“How many of you had heard of Kailash Satyarthi before his name appeared in today’s newspaper?,” asked one of my teachers during a 9 am class. A single hand pointed to the ceiling rather tentatively. One. In a class of around eighty. Do we know M.S. Dhoni? Of course, our World Cup winning cricket team captain!Do we know Brad Pitt? Oh, the dreamy Oscar winning actor married to Angelina Jolie! What about Raghuram Rajan? Um… Anita Sarkeesian? Paul Farmer? Asma Jahangir? Nothing. The conclusion was simple- we know what, and only what we read or see in the media.
Asking around, I discovered that almost nobody had heard of Kailash Satyarthi and so it was not a question of not being well read and up-to-date with the current affairs. This discovery only led to further questions. How did a man who had worked relentlessly for years and saved thousands of children and gave them a new hope in life not find even a line’s worth of mention anywhere before he was awarded the greatest recognition of all, the Nobel Prize for Peace?
It cannot be denied that the media plays an irreplaceable role in our lives today. What we know about the world, the good, the bad and the ugly, comes mostly from the newspapers, magazines or the internet. However much certain skeptics might deny it, the television and the internet have ushered in an age of tremendous information and knowledge. It is both fast and convenient. The presence of especially the internet in our lives can be understood by how often we utter the words- let me Google it! Gone are the days when we had to toil in the dusty corners of the libraries, pouring over book after book, hour after hour to look up perhaps one tiny piece of information. Internet has brought libraries to our fingertips.
However, it is deeply disturbing that news of only increasing intensity of negativity dominate the media today. Else, it is the reality shows and the pointless sensationalizing of celebrity A’s wardrobe malfunction at the mega event the previous night or celebrity B’s much debated new love interest. These take up hours on our televisions and many inches in our newspapers. The whole drama revolving around the Sheena Bora murder case is still breaking news while the murders of a Narendra Dabholkar, a Govind Pansare or an M.M. Kalburgi are long forgotten. Is the quashing of a very basic human right, that of free speech, not infinitely more important that some twisted plot of greed and revenge? The ethical line can be liminal sometimes, but priority has to be given where priority needs to be.
Surely, there is no dearth of stories pleasing to the souls. What we need is ‘The Happy Newspaper’ analogous to the ‘The Happy Page’ quite popular on the internet these days. Really, where are the heartwarming success stories, stories of the indomitable human spirit and the quest for knowledge, of selfless acts of kindness and love and generosity?
Maybe the next Nobel Prize declaration will tell us!