Going Beyond Investigative Journalism

Constructive criticism is necessary, but as all of us know from personal experience, unrelenting criticism can be very counter productive, says SUMA VARUGHESE.

Going Beyond Investigative Journalism

Investigative journalists are the heroes of the trade. As they stride into town, smoking gun in hand, all the others – business, politics, feature writers, sub-editors – stand back to let them pass.

Remember Kamala, the woman who had been sold to an Indian Express writer, the Antulay scam, the Harshad Mehta scandal, and of course, the Tehalka to-do? What a furore each of these exposes caused. What a lot of gnashing of teeth and beating of chests. What a volcano of wrath from commentators, readers, etc. What a lot of publicity for the journalist. Instant fame, in most cases. Is it any wonder that every journalist fantasises about being the next Sucheta Dalal or Aniruddha Behal?

Now I don’t mean to decry this function. In a democracy somebody has to blow the whistle when fingers are in the till. But I dispute its top-of-the-rung status. I don’t believe that it is the supreme good of journalism. I don’t think investigative journalism deserves to be iconised or its practitioners deified.

 I believe there are far more worthwhile things that journalism can and should do. Unglamorous, lowkey functions like building up society, promoting justice and fairplay, generating a value-based society, and creating a life-affirmative portrait of the world that will inspire and elevate its readers.

My main problem with investigative journalism is that it only looks at what is wrong with society. And the more it looks at what is wrong, the more it finds to criticise and take issue with. Constructive criticism is necessary, but as all of us know from personal experience, unrelenting criticism can be very counter-productive. We reel back defensively and instead of looking at the allegations, we rationalise and justify ourselves.

And we will never change. There is a spiritual truth that explains this phenomenon. What you resist, persists. As long as we are unable to accept someone or something, it will continue to remain as it is. The more you resist something, the more entrenched its presence. Parents will agree that the more they criticise their children, the worse they behave.

This applies to our own behaviour as well. The more you resist your overeating or smoking or alcoholism, the more helpless you are to control it. What will help you handle it is an acknowledgement that you have a problem and a determination to take responsibility for finding a solution to it. Once accept your actions instead of resisting them, you are free to focus on solutions, instead of shadowboxing with yourself.

This logic is applicable to the relation between the journalist and his subject. The more you criticise Maharashtra Home Minister Chagan Bhujbal, the more defensive he gets and the more lacklustre his performance. The more you run down the country, the more flaccid it gets. The more you snipe at the politician, the more venal and opportunistic his attitude.

The stick and the carrot go hand in hand. If you must apply the stick, then what about the carrot? Why not profile righteous politicians, and aspects of the country that make us proud? Why not, for heaven’s sake, look at the brighter side of Mr Bhujbal?

Balance and a respect for facts are considered to be the two gods of the profession. Perhaps these are applied in individual pieces, but what of the macro view? How come they are so grievously missing here?

Simply because finger-pointing and criticising are considered to be far more honourable than commending, complimenting and acknowledging. These latter activities are considered to be the province of public relations people. For a journalist to earn his stripes, he must snarl.

Can there be anything more unreasonable than this? Surely the difference between a journalist and a PR person depends on motivation rather than what you write. A PR person is paid to write what he does, and is concerned about projecting the situation positively, whether or not it is justified. A positively-inclined journalist may simply be convinced of the value of what he writes. Of course, there are PR people among journalists, but they need to be weeded out by examining their motives and not necessarily by what they write.

Destruction must be balanced with construction. The universe is a dynamic interplay of creation, maintenance and destruction. Journalism too must be likewise, pointing out not just society’s evils, but also its manifest good. Journalism must highlight the number of quiet anonymous do-gooders upon whom the very survival of this country is dependent. And what about the everyday heroism of the masses who put up with untold privations without flinching? It must portray the countless acts of selflessness and goodness that resound through this land everyday, and the initiatives taken to heal the sick, uplift the poor, educate the illiterate. The journalist is every bit as obliged to show the throbbing vitality and health of this country as much as its sores and pustules.

How come this country survives? Why has it not slipped into anarchy long ago? Obviously, something must be working. What is that something? Is that not worth investigating?

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