“Back in the pre-independence era, the tiny Indian media represented a gigantic social role. Today, the gigantic Indian media represents the narrowest social interest. Here’s the paradox.”

P Sainath, Senior journalist

Having carefully drafted possibly the most responsible constitution pillared upon the three estates, we still found the necessity for the fourth estate to check the three estates and believed the press to be the fourth estate. How successful has been the fourth estate? What are the challenges they face? Where have they betrayed us? We need a systematic analysis to know better. Echo presents all the sides of press and media as it is to the readers.

How we cover the issue:

  • What media has achieved in India?
  • How has Indian media failed in its duty?
  • Corporate interests of media
  • Challenges faced by media
  • Social media as saviour
  • The ideal journalist

Success of Indian media

Media’s success is not measured in terms of extraordinary statistics as in other business firms. Its success lies in how indispensable it has become; how it no longer just arms the elite, but even the common man. Few other industries have penetrated so deep into the society as media has. It has become mandatory for any political party to have a party magazine or at the least a twitter handle to communicate with the public and read the public. In this way, how media capitalised on the information revolution to emerge as the omnipotent. Is the real success story of Indian media. The indian media has tied a nation with plural perspectives and beliefs together, instead of the easier option to blow the nation apart. This is a sign of a highly civilised media. How the media fights politics, inclined judiciary and always keeps us informed is stupendous!

Where does press fail?

Indian press, though politically free have become slaves of profit.  This has not just reduced the quality of news, but has dangerously misinformed, misled the public and even crippled social harmony at times – thereby effectively doing all that it was supposed to prevent. We have to learn and educate ourselves about

  • how media has manipulated public opinion at times for personal, political and corporate interests;
  • biased interests on issues not based on principles but just based on their profitability;
  • how paid news is emerging as a great threat and we don’t even know it
  • how media is ruled by the corporate world and what we can expect from them
  • constant negligence of issues pertaining to the poor and oppressed

Manipulation of public opinion and interest:

Media the fulcrum of democracy, believes in one thing: A lie often repeated becomes true. This is why the media cares less to find and echo the public opinion. Rather, it imposes its opinion with vested benefits and claims it to be the national opinion.  It has conveniently chose not to understand and represent what the nation actually wants to know. Such manipulations are not be confused as lazy misrepresentations. Media has gone to the extent of producing fake pictures, doctored videos to substantiate their view-point. During the 2014 elections, the media single-handedly created and propagated the propaganda of the “BIG” Modi wave, which never really existed before. Many such times have media propelled a change of government – not always in public interest!

 The media bias:

Apart from manipulation and misinformation, media plays the dangerous game of bias based on the marketability of news. A study by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights found that more than 46% of Dalit women have suffered sexual harassment. Twenty-three percent have said they had been raped. But, we heard  only about ‘NIRBHAYA’ and that too media was outrageous on it. Why did media choose NIRBHAYA? When tribal leader and activist Soni Sori was attacked with acid-type corrosive ink, why did press unanimously decide to remain silent? When our HRD mSoni soriinister’s car ran over a bike and victim’s family claimed that she wasn’t even ready to help after the accident, why did media decide not to talk? When our home minister on constitution day said the words “socialist” and “secular” can be removed from the constitution, why didn’t media talk about it? Thus press chooses what we should know and what we needn’t and shouldn’t.

The corporate rule over media:

Today, the nature of integration of industry and media is so severe. From aviation to agriculture to mining to coal blocks to gas, there are at least 200 industries in the centre of media.

Let us look into the board of directors of india’s largest newspaper – Dainik Jaagran, which claims to have 53 million readers. It might be one of the largest newspapers in the planet. The board of directors of Dainik Jaagran consists of

  • the south asian chief of McDonald’s,
  • an irish man from the world association of newspapers, who does not know a single world in hindi,
  • two corporate tax layers
  • three real estate leaders

and not only Dainik Jaagran, in any big newspaper firm, it is impossible to find a journalist in its board of directors. This is probably the biggest glaring conflict of interests you will ever find in this nation.

