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Kate Middleton, Shobhaa De And Why I Envy Indian Journalists

21/04/2016 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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JAIPUR, INDIA - JANUARY 21: Shobhaa De during the session 'An Unsuitable Boy' at Jaipur Literary Festival 2016, on January 21, 2016 in Jaipur, India.Ninth edition of ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival is set to witness over 360 participants from the fields of literature, history, politics, economy, art and culture debate and discuss on one platform during the course of the next five days. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

I read a recent blog by Pritish Nandy, in which he wrote "One of the biggest problems with public opinion today is that it's lazy and easy to manipulate."

I found myself nodding along as he talked about how the media can "give people a story that easily fits in with the dominant narrative and you can be sure that they will buy into it, however stupid the story may be, or over simplified."

He is right. Journalists today are taking "cues from television and social media" and we are rushing with the cheapest and the most scandalous stories. And if the subjects happen to be public figures, it's all the better.

Even worse, in a race to beat the competition, we are happy to jump to conclusions and rush to judgement. Be first with the filth and get the ratings and the advertisers and later we can deal with the mess.

Every piece I submit to an American publication is read by at least three editors and they will not let any unbalanced facts or unsubstantiated data go unchallenged.

I like to say that we, American journalists, are better than our Indian counterparts. The brutally honest truth is that we are as eager to go with the easy and the sensational but we are restrained by our editors.

There's too much accountability and responsibility in our society. We are the "voice" of the masses. We are public servants. We are the defenders and the keepers of the truth.

Every piece I submit to an American publication is read by at least three editors and they will not let any unbalanced facts or unsubstantiated data go unchallenged. They will ask if I have that quote on tape. They will ask me for a link for any figures I have used to be added to the story. Most publications now have a blanket policy of not using any source who will not go on record.

To write a story on how Donald Trump was freaking out the minorities, I spent hours at a mosque and at a gurudwara, interviewing people. In the end, I had enough material to write two stories. I couldn't just write a column calling him a racist because I think so.

We have to be accurate, we have to be political correct and we have to report the facts fairly. People quoted in the story have to give their names, ages, jobs and towns. No exception. We have to present both sides of the story and it has to be balanced. Our editors tell us that a competitor should be able to check our sources and write their own stories. Sometimes it's even better than ours. It's called transparency. It's pretty depressing really.

We have to be accurate, we have to be political correct and we have to report the facts fairly... It's pretty depressing really.

Then I glance across the ocean at the Indian journalists in an alternate universe. I am filled with envy and I frankly feel cheated. They get to have the fun.

If I wrote the kind of articles they often do, it probably wouldn't get past the editor. And if it did, we would have stakeholders calling in to complain about the "lack of sensitivity and political incorrectness."

Most receptionists at major media outlets spend a large portion of the day soothing irate readers about their "concerns" and reassuring them that the "editorial board" will hear about it. And they do.

Then there's the psycho news anchor who screams loudly and rudely at his guests daily on Indian's prime time news. Much to my astonishment, there are no lawsuits filed against the channel "for mental distress" or "slander and libel."

If an anchor tried that here, he or she would be suspended and have to register for mandatory counselling so fast, it would make your head spin. Colleagues whisper tales of those dreaded experiences. They apparently haul you into a room where a counsellor interrogates you about your childhood, the books you read and whether you were ever bullied in school!

I glance across the ocean at the Indian journalists... I am filled with envy and I frankly feel cheated. They get to have the fun.

My eyes pop out of my head when I read about how Indian journalists spar with Anupam Kher and troll Chetan Bhagat on Twitter. Then the followers from both sides get into the action and it's a free for all. No insult is too low and no abuse is off limits. People's mothers are mentioned. Their education is questioned. Their existence is cursed.

This is way better than television. Most days, I make some jhal-muri or get some popcorn and settle down to read the exchanges.

Indian journalism thrived under Mr. Nandy and his generation. They relied on hard facts. Now it's lost that edge. It's lost that integrity. It's become agenda driven and it's opinion based.

Now the truth is lost in the noise and the egos. It's pure entertainment. Many anchors and columnists cater to the lowest common denominator. They get cheap thrills by mocking the subjects they write about or cover.

And here the highest honours and the "cat's crown" go to self-proclaimed "opinion shaper" Shobhaa De.

De has discovered the perfect formula: the higher the negativity, the lower the blows, the better the readership. And if she has to "undress" someone publicly to accomplish that, well, it's a dirty job but there isn't a whole lot of other stuff worth writing about.

[Editors in India] expect that they will be no outrage from the public and no impending lawsuits. And history has shown them to be correct.

All this interviewing, all this fact-checking, all this daily drama of ethics with editors, really yaar, it's not what De is about. And after the Shiv Sena hassle, she has decided, it's much safer to throw White people under the bus. Leslee Udwin who made India's Daughter was one target of a De-brand diatribe. And then, of course, was De's latest and perhaps lowest exercise yet: her body-shaming and sartorial picking-apart of the Royal Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

Editors at this publication obviously sleep well at night. They expect that they will be no outrage from the public and no impending lawsuits. And history has shown them to be correct.

De sarcastically thanks Middleton, (who has won the hearts of the global world for her many achievements) for not wearing a sari because this is a garment that "needs curves... demands a derriere. Kate has none." I have never checked out Middleton's derriere but I do know that she has class and grace, both of which De has never had nor will ever have.

She sounds like an insane, jealous older woman past her expiration date in her "dress critique" column (yes, this woman spent a whole column shaming another woman's dress choices). Women journalists, shouldn't you stand up and say something?

De said nobody was interested in what the "luminous and radiant" Duchess had to say but everyone cared about what she would wear. Middleton met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, underprivileged kids, Bollywood celebrities and fed orphaned rhinos but who cares about that?

I have never checked out Middleton's derriere but I do know that she has class and grace, both of which De has never had nor will ever have.

For De, it's all about "choli ke peeche ka hai?" The blue Jenny Packham blue gown that I think Middleton looked dead drop gorgeous in was compared to a "glam abaya" and the brightly patterned Anita Dongre dress which actually "broke" the Indian designer's website was called "more Anokhi and Fabindia; a bit of Fashion Street too."

De spent the whole column insulting the gracious Duchess. I hope that the attorneys for the Royal Family read it and I sincerely hope they slap a lawsuit on the publication or at the very least send a formal letter of protest.

Maybe then this crude, crass, cheap form of journalism will be curbed. Because it's in very poor taste. And because it gives Indian journalism a bad name.

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