93 seconds to knock 93 years of a hero’s life

At a time when of much of what the media dishes out is what its subjects want to put out in the public realm, a scoop Q&A interview has become a bit of a prized trophy in journalism. Undiluted and straight from the horse’s mouth, it is a direct dialogue between the interviewee and the audience.

But can the interviewee make use of the situation and peddle scurrilous, malicious bazaar gossip to sell a book? Does the interviewer have no role to put the accuser to greater scrutiny other than acting as a stenographer? And is it OK for the media to air whatever charges an interviewee makes as long as it seems to be doing the ethically correct thing of getting a couple of talking heads to defend the “victim”?

These are the questions that arise from Karan Thapar’s interview with the former Pakistan foreign minister Gohar Ayub Khan, son of dictator General Ayub Khan, in which Gohar Khan indicates that India’s first Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was a Pakistani spy, who sold India’s 1965 war plan to the enemy.

Journalistically, of course, the interview is an explosive scoop. However, merely because a loose-mouthed Pakistani says it on air and on camera, does it necessarily make it credible? And can it be repeated ad nauseam without giving a chance for the “accused” and ailing soldier to respond?

CNN-IBN, the channel which aired the interview, has tried to back-pedal by getting military officers and politicians to defend Manekshaw. The interviewer himself—who had recently conducted an interview with Lieutenant General J.F.R. Jacob who suggested that Manekshaw didn’t know how to fight—has sought to convey that he isn’t doing a hatchet job on behalf of the military establishment miffed at Manekshaw getting Rs 1.6 crore in back wages.

But can a 93-year-old man’s pride and prestige as the icon of Indian heroism, for liberating Bangladesh, be demolished in 93 seconds flat by a media seeking sensational headlines? Can the rest of the media repeat it endlessly without any compulsions or compunctions?

Is nothing sacred any longer?

Cross-posted on Sans Serif