Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | November 3, 2008

Where is truth?

At times I think, was it just a coincidence that one who created human presence in this universe gave them just bare minimum (in comparison to what we have to-day) to experience and innovate or that was possibly the best way how the humans were supposed to live?

We can’t turn the clock backward, so this is a “no-use” thought, but whenever I have thought of fruits of development being written history and emergence of mass media and communication, I have always wondered whether being less informed is actually better than ill informed.

As always, I may be completely wrong in my assertion and seek help to get clarified but in many instances I have thought that for most of us written history and media have become such sacrosanct that we have lost the power to think. Rather than forming an opinion thus we always wait to agree or disagree on others?

Is this good or bad, is my question? Is there any way whereby we can form an opinion about what is right or wrong when we have not experienced a particular historical event or not met a particular historical figure?

It took people like Tagore and Dutt to take alternative views on the characters in the Hindu mythological books of Mahabharata and Ramayana but I wonder do we need to reach those immense intellectual heights that those men reached to question reporting of incidents that are happening around us? If not why do we seldom question anything and take most of the things as gospels?

How much trust can we bestow on assertions of so called experts? They say history is distorted, so how do we judge the documented actions of people like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Churchill, Gandhi, Roosevelt, Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Mao? Or should we not judge at all?

I read a huge amount of biographies and that is why perhaps these questions emerged in my mind since at least self-written biographies offer you to judge the thoughts of a person but historical accounts have hardly ever been written without any biases for or against!

That is the biggest tragedy that I feel the subject of history suffers from.

What is provided as information to-day by the media is going to be history soon. In a way, thus media’s role is important in order to write historical account. However, I am not sure whether media to-day utilises its full potential insofar providing information without any biases. I do know media houses are essentially business houses but I do not know why we cannot stop associating media’s role in social developent despite the knowledge of its profit motive.

As far as information dissemination by to-day’s media is concerned, I take most of the things with a bag full of salt. Somehow with the advent of the business the surrounds news media these days, I find it hard to believe that media doesn’t have ulterior motive behind promoting a kind of news that they generally promote. My belief became much stronger when I get to see people who believe mass media absolutely blindly. When one can get blind followers as audiences, whose judgment is only restricted to which news channel to follow, then is it not obvious that a business driven news channel would popularize anything that they feel like? Isn’t it true that in to-day’s world media plays part which perhaps warlords and preachers played which much lesser force actually since they have much more believers? And it is we, who are allowing it to be like that by shutting our minds off to lot of things on which we should ponder deep before making a judgment?

In effect, not only we don’t utilise our thinking prowess but create heroes out of people who perhaps don’t deserve to be heroes in the first place. Once, when I sent an article to the editor of a prominent business magazine criticizing something which was factually wrong written by one of their expert columnist (a noted Economist), I got a reply that though my article was good but it cannot be published because I am not yet an expert! I was stunned that it is actually so difficult to reach a media house. Most of us know that and that is why we have sought of agreed to the fact that some journalists are celebrity in their own rights. They are celebrities not just because they are good journalists but because of their higher positions in their organisations they get to be on the shows that command the largest viewership. Try emailing a journalist and trust me more often than not you would not receive a response – I wonder when did journalists became so unapproachable.

How far that status can be attributed is the question since I don’t see any media house taking an open stance in taking a position to ban a social miscreant or have shows telecast in prime time which are socially relevant in terms of telling the world a way forward to get out of the misery. If that was the case, then when we open the daily newspapers or even switch on the television we would see at least one positive story making the headlines (of course beyond sports, cinema and launch of a new mobile). It doesn’t and it is hard to believe that in such a big world, nothing worthwhile is happening. Thus, news channels have left the task to other channels which cater to the “positive” segment of the market.

The 24 hours news channels drive in same information into our minds and possess the power to engrave it in their. While long back someone said “pen is mightier than sword” but I don’t think media was ever so powerful. That is why perhaps it is expected to be much more useful. Rather than taking different sides it should ideally have the ability to provide direction. Alas, it hardly does.

