, followed by avaricious corporations. Media has no option but to cosy up to them if it has to exist.
Quality journalism costs time and money. A good investigative report can take months and a well-researched news report several days to put together. To such journalism, retaliation from the powerful under your investigation will prove to be expensive in the face of legal challenges. Journalists uncovering stories that governments and corporates are trying to hide end up facing physical as well as mental harassment.
There are very little resources and very limited organisational courage available to do quality journalism in the mainstream media. News channels have found a new model: anchors create artificial tension in the studios, create a fake moral outrage and pass instant judgments. For the internet media, it is click-bait and misleading headlines. For newspapers it is rehash of exaggerated and often wrong claims of governments and corporates, without any fact-checking. Day after day, readers and viewers go to sleep with a false sense of achievement and justice. The truth is that while they were being entertained, the powerful were chipping away at our Constitutional values and denying our children the spring they deserve.
News has become mostly about what is happening through the day, not what is behind it. The weather is reported instead of the climate. Grand criminal conspiracies, corporate corruption, political nepotism are no more of interest to the media, because they are uncomfortable climate changes, which are expensive to fathom with explosive blowbacks. Therefore, they will, by force of newfound habit, report the weather and they are in search of the famished man who will bite a poor dog. In the process, the sensational, the absurd and the bitten dog have taken the place of the foundational issues, the tectonic shifts happening in our democracy, and the underlying forces that are reshaping our lives.
To grab attention, which is what decides the profitability of present-day media business, several strategies are adopted: Insulting headlines, exaggerated claims, and patent falsehoods. Fear, paranoia and xenophobia are all good ingredients in the business model where attention of the audience is the most crucial ingredient. So shock instead of inform, and mislead instead of educate.
In contemporary India, that model also helps the media keep away from its primary and more difficult job, which is to be the unrelenting adversary to everyone in positions of power. Because doing adversarial journalism is a very expensive risky business. India's press freedom index ranking has been falling consistently, now at an abysmal 142, worst in our history. Arrests and harassment, and occasional murder, of journalists are now more routine than ever.
At Azhimukham we don't have the solution to every problem ailing the media. We don't have the power to restore democracy to a better state. But we will be relentless, we will be unwavering, and we will be hopelessly romantic about India becoming a liberal democracy. When we make mistakes, we will own it up, and correct ourselves. We will be unshakable in our support for the truth and the under-privileged.
We will strive to find common ground between differing ideologies, but will never offer our platform for spreading hatred and divisions in the society. We will be unrelenting in our commitment to your right to opinion, even if we don't agree with it.
Azhimukham is stepping up its operations, its journalism, and its commitment to free press so as to take part in the greatest struggle in our memories, one that may find parallels in the freedom movement, but whose success is not yet assured. If we succeed it would lay the foundations for a new republic, where the words etched into the Constitution do not sound hollow. The Constitution will become the wildly beating heart of the greatest human experiment ever.
I invite all of you to join our effort to step up Azhimukham, and request you to join as a member of 'Friends of Azhimukham'. This membership will not only come with some very fine books and free access to all our quality journalism, but also provide access to our editors, including me personally, and opportunity to take part in our journalism.
Before I sign off, I must confess something here. We have a holy book: the Constitution of India. We have an ideology: to tell the truth. We have a motive: to win the respect of our readers. And we have a commitment: to stand firm and fearless even when we are alone.
Welcome to Azhimukham!
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