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Asian Editors Circle

Just an ordinary journalist

My revulsion to being considered a member of the media is growing.

I am part of one medium - the newspaper.

My responsibilities, my role and my accountability are restricted to this medium.

I will answer for my sins and foibles, but not for those of others.

Fellow editors in India and Asia - dear friends all - tell me of the inevitability of media convergence and chide me for being antediluvian.

They say the modern newsroom requires people skilled not just in fact gathering and writing; headlining and editing; but also in podcasting, broadcasting, tweeting and heaven knows what else.

That, to me, sounds like Indian restaurants of yesteryears - they offered Chinese, continental, Thai and Mughlai cuisines from a single wok and made a hash of them all.

I am entitled to my view, but you will ask why I am unburdening myself now.

The reason is that something very sad happened a few days ago. This event, coming on the back of a string of others, forced me to organise my thoughts on why I ought to remain a plain and simple journalist, and not allow membership of the much-hyped club called the media to be thrust upon me.

A 20-year-old woman, student of a prestigious college in Delhi and daughter of a man who lost his life in an India-Pakistan border conflict when she was two, said in a video posted on social media: "Pakistan did not kill my dad, war did."

That is a profound thought, one that every sensible person ought to reflect upon.

It is a thought that deserves introspection and informed articulation, especially in these ultra-nationalistic times.

It should open minds, not close them further. It does not deserve derision or hate or the threat of violence. But that is what it got.

For her poignant appeal to good sense, Ms Gurmehar Kaur was trolled, hounded, threatened with rape, labelled a Maoist and a separatist, and suffered the mortification of being told by a junior minister that her father's soul must be weeping "because she was being misguided by those who celebrate on the bodies of martyrs".

Rattled by the rabidity of responses, Ms Kaur withdrew from the public space in tears.

A brave and spirited woman I would be proud to call my daughter was forced to cower.

All that I, and many like me, could do was watch helplessly as the deluge of hate swamped our world. The media was at work, and to think they call it social.

Convergence would make me a part of this horror.

Ms Kaur's case was special but by no means unique from the perspective of labelling.

A few days earlier, at a "media" conclave, I was questioned by members of the audience.

They asked me why the media was so irresponsible; why it sensationalised events; why it found little or no space for the other side of the story; and why it conducted trials and played the role of judge, jury and executioner.

I was shaken by the degree of antipathy.

Partly to gain time and gather my thoughts, I asked my interrogators to provide examples.

The examples came thick and fast. They supported each of the charges, sometimes conclusively.

Culpa, maxima culpa!

But it had nothing to do with me. Each charge was exemplified by an excess of a television anchor or a Twitter user, members of that grandly titled media of which I was alleged to be a part.

I pleaded not guilty and cited my watertight alibi.

For my pains, one person accused me of chickening out on a technicality.

This is the reason the narrative must be rewritten and the lines redrawn, so that members of the press can extricate themselves from this oversized cloak called the media into which they are being squeezed.

We are inheritors of a glorious legacy and bound by the rigours of a demanding craft.

We are not hoodlums who threaten to rape or maim those we don't like or shout out those we disagree with.

The best of us err, sometimes grievously, but have learnt that making amends can be uplifting.

Those on social and other media - be they presidents, prime ministers, ministers, television anchors or citizens of the world - who are prepared to subject themselves to the standards we aim for should join us.

They, too, must strive for the truth, aim to keep the discourse even-tempered, find space for all sides of a story and have the ability to admit mistakes.

But if they cannot do so, let them be members of the media and leave us journalists in peace, even if it is to be the peace of an ethereal grave that Twitter and Facebook dig for us.

•The writer cannot be found on social media. This is a series of columns on global affairs written by top editors and columnists from members of the Asia News Network and published in newspapers and websites across the region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'Just an ordinary journalist'. Print Edition | Subscribe