Ignoring the poor and oppressed:

Almost all newspapers have special correspondents for cinemas, fashion, spirituality etc. In the entire nation, we don’t have a single newspaper which has a special correspondent to cover poverty. So, what is the media for? Thous

fashion week
BOMBAY TIMES covering LAKME Fashion week

ands of journalists flock around Mumbai during the Lakme fashion week, whereas there isn’t a journalist in India in any newspaper to cover the largest ever suicide wave in the world – The Indian farmer suicide wave, that too centered around Maharashtra.

PAID NEWS – THE ALL NEW CORPORATE MEDIA TREATY TO FOOL THE MASSES!

After the wallstreet collapse of 2008, papers had to search for shortcut methods to add to their revenue. Ads did not help as they had to pay heavy tax for them. Paid news was a brilliant option as they were ‘under the table’ transactions. The quarter page party ads were replaced by full-page paid-articles. “How much will you write?”, “How much will you praise us?’ – will be the questions. “How much will you pay?” – will be the answer. And we poor public will not even understand which column is true and which column is paid. This is no longer the domain of parties, every single corporate giant has paid news written about them. Yes the full page article about your CM you read yesterday with sigh of relief might just be a paid news!

Media and the near death of internet

One hardly doubts the fact that the Internet is one of the most powerful inventions of the 20th century. But here’s something one seldom thinks about; the Internet is the most explosively (to be read exponentially) growing network of all time. It all began when Facebook partnered with Reliance to come up with their “Free” Basics program (earlier known as internet.org) to “introduce people to the benefits of the internet”.

Their plan sounded all mellow indeed; free access to content including pages from selected local news and weather forecast providers, the BBC, Wikipedia and various health services, and of course, free access to the all important Facebook. And they made the marketing incredibly grand with the help of the media; 200-300 crores on billboard ads, TV ads and full-page newspaper ads portraying tear-jerker stories like how the average Ganesh learnt how to sow seeds, reap a harvest and satisfy his wife (financially), all through “Free” Basics. Doesn’t it sound too good to be true?

The catch behind Free Basics is that their plan is based on a model of differential pricing; Imagine an internet where you can only see what corporates and tech conglomerates wish you to see; an internet where one has to compete financially for providing services and sharing information. Free Basics is not the internet in its entirety. It is Facebook’s version of the internet, displaying those services and information which it deems fit (to be read profitable), and blocking out the rest by acting as the sole gatekeeper to the internet. This goes against the very essence of net neutrality.

The icing on the cake is the grand revelation that there’s nothing really free about “Free Basics”; it is not open to all developers as a primary technical requirement does not allow popular technical standards like JavaScript and SVG images, and mandatorily requires that developers have a Facebook account. A second requirement states that services like digital social networks, messaging and email services have to either agree to share their secure data with Facebook or not participate in the Free Basics platform. This effectively compromises the privacy of user data of all sites on Free Basics, and it also doesn’t claim that it will not monetize on the data. In a nutshell, Free Basics is just a clever ploy to monopolize the internet in India. And they did gain considerable support from innocent people who suspected nothing foul from this seemingly generous scheme, especially in the wake of “Digital India”. The threat was real indeed. Fortunately, the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has put brakes on this shoddy scheme of differential pricing, following extensive protests by net neutrality activists.

At the end of the day though, one key culprit in the story is forgotten; the media. Had they refused to blow things way out of proportion and mislead people via their ads, Free Basics would never have gained whatever traction they did. Media irresponsibility? Now that’s being polite.

Challenges Indian media face

Criticizing media is not the motto. One ought to look at the other side of the coin – the hurdles an ambitious and passionate journalist faces before he eventually fits into the system, the sacrifice he has to make before the news reaches us. They can be briefly categorized as:

  • Political gundaism
  • Dependence on advertisements for revenue.
  • Prevailing immoral competition
  • Low readership

Political Gundaism

Journalist Jagendra Singh was burnt alive by police after exposing corrupt politician in Uttar Pradesh on 12, June 2015.

Journalist Sandeep Kothari who waged war against illegal mining in Madhya pradesh was killed on June 13, 2015.

Journalist Akshay Singh was murdered while covering Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh on July 4, 2015.

Journalist Chayan Sarkar who wrote about college admission scandal in West Bengal was found missing on August 3, 2015.

