Some hope in grim times

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Some hope in grim times

Monday, 12 October 2020 | Vinayshil Gautam

In these difficult days, there is reason to believe that the tribe of progressive social critiques is still heard

The Covid experience has been unique in more ways than what most of the webinars are talking about. For example, social media is not exactly known to elaborate concepts. However, the online versions of printed news media platforms appear to have widened and deepened their reach and impact as compared to the pre-Coronavirus era. The galloping use of smartphones in the country has enabled the reach and availability of news through a large part of the day, beyond the morning. At times, the impact is even clearer. Thankfully, the print media has not fallen prey to that claim that resonates through the electronic channel news daily: The phenomena called “breaking news.”

The concept of “breaking news” has undergone a sea change over the years and it doesn’t even titillate like before. “Breaking news” in years past used to be the equivalent of “Stop Press”, in the print media, when they used to stop the printing presses because something of phenomenal importance just had to be reported in the next day’s newspaper. For instance a war, or the declaration of Emergency, or demonetisation or the assassination of an important leader. Now, like many advertisements, “breaking news” seems more like an attempt to grab attention rather than share any meaningful news story that is unfolding at that time. 

Then there is the claim of “impact-making” news. For instance, the gate of a VIP’s residence was plastered with a quarantine notice, which was found to be very embarrassing by the bureaucrat who lived there. Reportedly, the notice was torn away. One of the news channels picked this story up and ran a campaign on “differential treatment.” Soon after, the notice was restored by the authorities that be. Subsequently the news channel claimed to have run an “impact-making” story. Maybe, it was because of the news coverage of the channel that the notice was restored. Maybe it was not. Maybe colleagues persuaded the bureaucrat to tone down the reaction to the quarantine notice. Or maybe the bureaucrat’s good sense prevailed in the end. However that may be, not long thereafter, the practice of pasting quarantine notices on the entrance of households with Coronavirus patients was reportedly discontinued by the Haryana Government.

The impact may not be monocausal. There may be many claimants to the impact and many perspectives. Be that as it may, one thing is obvious that the media does carry a clout, though one-to-one impact-change correlation is difficult to establish. However, when one notices a change after reading something in news columns, it does raise the possibility that the writing made an impact and caused the change.

In these columns on September 28, para three of the text said “…even today in a city that is the proverbial centre of power, pick up a phone and call a landline of the metropolitan telephone service, the ring is preceded by a recorded voice message which, when translated into English, goes something like this: ‘In the entire country the process of un-lockdown has begun. In such circumstances, move out of the house only when it is totally necessary.’” What followed was a light-hearted banter on the intended impact of the message. Several days later that message was replaced by one from a well-known voice from Bollywood. Significantly, the text of the new message on the telephone service resonates far better than the preceding one. Now the person holding the telephone is reminded that not only India but the whole world is grappling with the impact of the Coronavirus.

The purpose of the above narrative is not to claim that the September 28 write-up in this column triggered this modification. Far from it! However, it pleases one to note that somewhere, someone has contributed towards a change for the better. In the past, too, I have flagged such correlations. It is possible that others have written on similar things, too. Others may have talked or others may have noticed what I noticed too. The important thing is we should be proud of having a responsive governance system at least in some kind of experiences and cases. Once should notice the brighter aspects of public life in an otherwise grim scenario. It keeps hope alive. Hope need not come in large parcels or in areas where someone feels fatigued. It is just the indicator of life. In these difficult times, there is reason to believe that the tribe of progressive social critiques is still heard. Whether it is heard often or not often enough is a matter of perception and appetite for favourable response. For some it is still a matter of joy that sometimes those who matter do hear and do respond. We are blessed!

(The writer is an internationally-acclaimed management consultant)

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