In the early Sixties, a man of slight build and unremarkable persona walked a dozen or so steps up a rickety stage. He dragged a chair to the microphone stand and adjusted its boom arm. No one paid any attention. The man corrected his harmonica clip into place, tuned his guitar matter-of-factly and in a gruff unremarkable voice sang the songs he had composed.
That man was Bob Dylan.
Soon, he would lend that same gruff voice to the silent millions who were clamouring for a change but didn’t know how to express themselves – in the battlefields of Vietnam, on the streets of Washington, and the drawing rooms of the world.
In early 2010, a man – build and persona unknown – dragged a chair to his computer desk one wintry night in Ahmedabad. Staring blankly at the screen, unsure yet determined, he exercised his finger joints and typed the following: “Time to rein in the Indian media”.
That man was Ravinar, and his blog Media Crooks has since garnered an astonishing 1.6 million page-views. For someone not associated with any newspaper or TV channel or related to a politician or a celebrity, these are, by any stretch of imagination, remarkable numbers.
Ravinar, like Dylan, is a Swiss Army knife: everything rolled into one except the bongo drums. Even his name – Dylan’s was Zimmerman – is a pseudonym (although he tells me that Ravinar is actually an anagram of his real name – like Khabar is Barkha’s). His keyboard is his harmonica and his guitar his string of Twitter screen-shots.
http://www.mediacrooks.com/ is how he disseminates his protest songs.
The Indian media ignores him, naturally, for he goes after them with an arsenal of red-hot hammer and tongs sold to him, I suspect by a retired police interrogator. Daily – almost hourly sometimes – he engages our favourite anchors in running battles in the dusty, mud-splattered arena that is Twitterland. But Ravinar enjoys the mud bath – a veritable one-man army against a formidable opponent that nurtures and shapes the minds of millions in this country.
Have his adversaries mended their ways since he first crossed swords with them? No. Will he emerge victorious and make them see sense in the end? He just might.
In any event, the collected junta is finding this engagement riveting. A million men and women have appointed him as an ombudsman that, strangely enough, each one of our newspapers and channels should’ve appointed in the first place.
Get this: the whipped and exhausted lot who do the bulk of the oar-churning are always the first to spot the lighthouse beacon, never the masters enjoying a good night’s sleep in the deep and luxurious confines of the stern. “There it is!”, they shout in unison, disregarding the furious whiplashes, “Our promised land!”
It’s just a matter of time before they abandon their posts and jump ship. That time has come.
The Indian media – especially the electronic media – has been operating on a flawed model, one based on dodgy TRP-driven advertising revenues, shady under-hand deals, and shameless political and corporate allegiances. Not long before this model suffers a wardrobe-malfunction. Something tells me Ravinar will be there to click a merry pic.
There is a Colosseum-like feel to the Media Crooks uploads – you can almost smell blood, hear it gush out of a dead anchor’s body. Perhaps fittingly, the commentators almost always give a thumbs-up.
“What started it all”, I ask him. “Was it that you couldn’t take it any more?”
“There isn’t one but multiple reasons”, says Ravinar. “Kandahar, Cash4Votes, 26/11 reporting, Gujarat 2002, they all added up. The thought really came when I saw the misdeeds of financial channels in a program in March 2009; that’s when I registered MediaCrooks.com – but I started writing only about a year later. And no it wasn’t because I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s just that I felt I should at least write about it.”
“Have you ever been served a defamatory notice?”
“Haha! Why? No, never. And I don’t defame anyone and wouldn’t ever want to. I must add that although I criticise quite a few media celebs, I don’t see them as evil monsters and Media Crooks has no objective of defaming anyone. Readers can always differentiate facts and logic from defamation. I’m quite aware I walk a thin line.”
In the initial years, Ravinar’s posts were more rant and less rumination. He went after everyone with the enthusiasm of an infant who sees a rattlesnake in its cradle and judges it to be a mere rattler. Shake-shake, inspect, smell, fling it against the wall.
