A lot of the Ayn Rand I read as an adolescent stayed with me. What appears most relevant is the "Argument from Intimidation" that she so eloquently describes in The Virtue of Selfishness. Today's public discussion is completely muddled, with all sides attempting to win the argument - not by logic but by intimidation.
Our media personalities face this the most. Some of the more popular journalists of this age have to constantly be at the receiving end of this form of argument from intimidation.
From Shekhar Gupta's legitimately earned and declared money to Barkha Dutt's completely harmless conversation with Niira Radia, or her grandfather's participation in the freedom struggle and contesting elections on the Congress ticket, to Arnab Goswami's father and uncle contesting the Assam Assembly elections on BJP tickets, everything comes in handy to attack them when they take a stand on an issue contrary to what some of us want them to.
What is Barkha's fault if her grandfather participated in the freedom struggle as a Congress worker? We can't even blame her grandfather for working with the Congress in his struggle for the country's independence, as he had no other option.
Some of us don't get along with facts. Fiction fits better with our narrative. Thus a profile in The Caravan, howsoever generalised; a mention in some tapes, howsoever irrelevant and innocent; relatives who contested elections as in the case of Barkha and Arnab become tools for us to attack them and attempt to put them on the defensive.
|Meenakshi Lekhi informed Parliament that AgustaWestland had spent six million euros on media relations in India.|
Social media sees a lot of such arguments. Terms like "paid media" and "presstitutes" are liberally used to quieten some of the best voices of our times. The good news is that these voices (and in some cases noises) refuse to get intimidated.
The unfolding narrative around the AgustaWestland (AW) case shows how information-fixers in the Narendra Modi government are using the same method of argument from intimidation.
BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi informed Parliament that AgustaWestland had spent six million euros on media relations in India. The claim, based on a document which was part of a court ruling in Italy, became the latest weapon to intimidate any journalist not blindly toeing the government's line on the AgustaWestland issue.
AgustaWestland got caught indulging in malpractices and the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government invoked the integrity clause, cancelled the contract and heavily penalised the company, apart from initiating an inquiry into the matter.
While AgustaWestland can be accused of a lot of wrongdoing, putting aside a sum of money for PR is the last charge that we can put on the company. Isn't it a standard practice among companies, political parties and even some NGOs to hire PR agencies to ensure good media coverage?
Just because it was hired to help Modi, can APCO Worldwide be accused of bribing journalists to make them write or talk in his favour? Even though channels like Times Now make Doordarshan appear objective, can we accuse the Modi government of bribing Arnab, the Times Now editor-in-chief? We simply cannot.
I chose to give the example of Arnab here because he took up the issue of "money for media" more aggressively than even Lekhi did in the Lok Sabha. "Ten names," thundered a righteous Arnab, "of journalists who got paid by AW", without batting an eyelid or caring to see how many companies sponsor Times Now's show "The Newshour".
Why do these companies sponsor the show? Charity? Unconditional love for Arnab?
Name the journalists and expose them if they took money from AgustaWestland. Why keep the names hidden?
As my friend from The Times of India, Vishwa Mohan, tweeted, "Because they want to discredit all... not naming may also be part of some ulterior motive."
In the quintessential Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) brand of propaganda, WhatsApp messages carrying names of five respectable journalists who are outspoken critics of the Sangh Parivar, are already doing the rounds.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal, and Union minister and former Army chief General VK Singh started the trend of intimidating the media in order to tame it. The AAP held a press conference against certain media houses. And the mighty General floated the term "presstitutes" in our muddied lexicon.
Attributing reasons instead of sticking to reasoning and attacking the arguer instead of the argument is a lazy option. It is bad enough that politicians indulge in this form of argument against each other because in doing so they deprive voters of a fact-based argument.
The media should stop itself from this lazy option and see through the game. By attacking each other, journalists are helping the political class in polarising the media. More urgent than naming politicians and bureaucrats is to find and expose the names of bribe-takers among journalists.
Before and without that, do not attribute motives to those who don't agree with your version of truth - howsoever loud you are in presenting it.