Media apathy endangers democratic traditions

Media apathy endangers democratic traditions
Gurbrinder Aulakh

Auckland, February 23, 2020

It is said that (Roman Emperor) Nero played on the fiddle while Rome burnt.

I think that the New Zealand media is doing the same right now.

Two of their own have been photographed and published on a blog to scare and unleash vitriolic online bashing; yet a majority of the media appears to have turned a blind eye to it.

I have nothing against any particular person or party. In fact, I even stood for, and wrote an article against the leaking of the personal records of a politician, and his partner, just before the last elections.

However, the publication of the journalists, who came out with the story of the wrongdoings of political funding on one of the blog sites and the attempt to scaremonger them, deserves the strongest reproval.

It undermines the very foundations of a free and fair press.

What worries me is the stoic silence adopted by a majority of the mainstream media.

Apart from a polite condemnation by the Union, and an article or two by a couple of journalists, the media at large has been least bothered, or that is how it appears to the common man.

If one cannot stand for its own rights, then it is naïve to expect the public to pour out in its support.

Howsoever trivial the incident may have been, the media was required to collectively raise it to a level, where each and every person in this country should not only have become aware of it but also should have rallied behind in support.

The Fourth Estate

Afterall,  the pillars of any democracy equally rest on the fourth estate, as they do on the other three.

Even the slightest threat to its independence is likely to encroach the democratic space of free speech. In the past, we have seen how in some of the countries the media has been, slowly but steadily, marginalised into obedience and servitude by vested interests, to a point where quality and investigative journalism has been buried into oblivion, and the deafening noises of the boot licking lapdogs are becoming louder and louder.

Just as any journey of thousand miles starts with one small step in the positive direction, similarly, only one wrong step may prove sufficient to roll the entire freedom and independence of the media down the gargle.

Human mind is so adaptive that in no time it begins to view such repeated acts of encroachment without much displeasure.

We have seen that privacy and democracy is getting endangered here each day, with acts of transgression one after the other right in front of our eyes and under the nose of the media.

We are starting to become aloof and mute spectators of such fatal blows.

Erosion of privacy

In 2017, I had raised and written how the privacy rights of the citizens were being so  commonly trampled, again and again, without any punitive repercussions.

Be it the ACC and medical records of the common man, or the MSD and superannuation records of the politicians, or the GCSB and SIS, under the garb of national security.

It was foolish not to foresee that one day the wind could blow in another direction and the smoke and fire turn its way towards its own impregnable sphere.

What was required of the media at this juncture was, not to let those stories die until the accountability had been fixed, with serious sanctions against both the politicians and the bureaucrats alike.

Worrying trend

Earlier too, the media was either not in unison, or was gravely meek, in raising any hue and cry, when a journalist’s house was, allegedly, wrongfully raided to dig the source of his information

Media was in a deep slumber when the bank details of one of the journalist were illegally shared with the Police.

It remained unconcerned when one of its own was shown the door, and his evening show axed, for daring to ask the discomforting questions to the deep pocketed and powerful.

It was unconcerned when a Journalist was being given a farewell by an Auckland politician for having raised valid issues, and questioning the local authorities. By the way, I like the local politician, but the questions raised by the journalist were still relevant and I duly support them.

Submissive tolerance is like the exhilaration from opium. If addicted, one starts to live in his own bubble of protective fantasy, without realising that there exists a world beyond this falsely created dreamland. Even a small prick can burst this dream bubble.

The media is required to realise this.

Today it was just the posting of those photographs, and a nudge warning to those behind the story; however, if undeterred and not restrained, it is likely to unleash bigger demons across the political and journalistic spectrum, where each one of us will eventually be affected. 

It has happened in other countries, and its effects have been substantially damaging, eroding the very foundations of democracy and a fair and independent fourth estate.

Media can certainly drive public attention to any cause or matter. We have all heard of the joke about the skills of a journalist who created eye catching headlines when a King enrolled his donkey in a race, and it won.

Royalty and the beast of burden

The next day the headline in the local paper read: “King’s ass won.”

The King was upset with this kind of publicity, so gifted the donkey to the Queen.

The local paper then read: “Queen has the best ass in town”

The King and the Queen were upset and thought of auctioning the donkey.

The next day, the newspaper read: “Queen’s ass up for grabs.”

A farmer bought the donkey at the auction .

The paper then read: “Queen sells her ass for $100”

The Queen did not know what to do. The King ordered the Queen to buy the donkey and leave it in jungle.

The paper then read: “Queen announces her ass is now free and wild.”

By now you must have got the cue, about the point I am trying to make here by repeating this joke.

The media, if it had been in unison, could have kept this story of the threat to democracy alive with its skilful and artistic flair.

However, it appears it is divided and more looking at the left and right, rather than deep inside the core issue. What it has to realise is that, at stake is its very existence, the freedom of speech may be endangered, and therefore it will have to look at the bigger picture and come together to nip the evil in the bud.

Even now, I would say, ‘Let the mighty pen stand up for itself, and we are ready to rally behind it with our tiny swords’ (read as words).

Gurbrinder Aulakh is a lawyer practicing in Auckland. He has  been on the board of some of the organisations working with refugees and migrants. The views expressed in the above article are his own.

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