On the loose: The Tune Out - watsupptoday.com
On the loose: The Tune Out
Posted 20 Aug 2018 12:17 PM

I recently met a seasoned professional who told me he had switched to reading business papers instead of the newspapers. Disillusioned by the relentless barrage of terrible news — environmental disasters, child molestations and lynchings — he said newspapers were also history for him, like television news. More interestingly, after reading newspapers diligently for 30 years, he said he didn’t miss them one bit.

This is a common refrain I hear everywhere, across age-groups, a lament that there isn’t enough positive news in the papers. The questions are almost accusatory, as if it’s the journalists’ fault for ruining everyone’s mornings. There is now a cringeworthy, platitudinous term for this: constructive journalism, a sort-of wry acknowledgement that fear-inducing narratives are turning people off the news, permanently.

First point to note: there isn’t any well thought-out conspiracy in newsrooms across India to torture readers with stories of unpalatable horror. Editors go about choosing which stories to highlight in the way they always have — those that inform, others that expose corruption and injustice. Besides, the sports pages always have something to celebrate.

Nobody enjoys seeing gruesome images from Syria, or of oxygen-starved babies in Uttar Pradesh. But if the newspapers were only filled with feel-good stories, like my favourite one of Hima Das, the news would be insufferably boring. Crucially, in a country like India, it simply doesn’t ring true. This sudden distaste for reality stems from people who are now used to watching cute cat videos on Facebook. Since there are so many lovely, nostalgic stories floating around online, of, dare I say it — goodness — readers have begun to feel more resentful that hard news is so brutal in comparison.

If you think about it, it does seem a waste of time that in this short, precious life of ours, our minds be cluttered with depressing accounts of abject misery, of gang rapes and caste crimes. Stuff that’s beyond your control and comprehension, and which you are helpless to change. Daily news coverage is upsetting, no doubt, but is the solution to retreat from the public discourse of the nation? Even if only in a visceral way, what happens around us gives us a sense of identity and belonging. Our shared history as citizens binds us, even if it’s just with anger. A better way to see it is by understanding how with every ghastly scam unearthed, and every predator outed, something positive emerges out of the tragic. Or to quote a cliche off Facebook — the wet and slippery ground beneath some vulnerable person’s feet just got a little stronger.

Consider, for instance, the latest horror story to make headlines, of a girls’ shelter home in Muzaffarpur (Bihar), where the extent of abuse is so shocking that two Supreme Court Justices have gone on record to say they were “extremely disturbed”. Post this revelation, the apex court has opened up investigations into orphanages and observation homes across the country. These are difficult stories to read but who will ever say this should not have made it into the public domain? The impact has been huge, with the CBI intervening and one may reasonably hope, the lives of young women at these homes will improve.

Progress isn’t a straight line forward. It spirals, goes around in circles and backwards, before settling in a better place. In an ideal world, people should not be terrified when they put down a newspaper. The fact remains that the stories one can’t bear to read are the ones that most need to be told.

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