Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Whats in a preposition?


Imagine, for instance, if a political journalist would tell us that she is the most trusted face of the Indian political scene.
There is an advertisement that is difficult to miss if you are in Mumbai. An anchor for the business news channel, CNBC, is shown and there is the body copy that reads, "He's the most trusted face of the Indian Stock Market." (Disclosure demands that one shares with reader that this gentleman, Mr Udayan Mukherjee, was a colleague in the same channel about a decade back, and also that one has affectionately known him as a friend's younger brother long before he got into journalism). The problem with this ad is not whether Mr Mukherjee is competent or otherwise, but whether a journalist or indeed a channel can use the possessive preposition "of" when describing the relation between oneself or itself and the area that is covered.
Imagine, for instance, if a political journalist would tell us that she is the most trusted face of the Indian political scene. Or for that matter, would an entertainment reporter suggest that he is the most trusted face of the Mumbai film industry. Or even in a more incestuous area, literary journalism that includes the writing of reviews by friends and family, if someone were to say that s/he was the most trusted face of the Indian literary market. And yet no one in CNBC and Television Eighteen, which if at least all the hoardings are to be believed comprises of people with greater acuity than any business school in the country, possibly thought of this as a problem that ought to have been remedied. A rather uncharitable explanation that precision in language should not be expected of television channels, can be provided. But that would be unfair. Another explanation that television advertising should not be confused with editorial precision since they belong to different realms would be unsatisfactory because finally it is news (and/or analysis) that is being hawked.
There is more to it than just prepositional misdemeanour.
There are some journalists who do not think of themselves as being in the business of reporting. They think of themselves as actors in the field that they report on and comment upon. And this is not a problem confined to business journalism. One has met journalists who have said that they were responsible for making a particular politician or even a political party what it is today. And then there are journalists who suggest that they have made and unmade film personalities, cricketers, and artistes. The list goes on. In other words, their job has been much more than just being reporters and commentators. They are active participants. Some journalists may feel the need to ensure particular political and social results, or even bring about diplomatic resolutions. Such a belief may be considered noble. But in this rather dismally limited profession that ought to confine itself with accurate and fair reporting, such beliefs border on the unethical. When some actions have to be initiated in a purposeful manner and one brings to bear upon that task one's pen or personality, then the task is that of a public relations professional or apologist or agitprop artist. One can even argue that in business journalism, especially when reporting on the stock markets, this might even be construed as participating in the market in a way that would make it problematic as per regulatory guidelines.
Now, it is not my case that this is indeed what is happening. Rather it is the self-imagination that is critical here. Do we as journalists imagine ourselves as participants or observers or participant-observers? It may be fine for anthropologists to be using the participant-observer method for their research since a closer entry into their subject (or object) areas would be otherwise difficult, and the lived sense can only be had from such a relationship. But that would not be proper for journalists. Even when we decide to go along with the actors of a particular story that we are covering, it has to be done as observers, as reporters. To imagine that we as journalists are active participants, especially when such complex social events and processes as social change or political upheaval or congealing of political/social forces is happening, is to have hubris. More than anything else it is this self-belief of one's power or ability that makes the journalist think of himself or herself as more important and crucial than is the case. Apart from a pomposity that detracts from newsgathering and reporting, it also leads to possible collusion that can be nothing but patently unethical.
It is possible that such is the self-estimation of the channel, CNBC-TV18, where the channel is seen as part of the process of stock market trading rather than as its competent, fair, and accurate reporter. The fact that this hoarding looks down with such a preposition rather than saying that "he is the most trusted face among those reporting on the Indian stock market" or "his word is the most trusted on the Indian stock market" is reason enough for us to examine our own locus in the force fields of communication.
Or may be it is just a Falstaffian moment that I make too much of. "A plague of all cowards, I say, and a vengeance too! marry, and amen! Give me a cup of sack, boy. Ere I lead this life long, I'll sew nether stocks and mend them and foot them too. A plague of all cowards! Give me a cup of sack, rogue. Is there no virtue extant?" (courtesy thehoot)


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