Home > Uncategorized > Wikileaks: Can we handle the truth?

Wikileaks: Can we handle the truth?


Do we all live in the same world? As WikiLeaks brought the latest treasure trove of un-redacted diplomatic cables into the public domain, one could not help but wonder if the reality created for us, and the reality ‘they’ see, are situated in the same universe. The gulf between the myths that popular media peddles and the reality that the faceless bureaucracy of the US sought to uncover for their own diplomats provided a crack in the facade through which one could peer at the process by which reality is produced for us. It offered a fleeting opportunity to experience the blinkers we wear unawares that filter out what we are not supposed to see. It was not that the emperor had no clothes; that was something we had suspected all along. But the fact that those reporting to us were more a part of the filters than the eyes and ears we thought we had, produced a sense of betrayal and despair that was hard to ignore. It is one thing to have a point of view. It is quite a different thing to consistently project a point of view. The popular media came across as a mere extension of the apparatus that produces the matrix that runs our lives. It was a very bleak and lonely moment when one more prop that holds one’s world together just dropped away.
Myth making has a long history and tradition. The pharaohs had snake charmers and magicians in their courts to awe the hoi polloi with their supernatural powers. The purpose of the trickery was not so much to demonstrate power. Its real utility lay in subliminally persuading the audience that they were incapable of exercising such power, being inherently inferior to their masters. Time and education have diminished the old myths. But myth makers responded with ever more subtle and elaborate schema. If leaders need to be trained to lead, followers need even more, not less, training to be followers. Servility does not come easy. Religion, culture, tradition, education, all have been pressed into service to create docile subjects.

Democracy had apparently broken this spell over us by inventing a dedicated pair of eyes and ears independent of the powers that be to report on reality to us. WikiLeaks showed our media had switched sides. It did not report reality but something else. It was not the missing clinical objectivity. It was its meek acceptance that it had a role to play in sustaining the system, of being a responsible player in the scheme of things. Responsible to whom? And hey, what happened to my eyes and ears?
Unedited, unprocessed, raw truth was something unsuitable for our palates. It had to be processed by a journalistic sensitivity, made coherent and comprehensible by a higher intelligence, and balanced by a superior judgement before it could be served to us mortals. Perhaps that is so. From whence did this obligation to sustain the system spring from? Who mandated it? Just think about it for a minute. Here is the civil service of a country, creating a huge bureaucratic apparatus, to process published information at an enormous expense in order to make sense of it. That shows the amount of noise that is present in the media’s output. But that is not all. It then goes out to principal actors, systematically pumps them for their views, crosschecks and cross-references the information to piece together something it can finally use. The product it ends up with is not only closer to the truth but is vastly different from that purveyed by the media that was supposed to have the truth in the first place. It takes more effort to deconstruct the story put out by the media to arrive at the truth than it takes to simply report the truth. And we are being ‘served’ by the media? The media was not pointing us at the truth; it was pointing us away from the truth. Mind, the WikiLeaks cables are diplomatic cables dealing with issues in the public domain. The WikiLeaks trove contains nothing pertaining to intelligence-related material, which is another world altogether.
One is not questioning the need for executive privilege here. Nor the fact that diplomacy may often need to be conducted in privacy, even secrecy, as options likely to inflame passions are examined, discussed and discarded. Indeed, just as individuals need some privacy, governments too need privacy for the actors therein to be able to freely and frankly consult, brainstorm, collaborate and report things among themselves. Rather one is focusing on the end result of the media’s exertions and those produced by the US state bureaucracy for their own use. Why are the two so different? Why is the US civil service’s product more credible? Why did our media filter out what we obviously wish to know and pay for knowing it? It is hard to believe that stuff filtered out was just journalistic discretion professionally employed. If so, the problem goes even deeper.
It is easy to dismiss the wide gulf between reality and media projection as something occasioned by technology that disrupted the media business model. Or that it has been brought on by increasing corporate ownership and excessive concentration. To blame it on general malfeasance that plagues our times is even more meaningless. The dichotomy between the media’s role as a pillar of democracy and its role as our eyes and ears was a small crack that has induced further and deeper fractures as the media now serves multiple masters. It is at once beholden to the presiding powers that seek to shape our discourse, to its shareholders for profits, to its advertisers who often dictate policy, and a variety of other interest groups not all of whom are visible. We as readers and viewers figure as just one element in the matrix that defines the media and the role it plays in our lives. One thing should be clear. We as citizens no longer own its primary responsibility as we were taught to expect. Things have changed.
The need for somebody to collect, collate, even analyse and offer opinion on events, people and ideas around us will not go away. Indeed as change accelerates, and complexity multiplies, education becomes a continuous process through one’s life. Journalists as an intermediary in the process of knowledge dissemination will endure. Perhaps journalists may have to transition from being jacks-of-all-trades to masters of a few specialised ones. Information of the sort put out by WikiLeaks is simply too cluttered and voluminous to be of any use in everyday life. But to survive the credibility gap revealed by WikiLeaks is another story altogether. Are blogs produced by individuals and paid for through individual subscriptions part of the answer? That would blend a common platform provided by a media house together with the individual credibility and track record of a journalist as a person. Whatever the answer, trust must return to the relationship between a journalist and her readers. Without trust, the script running the matrix will simply invite rebellion and then chaos.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 20, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Dear Miss Sonali, we didn’t have your e-mail address so had to post a message here. We were wondering if you could give us the permission to post some of your writings on http://www.kashmirdispatch.com.
    KD Team

    • September 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      You are welcome to use anything you like here. 🙂

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