Over time, as the crowd gathered under his window, and then started to swell alarmingly, he realised an element of professionalism was obligatory – even a hatchet job needs a practiced hand! Lately, his posts are more measured and his language tempered, and he bases each article on “proof” or a factoid. This is what I think has racked up the numbers. The reading public is no fool – if they want rants, they can get it in copious quantities in the comment spaces of Firstpost and Rediff. And one rant is as good or as bad as another. But they pause to reflect the moment they see an incendiary piece that also contains some factual data.
“Proofs” in Ravinar’s case, are the hundreds of Twitter screen-shots that he collects relentlessly dawn to dusk. It is astonishing – as though he’s a CCTV camera positioned outside the anchor’s or the editor’s house, right where they can’t spot him. The thing with such “evidence” is that it is unshakable – the tweeter may have deleted the embarrassing tweets realising his utter folly, but now that Ravinar has clicked them they shall linger to torment the tweeter till his dying day.
The readers see the screen-shots and they believe the evidence – why would anyone not? Satisfied, they proceed to consume the surrounding text.
Simple. Yet devastatingly effective.
There has also been a marked improvement in the quality and style of Ravinar’s prose since his early guerrilla days of hit-and-run. When the joke’s not on you, Ravinar’s pieces are imminently readable. But I doubt if Barkha or Rajdeep or Arnab read Media Crooks. I feel that they should. After all, didn’t Akbar stroll around the bazaars disguised as a commoner?
Media Crooks now carries advertising – a little space on the right is set aside for matrimonial sites and car companies. I am reminded of the amusing scene in Love and Death where Woody Allen is hawking refreshments to pooped soldiers scattered all around a battlefield once the day’s skirmish is over.
“These ads don’t pay all that much and Media Crooks wasn’t meant to be a money earner. Media Crooks is not an occupation, although I do write regularly”, says Ravinar.
“Are there any journos/anchors in the current media space that you admire?”
“Yes, there are quite a few of them who are consistently good in their writings and on TV. It is hard to single out one, or a handful. But mostly I find print media continues to have the better lot than TV. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of anyone. I prefer going by each article or show rather than the personality.”
There is a fundamental problem of perception among Indians. The only gradation that exists for us is on the Fair & Lovely carton. For all other practical purposes, we see things as either black or as white. Anything in-between is henna-ed.
For example, those who appreciate a good UPA policy decision or see sense in an article that praises it, are tagged immediately as pseudo-secular and sycophantic. Correspondingly, a staunch critic of the UPA or anyone praising Gujarat’s development for that matter, is a right-wing, cow-worshipping fascist.
Media Crooks, I get the feeling, is right-of-centre. It occupies that rare grey area we find so difficult to catalogue. In keeping with this theme, I ask Ravinar whether media houses should state their tilt openly.
“Yes, it is good for media houses to wear their sympathies openly. I consider that a lot more honourable and honest to readers and viewers instead of falsely claiming to be neutral or independent.”
“Would you say The Pioneer and Niti Central are pro-BJP?”
“Yes they are, and I find the quality of their journalism far superior in content, in factual honesty and in the depth of research on topics.”
“Have you ever criticised Gujarat or Ahmedabad media, or Narendra Modi?”
“Haha! Good question! If I were to criticise Gujarat or Modi I would’ve been a panellist on many channels by now! No, but seriously, on Media Crooks I try my best to seek facts and state the truth. I have found no reason to criticise Modi the way mainstream media does, if that’s what you meant. I don’t criticise Prithviraj Chauhan or Akhilesh Yadav either. And why should I criticise Gujarat? I don’t criticise any state. Media Crooks is not meant to measure performances or failures of states. As for the Ahmedabad media, I don’t read much of it or watch any local TV channels. I keep the topics relevant to our nation in general, as readers are from all over the country and the world. I have mentioned in my writings that I don’t agree with banning a book on Gandhiji by Modi. I am against such bans.”
“Do you think there is freedom of the press in this country?”
“Yes there is! But our media has given enough proof on enough number of occasions that they don’t want it.”
Ravinar stands as a reminder to all those who think they can chronicle the happenings in this vast and diverse nation of ours the way they’d like to and no one would object. True, he might get things horribly wrong sometimes, but remember he’s a chronicler too – you can take it or leave it. No one in a democracy is beyond criticism and reproach. He’s merely asking the questions.
And the answers? Well, they are blowin’ in the wind.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/8126627367/]