Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Media Exposes & Army Morale

Nitin Gokhale is a fine journalist, many, many years my senior. If I one day achieve his reputation and credibility in the areas I report on, I would retire extremely satisfied. 

A column today on Rediff, however, sent me a mixed message. In it he, argues:
“While I will defend the right of every media person to report what he or she thinks is right, I am afraid none of us has thought through the consequences of the effect it will have on the psyche of the Indian soldier and, more importantly, the way ordinary Indians will view the Indian Army”.

He makes two arguments in the above lines that, while quite distinct, have been joined at the hip. First: that every journalist must “report what he or she thinks is right”. Second: that some of these reports may have a damaging effect “on the psyche of the Indian soldier” and the way citizens view the Army.
Why is it important that we treat these as separate issues? I’ll tell you. First some background. I am married into a family that has sent its men to the armed forces continuously since the 1960s. I have had several conversations with them about the kind of stories recently doing the rounds. My family and I share Nitin’s concern and disgust on some of these (the “C-word” story, for example).

However, I have also heard from them about military morale outside of the context of these hit-and-run jobs. Here’s what I know: Nothing is more disgusting for an officer than having to salute seniors who loot the country they swore to protect. That is why General VK Singh’s campaign against corruption is being praised in every barrack and on every street corner.  

I have yet to hear of an instance when a solider has criticized the media for exposing, in a balanced and truthful way, the rot that exists within the armed forces. In fact, my father-in-law, who retired as AVM from the IAF a few years ago, frequently tells me: You guys should let people know about the swift justice that follows these #*$@%’s scams”. No doubt, army justice is meted out relatively quickly compared to our lumbering civilian courts. In other words: ‘Write about the scams and how we mercilessly deal with these #*$@%s’.

The media is doing its duty by helping General VK Singh expose corruption. It is not damaging the morale of soldiers nor is it reducing the army’s credibility in the eyes of India’s citizens. That is being done from within by corrupt officers and babus in the military and various ministries.

On the contrary, by exposing corruption, the media is making this fine institution more robust by exterminating the moths eating away at its fabric. In this fight, I stand firmly behind General Singh. I am sure Nitin does too.

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