By Pushkar Raj*
It is a common refrain in the country that news has declined in content and quality. Social media is full of debate on the issue since innovations like the paid news and scandals like Radia tape. A common thread of concern is that the media is scandalizing, preaching and serving the masses a low comedy in the name of news than informing which is its primary task.
How has this de-generation come about?
In a democracy News opens up a reality to people on which they can act. The journalist’s task is to inform about that reality by presenting facts from more than one perspective so that people can form an opinion and choose their rulers.
However, lately the news is being prevented from reaching the masses. This is done by stopping the journalist from gathering and presenting the news.
The data compiled by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) suggest that since 1992, 71 media persons have been killed in the country with hardly any punishment. A report by media watch website the hoot suggests that in 2010-16, 23 journalists have been murdered. There has been only one conviction in which an appeal is pending.
Apparently, central and state governments are not protecting journalists and once harmed they government does not take interest in ensuring justice thus encouraging their purge. Ironically, journalist is merely a messenger going about his duty. Shooting the messenger was never so true than now.
Furthermore, governments do not want news to reach the masses therefore using defamation laws against journalists. For example, during 2001-6 Jayalalitha government filed about 120 defamation cases against media. The DMK government that followed her was no less better filing over hundred defamation cases against the media and the present government recently arrested a cartoonist for highlighting plight of poor at the hands of money lenders in rural Tamil Nadu.
Big business is another enemy of news and the journalist.
Pranjoy Guha Thakurta had to resign from the editorship of the Economic and Political Weekly , under the threat of a legal suit. He has also received defamation notices from lawyers of Mukesh and Anil Ambani led Reliance industries after he self published Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.
Corporatization of news
Corporate treat news as a commodity that can be made packaged and sold defining news upside down. On the contrary, news cannot be manufactured; news happens.
The major task of corporate media is to suppress the news as it happens and replace it with manufactured commodity in that proportion and serve it to its audience that buy their other products too.
Corporate control and regulate the flow of the news in the country now. Mukesh Ambani led Reliance group has taken over network eighteen group of companies and has invested about $ 6 billion in media sector. BCCL that runs Times group is already nearly 1.5 billion conglomerates thriving on its innovation of the paid news.
Star news is controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s century fox that is fourth largest media house of the world and primary source of news for Donald Trump, who some suspect, is the ‘liar in chief’ of the modern times.
With NDTV and Living Media, that broadcasts Aaj Tak and publish popular weekly India Today in several languages, also receiving significant corporate investments news gets sanitized off purity and sensitivity when it reaches television studios. It turns into a propaganda with an agenda.
Thus, with radio news and Doordarshan (public television network reaching 596 million of 1.3 billion) under government and rest under corporate control, 16000 times rise in fortune of the son of the ruling party chief in a year is not a news. Instead, for private major TV news channels the exploits and wisdom of convicted and current babas, Karva Chauth, Shakahari Gurugram is the news.
This media when tasked to cover social issue such as infants’ death in hospitals, or farmer’s suicide in rural India present a spectacle similar as shown in popular Hindi movie Peepli Live.
Another disturbing trend in India is tendency to defame and fracture the media as an institution by its own ilk.
This is borne out from the headlines like, ‘Amit Shah’s son to file 100 crore defamation suit against website’ in a prominent newspaper. The headline is disingenuous as it imputes that the news portal’s report is ambiguous and deserves a suit. This is a case of corporate media demeaning independent media.
Reasons for optimism
Journalism will live as long as passion to bring out truth remains and journalists will create new ways to survive.
This optimism stems from testimony of a soldier like passion and courage of the journalist Rohini Singh who broke Jay Shah story. She was trolled and threatened by the paid social media mob not withstanding that she had previously reported on Robert Vadra’s accumulation of wealth under the congress regime.
She wrote back, “My primary job is to speak truth to power. To question the government of the day”, adding, “I don’t do the sort of stories I do because I am ‘ brave’. I do them because that’s journalism”.
So long the above spirit remains news will shine in debris of propaganda.
*Melbourne based researcher and author