This essay has been adapted from an address to young journalists delivered at the 2019 convocation of the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bengaluru.
I DO NOT BELIEVE what politicians say most of the time, but this statement, by the former American president Theodore Roosevelt, is quite apt about our profession.
Roosevelt said, in April 1904:
The man who writes, the man who month in and month out, week in and week out, day in and day out, furnishes the material which is to shape the thoughts of our people, is essentially the man who more than any other determines the character of the people and the kind of government this people shall possess.
This means journalists have great responsibility. If that man or woman who writes month in and month out, week in and week out, day in and day out, furnishes reports that allow leaders to hold their office without holding their actions and policies to account, or instead glorifies a leader or government that does not deserve it, or overlooks evidence against a leader or government, then that man or woman is playing a partisan role in determining the kind of government the people possess. That man or woman may be a primetime television anchor, a newspaper editor or a beat reporter. Throughout history, leaders and those in power have recognised the need to tame journalists and media houses precisely because they wield the power that Roosevelt acknowledged. Leaders in certain countries game journalists and the media more successfully than others. But the factor that determines the extent to which a powerful man can command his media lies in the hand of the individual journalist—you.