Thanks to the internet at least so many people these days write in the blogs and I do believe it is a positive contribution that technology has enabled people to do. At least, one gets to know that loads of different kind of articles published around the world. I feel it is a savior. World wide it is not the case perhaps as it is in India. I believe in India it is easy to become a “celebrity” and that is why journalists also claim the same status. Countries like US have a huge number of magazines available which go beyond what mass media reports and of course there are numerous blog (like they are in India). All these auger well for the society wherein at least there is a platform to share ones confusions and hope for direction. I believe it is like a self-help that globally netizens have taken to.

But then spare a thought for people who are at a much larger number who don’t have access to the world? Shall their voice remain unheard and would they continue to remain as mere statistics in Human Development Reports and articles written by prominent arm-chair Economists who love to research on hunger by sending their associates to do the field?

Only time would tell and perhaps God will someday make us hear their story, their voices. History in its present form, the media would hardly ever let us know the unknown faces who are probably working at making such voices heard in some corners of the world. I am sure the world is not so gloomy out there and there must be many heroes about whom we haven’t ever known. Just that, it would have been helpful for confused souls like us to have some direction as to where to find them? History hardly ever has been truthful and media prefers to ignore them.



  1. • At one level I can respond to that very despondent post of yours, Tanmoy, by saying that things have always been this way: when Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he had come to proclaim ‘the truth’ to the world, Pilate famously asked – ‘What is truth?’ Knowing history has its compensations: it gives you a sense of balance and poise!
    • At another (also equally cynical) level, I can quote Desmond Doig (himself a noted journalist) writing that Mother Teresa always knew what was important and right and good, because she never read the newspapers.
    • Mort Rosenblum of New York Times fame said in a celebrated book that journalism was largely about ‘coups and earthquakes’. I learnt this myself hands-on in the mid-80s: if a school or hospital is running well and smoothly, it won’t make headlines, but if a doctor kills a patient or pupils beat up the headmaster, it will. So the wise man studies the news carefully, constantly making mental corrections for built in biases.
    • Things are not quite as bleak as you make them out ot be. For one thing, the mass of people have always been stupid, fickle, uninformed, unwilling to think hard and clearly, always driven around in herds by their passions, easily manipulated by clever and tough-minded demagogues and other sorts of salesmen: so it was in ancient Rome, so it was before and during World War I in the most ‘civilised’ countries of Europe. For another, there are a lot of sane, reasonably balanced people around these days, who try very hard to form (tentative) opinions on the basis of hard facts found from only the best sources; and if one reads more than one newspaper and watches TV channels known for differing party loyalties and conflicting vested interests, one can usually keep track of at least some workable/useful approximation to the truth. To cite concrete instances, all the news has convinced me that going holidaying to Kashmir would be a bad idea, no matter what blandishments the tourist department offers; so would wanting to migrate to Afghanistan or Iraq, or buying shares in Lehman Brothers right now, or hoping that US policy towards India will change sharply if either Obama or McCain is elected tomorrow. You can see yourself agreeing with me, can’t you? So chin up. We’ve all got to deal with a hard and confusing and dangerous world, but indulging a defeatist attitude does not pay!
    • One last point: what worries me is that there are so many nominally ‘educated’ people around these days who are happy to remain ignorant or grossly prejudiced on various issues, on the basis of very insufficient and biased information (I recently read a woman commenting on a certain post that she’s sure that ‘Gandhi was a racist’, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s an MBA and has never read a single book on or by Gandhi in her life, nor intends to). This has never happened before, and it gives me the creeps.

  2. Thank you Suvroda for your comment. This is really helpful. I have been currently reading some good magazines such as The New Yorker and I hope such magazines are available in India where people with different views write. I do believe that ‘Blogs’ have immense power actually and that is why so many people have started writing Blogs. I think that is the gift of development today.

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