Thursday, January 27, 2011

All for some more eyeballs

Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange stirred the world with its uncovering of startling US war documents in Iraq and leaking classified embassy dispatches. Wikileaks successfully launched attacks on the US and the powers-that-be with impunity wielding technology, media and ambiguity in international laws and relations. It was an expose of American war crimes and its increasingly denigrating international policies with fundamental facts shrouded in secrecy even from its own people who are essentially the only ones in any condition to do anything about stopping the mayhem we are all otherwise headed for.

Wikileaks has done what Bin Laden and numerous other anti-American terror networks have been trying to do all this while; expose American pretension for what it is. Only with more success, while endearing itself to millions across the world. It has come in for much praise from all corners for giving a voice to the harrowing experiences wrought upon people by those in power who have thus far been virtually untouchable, even by the barrels of guns. It has also been rightly admired for being able to free information from the grips of despots, empowering people in the process.
Wikileaks has been able to reveal more guarded information in the few years of existence than the all the media outlets put together have ever done. Its inception marks a watershed in the evolution of the media, generally believed to be the keeper of national conscience by simply keepings the leaders honest.
However, given the sheer irresponsibilities by way of dishing out some rather unsavory details, which at times simply ignored humane consequences, the website has caused more than just a few raised eyebrows. It has divided mankind into irreconcilable camps. On the one hand, there are those who champion freedom and are willing to go the distance to achieve it. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those for whom a little discretion goes a long way in keeping themselves and their adherents afloat. Of course, there are always those who couldn’t care less about what happens as long as they are spared. Then there are the plain ignorants too.
Forget the last two categories, that would be quite to their liking. The first category passionately purports that the end justifies the means in defending the unwitting causalities left in the wake of an uncensored exposure of information by the promoters of wikileaks. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, or so they will have us believe. Anything is better than groveling in the darkness brought on by the guardian of our own making. It would indeed be a tragedy to die wondering what struck us.
The opposition is just as vehement. Secrets, especially of the state, must at times remain under wraps in the safekeeping of guardians whom we help put in place. Secrets kept well in good faith is what keeps the world from being thrown into chaos. There is no reason why everybody should be privy to every facet of governmental decision making as long as they come out right in the end. The small talks and the bullshits behind the scene is their business alone.
The state is the expression of our ability to come and work together for a common cause. It is an endorsement of our collective vision and the resultant strength. As such, it befits us to do our bits and let grow the organization of our making and faith.
Sadly though, this is hardly what the recent emergence of the voyeuristic, irresponsible and sometimes unscrupulous journalism seems to suggest. Carried too far, it seems rather like the press is bent on creating demons where there are none. To maximize eyeballs, TRP as they are called in media parlance, reporters become criminals they are out to uncover. From eaves dropping on private conversation to becoming unwitting partners in crime, they do it all. This clearly isn’t a stretch. A rather sensationalist Indian news reporter put many lives on line by reporting “from the scene” (as she has the knack to call it) of a country at war on one occasion and a rescue operation mounted against enemy combatants holding vulnerable hostages on another. Live television footages beamed into the people's living rooms and their conspirators intelligent cells in a show of absolute poor taste. When a rather innocuous blogger put on record her enemy-informant role, she did the state, that is to say that she threatened to drag him to the court when infact subsequent investigations found that unrestrained media coverage were used by the militants to get around security moves and locate soft targets; on not one, but both occasions. Her ratings though predictably went through the roof and so did the hits on her web. There would be no naming and shaming here. I know better. So much for our freedom of thought, speech and the other such exulted niceties.
There are worst examples of bad sports in the popular media when the table turned on them. Mr Assange, universally acknowledged a narcissistic geek with an inflated ego, fired the co-founder of his web and some other staffs because he could not stomach what he saw as a challenge mounted against his authority in the company. Imagine what those poor employees must have felt at the irony, the man who championed freedom and simplicity suddenly thought nothing about them when the question concerned him and his own high-handed conducts. The people who now work with him must do it only because of the position of power that they have now worked themselves into, albeit after wrecking many a noble vision.
I am sure by now you must have worked out which camp I am disposed to. So, no more pretensions of a balanced analysis. So here I go again, on a rampage of my own again.
Just some days ago, another bombshell dropped. Yet another private new agencies in possession of classified documents. Al Jazzera News made public documentations of apparent concessions made by the Palestinian negotiation side to their Israeli counter-part. It was sure a publicity masterstroke but the consequences it had on the last-ditch effort to bring a semblance of peace to a region long marked by bloodshed was tragic. The Palestinians negotiators predictably went back on their old position, as they couldn’t seem to be conceding in any ways, though their much-maligned public, like them, would have bought the peace if it was on offer discreetly. A moment of silence may possibly have allayed many devils in their track. But alas, yet another publicity stunt put paid to any such hope and has pushed us just a little bit closer to our end.
Nobody stands to gain from such information although it is a different story for the newsagents and their ratings. It is a greater virtue to know when to let some information pass by, however great it might serve you for they cannot be brought out without collateral damages. People would gladly trade off a little bit of their freedom if the alternative is chaos. I think I have already told you about about Mr Assange’s justification of the end justifying the means, however base they are.
The worst part about all these incidences is that these people, instead of being repentant, are gloating over their exploits conveniently sidestepping the havoc that their perverse impulses have caused. While Assange was clearly heartless when confronted with these damning implications, Al Jazzera made sure that they fully tapped into the uproar left in the wake of their revelation. It is even alleged that they doctored documents for good measure to augment the dramatic effect. When people supposed to record events create them, when watchdog become mad dog, how much more darned can we get?
There are people baying for Assange’s blood like there will now be call for the persecution of Al Jazzera. But that would be playing into their hand. It would give them easy publicity, more sympathizers, and worse, their perverse acts would then stand vindicated. Instead, we must engage them at their own game and shame them for their debased inclinations and unscrupulous ways. The imperfect human mettle they are made of, they will leave marks of their own for everyone else to pick on. Wikileaks and its many clones have become a parallel power and perhaps it’s time for some reciprocal demonizing in good faith so that they learn to wield their great powers with some degree of responsibility.
The world can so easily be taken hostage to the petty self-interest of some popular media networks and other influential fringe players playing the game of information; programming people to their line of thinking. It is not hard to imagine a situation where sections of our people believe in the make-believe truths they present and run amuck with them. People like Assange, like many others before him, have shown us that there can never be a perfectly transparent society unless we are quixotically deranged. As soon as people work themselves into some manner of power, the despots in them come out and they perpetuate the same vices like Assange and Co. It is in the delicate balancing act of selectively handling inside contents, sometimes called good-natured discretion, that great leadership lie. Like everything else, there is an optimal level beyond which information will simply deluge us.
As Bhutan’s media industry grows, (and I fear that it is indeed becoming an industry whose sole motive is maximum eyeballs and more hits), we will do well to stop the bug in its track and let the constructive elements alone mould us, bound by added responsibilities as it were.

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