Editorial: Public Domain is not Private Space

Deeper deliberations are missed because superficiality dominates

The public domain has become too easy a space to intrude. Dealing with news-starved publications, this was always an easy space to occupy, achieved with superficial observations put together as a press release, and now, with the explosion of Facebook usage in Sikkim, it has become even easier. It has also become more worrisome in that real-time access to the public domain and a general lack of depth in most claims and pronouncements has also made its usage more reckless. Even though the “public domain”, by its very name suggests openness and accessibility, the invitation should not be grabbed to make pronouncements about anything that catches the fancy or is heard on the grapevine.

Newspapers contribute a major portion of what ends up in this domain because despite the limited readerships, the fourth estate does command some amount of credibility, if for nothing else, then to at least reach statements from public representatives [as also those aspiring to become people’s representatives] to the public. It is, however, essentially a one-way traffic that the newspapers regulate because very little of the people’s response to messages addressed to them make it into the pages in follow-up. Allegations and counters are exchanged on what is printed in newspapers and rarely on how the people have responded or how they are affected. In the absence of any other platform to represent the public domain, newsprint plays the role. From time to time, newspapers too join the debate, sometimes to put things in perspective, at other times because they also want to have a say in things. Most of the times though issues remain confused because each participant in the debate opts for selective representation of facts to support individual claims. Unfortunately, because public response [or even involvement] in these debates remains un-calibrated, too many times the dialogue disintegrates to puerile levels.

The point being stressed here is that too many people are making too many unreasoned comments in the public domain. They invariably paint themselves into a corner, but no one points it out and they dance out on the wings of another combination of outlandish claims and allegations. And, the people forget easily [or maybe they just don’t care]. It would have been fine if such dialogues remained shunted to the sidelines, with leaders frequently embarrassing themselves and keeping everyone entertained. But that is not the case and every public representative, from association leaders to forum office-bearers, have a role to play and a responsibility to live up to. This responsibility multiplies manifold given the fact that most people don’t bother with details and can react emotionally to most issues following slogans instead of reasoning. While the public has the right to react the way it deems fit, it is for their elders and leaders to put things in the correct perspective so that they make intelligent decisions.

And no, don’t mistake the likes and monosyllabic responses in the comments feed of Facebook posts to constitute engagement; involvement requires deeper meditations than the keypad of smartphones allow and wider deliberations than the refresh buttons have patience for.