Sunday, June 18, 2006

Right to Information

Now that the Rahul Mahajan episode has moved from the front pages of newspapers to the tenth, I'm ready to express my opinion. Enough has been said about it, tons of newsprint and air time devoted to it. My intention is not to go into the details of the case, the rights and wrongs of it. I just want to express my opinion on an article I read recently in one of the newspapers.

The columnist in question (who, interestingly, works for a news channel) wrote about how we, as common people, change our opinions like a chameleon changes its colours. The view was that we are 'responsible' for first painting Rahul Mahajan as a saint, a dutiful son of a wronged father, then sympathizing with him, and finally writing him off as a spoilt son of a high-profile celebrity. True that the change in public opinion has been drastic, but how can you blame the people for that?

An opinion, by definition, is something a person believes or accepts as being sound or true. And this 'belief' is based on the available information. So, if one has limited information available, one’s opinion will obviously be limited. And as more information becomes available, the opinion is bound to change.

Now let's looks at the information we have had about Rahul Mahajan. When we first saw him presenting a picture of remarkable maturity and poise at the time of his father's funeral, that was all the information we had. What we saw on television screens – not to mention the media's role in highlighting this - was indeed an image of a dutiful son.

Jump forward a month, when we first heard that Rahul Mahajan had been hospitalized and Vivek Moitra had died. The instant reaction was that of sympathy – the family was going through more than its fair share of misfortune. Again, that was all the information we had. Again, it was the media that shaped this reaction.

A few hours later, more information started coming in, more skeletons stumbled out of the closet. Over the next few weeks, the facts were clear. And we were wiser! Rahul Mahajan’s transformation from Shravan Kumar to Duryodhan was complete!

I see nothing wrong in this shifting opinion. If at all, I would blame the media, which in most cases plays the role - or at least is expected to play the role - of the 'informer' or 'shaper of public opinion'. It hasn't been entirely objective about this entire case. When Rahul Mahajan was lighting his father’s pyre, the words and tone used to describe it on TV, the completely uncalled for sentimentality demonstrated by the commentators, the images that were played ceaselessly for days, shaped the public opinion. And now that we know that he did drugs, he's been made out to be among the worst villains around. Neither of these two extremes is justified. The truth is somewhere in between (even though our good old ex-PM chooses to believe in Rahul's sainthood; it's a case of bad company, he opines). Rahul Mahajan has committed a crime, just like so many others all over the country. Let the law take its own course, even though it can be horribly lop-sided at times. This case simply doesn't deserve the media spotlight it's getting.

I'm appalled by the degeneration of the electronic media in these days of 24x7 news channels. Anything can make it to the prime-time news bulletins. It doesn't stop at that. Each controversial clipping is played ad nauseum till you throw up in disgust. Remember the disaster on the ramp a few months back, or the Mika-Rakhi Sawant episode just last week? News channels are becoming revoltingly voyeuristic and sleazier (and completely irresponsible and irrelevant) by the day. All this in the name of people's right to information!