Why Julian Assange is TSI's man of the year!

I am sure you all must be wondering what’s new or great about this – the entire world already is talking about it! Well, I promise I won’t write about Assange at all. Yet, I hope by the end of this article, you will realize what’s the big deal about this heading. After the overwhelming response to my previous to last editorial on media and lobbying, and combining it with my previous edit on democracy, I thought I should further my views – this time on media and democracy put together.

When I had written elaborately on lobbying in my above mentioned editorial, I had only touched upon the perspective of the extent to which nations go to maintain their image. I had taken examples of how the History Channel, akin to slavish propagators of the capitalist dictate, distorted and promoted the image of the biggest global revolutionary icon, Che Guevara, as a global terrorist. I had also quoted how Michael Moore’s film Sicko was edited by an American channel and given a conclusion other than the one he had originally made (Moore had concluded that the Cuban health system was the best, while the channel in question – after doing a series on it without knowing the ending, and subsequently realising that the conclusion could be bad for America’s PR – changed the ending with a voiceover saying that the Canadian health system was the best). So, in any case, when the truth is not being crushed by the American government like in the case of Julian Assange, it is crushed by the media themselves. The problem is as much the media as the government.

In fact, in my book The Great Indian Dream, I had categorically stated that democracy in a capitalist economy tends to become an illusion since one of the biggest forces of a democracy is the media; and in a capitalist world, the media is mostly owned by private profiteers who promote news that will increase their profits, or those of its key stakeholders. Thus, invariably – barring news that’s on your face – the philosophy and lifestyle that gets propagated is too often than not, not conducive to well-being and happiness of human beings, but is rather focused towards the well-being of the markets. So media plays, for example, a huge role in propagating happiness linked to material well-being (because people who believe in that are those from whom you can earn profits by selling products which they believe will increase happiness in their lives) than happiness linked to human interactions and family values, which necessarily give a much deeper, more meaningful and a longer lasting sense of happiness.

Thus, while individuals in America think that they are living in a great democracy (they indeed are amongst the best of the lot), the reality is that their thoughts and actions are non-stop being manipulated and often distorted by profiteers to suit their own goals. From hiding facts about nicotine being a proven harmful drug to promoting a lifestyle which has given rise to the biggest killer disease in America today – the McDonalds driven obesity – the American media has made its citizens product-dustbins who are like guinea pigs for business houses. Americans think they have brains; but the brains are being controlled by the profit driven media. The barrage of articles makes you start believing in things which need not necessarily be correct. For example, while I myself am a dedicated fan of Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyer’s articles, the fact is that (maybe due to his lack of understanding of impact of an economy on human well-being or deliberate sidelining of it) anyone reading his articles will believe as if capitalism was the end-all for human well-being; though it surely is not the truth.

Add to this the fact that finally, governments themselves are non-democratic when it comes to protecting the image they want to propagate – like in the Julian Assange case – and resolve to extremes like murder and all kinds of illegal arrests to stop the media from functioning freely. The communities which have been at the receiving end are the investigative journalists and whistle blowers, who have perpetually struggled to bring facts in the forefront! How can one forget American journalist Daniel Pearl? Pearl – whom I personally remember as this lovely family loving man, since he had also come to meet me during early October 2000 to get a download on my views on India’s way forward – had uncovered dangerous secrets about the involvement of Pakistan’s ISI with Islamic extremists. Pearl was kidnapped and then murdered in Pakistan in the year 2002. The footage of Pearl’s beheading not only made the rounds of the Internet, but also popularized the concept of investigate journalism.

Even last year in February, Musa Khankhel, reporter for The News International and GEO TV, was kidnapped as he was reportedly working on a series of public events addressed by senior cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad in Pakistan. Later, his bullet-ridden body was found. On July 9, 2004, Paul Klebnikov, who worked for Forbes, was attacked and shot in Moscow. Even the Forbes’ Russian edition, after his death, acknowledged that the murder was “definitely linked to his professional activity”, especially due to the swirl he had created from his list of the 100 wealthiest Russians. Authorities in Iran have also detained an American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi (who once worked for NPR and BBC).

In 2005, in Iraq, an American freelance journalist, Steven Vincent – who alleged in her New York Times column that Basra’s police was being infiltrated by Shiite militiamen – was shot dead in Iraq after being abducted. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 70 media persons had been killed while covering the Iraq war in Iraq between 2003 and 2005. Besides these popular names, many other journalists were murdered (add to this numerous other names who were illegally detained and arrested). From Steven Vincent (2005) to Brad Will (2006), Chauncey Bailey (2007), all were assassinated because of their nature of work. Moreover, who can forget the year 2009 assassination of the editor of Sri Lankan newspaper Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, for his whistle-blowing against the Rajapaksa government! The entire story – including the letter that Lasantha wrote before his assassination, anticipating that he would get eliminated – was elaborately covered by The Sunday Indian. But then, these are the rare cases where a journalist is able to at least try and do a story freely, which goes against the interest of the media owners or the government (their own or the country’s in which they are doing the story).

In this world of media – which is either being controlled tightly by governments even in so called great democracies like America, or constantly being influenced by lobbyists, or deliberately lobbying for wrong causes due to their own profit making structures – to me, the best way to have an unbiased media that is genuinely committed to human well-being is to have a media run by multiple journalist cooperatives, with the State even funding them partially, as well as funding a part of their annual budget – without of course being able to influence the media constitutionally. But since that’s in an ideal situation and less likely to happen soon, the Internet has come as a boon for such people (especially investigative journalists).That’s why, though TIME magazine has declared another Internet icon Mark Zuckerberg as the man of the year (and perhaps rightly so, from the point of view of impact on the masses), our man of the year is Julian Assange. This is the hope for journalism, and especially, as I said, for investigative journalism.

Whatever my criticism, I believe the American democracy and the power of the word of the citizens and the netizens of the world is strong enough to very soon have laws that will know how to protect the genuine and true journalists on the net from being illegally framed and punished. Because when media caters to the profiteers, the true not-for-profit journalists make a huge impact on the net; and they must be protected – of course, the laws should be stringent enough so that imposters cannot pass off their crap as journalism on the net, as I had written in my edit on lobbying. For only when the media is unbiased and honest does a true democracy have a real chance to proper. This is The Sunday Indian’s little contribution to the cause.

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