There is something politicians do better than politics in India. 60 journalists have so far been killed in India since 1992, out of which for 37 cases the motive is found. For 23 murders, even the motive is unclear (Source:  cpj.org – The committee to protect journalists). The real number, including local press, might be much higher. Threats, abductions, attacks on home and offices are very common for journalists covering corruption, business, human rights, culture and politics. Why do we expect someone to risk his whole life to serve the nation which does not even ensure his safety? This might  be the reason why media never stood up to save the oppressed in numerous occasions, let it be Kovan or Perumal Murugan or Soni Sori.

Dependence of advertisements for revenue

Media has also become a market. Consequently they chase profit. In India no media can function profitably with just reader’s money. Their main source of income is from advertisements – mainly from government and corporate. In turn, they have to protect their interests to sustain their market. Different media serve different interests and subsequently the public interest is lost in their battle.

Prevailing immoral competition

The media in India is so gigantic and magnificent that every media firm has to fight to exist and there is no space for a new firm to enter the market. This horse race is determined by TRB ratings in visual media and their equivalent in print media, which causes the epidemic that sensationalism, is. This way the ethics of media faded and what remains is business. What matters now is the front page and not the editorial. News now demand more glamour than substance. Last week, a farmer was forced to suicide as he didn’t pay his last two dues; A Dalit was killed for the crime of ‘love’ (this incident being the third in row). But what captured media interest was Sri Ravi Shankar Prasad’s  “World cultural fest” and Vijay Mallaya’s flight. This was not the case of one media or the other, but the media in its entirety. Competition of this sort is frustrating.

Low readership: If the media in our country has a fault, the nation should also be put under the microscope.The media’s worst grey patch is that of its low readership. Apart from the exceptions of (highly literate) Kerala, et al, the readership is neither dominant nor diverse. People who regularly read magazine, especially beyond headlines, is very few. A newspaper to survive because of its special coverage of an issue is almost impossible.

When Julian Assange went to a local newspaper with information which he later published in the WikiLeaks, two decades before the WikiLeaks came into being, he was told that this “would not sell”, that it is not what “the readers want”. So what do the readers want? Why? WHY?

It will only be right for us to understand these practicalities before we fire on them for their ‘standard’.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

Problems that media in our country face are endogenous. Responsible readership, by itself, solves many a lot problems. When we become politically and socially aware and start demanding the quality from media, media will wake up. But considering the wide diverse challenges media face, we have to systematically cross each hurdle. We should provide maximum protection to journalists and also investigate the potential of alternative media which is rising.

Ensuring the safety of democracy’s right hand:

Journalism, is indeed the right hind of Indian democracy. It is the duty of our government to strengthen it. The Maharashtra govt has introduced a special ordinance to protect journalists – actually dead journalists. It ensures that cases related with murder of journalists will be decided in short time prescribed by the ordinance. Some welcome it and some hold it dangerous and doubt if justice will prevail in such hastily decided cases. But judicial reforms are necessary to save the fate of journalists. Immunity against draconian sections of law has been long sought by the press.

SOCIAL MEDIA – THE GAME CHANGER

Social media and digital media are the new faces of Indian media. The amazing growth of these faces are actually for the better. By digital media, one is largely saved from economic pressure. He does not have to beg for paper subsidy or advertisement or does not even have to worry about printing cost. All the cost he has to spend is for the news. We already see great changes in the form of Scroll.in, The Wire, Livemint.com. Such change is only to welcome. Social media have rightly been termed as the “fifth estate” as it not only has held on the three estates, but also the fourth estate. The power of social media is that it is no longer a single man’s hardwork and therefore, no longer a single man’s risk. We see thousands of tweets against the government and its bureaucrats everyday. Whom will the govt divert its anger upon? Thus social media opens up the space that was never available before. It is our duty to use this space in clever manner and not get drifted with petty jokes!

Let us wisen up.

Everything starts with it!

The ideal Journalist

A Tribe of His Own: P Sainath.

  • The Hindu’s Rural Affairs Editor (until 2014, when he volunteerly resigned).
  • Founding editor of The People’s Archive of Rural India
  • Winner Ramon Magsaysay award for outstanding work in journalism

He felt that the media’s attention was moving from “news” to “entertainment” and consumerism. He decided that “if the Indian press was covering the top 5%”, he should cover the “bottom 5%”. He toured ten drought stricken districts, published many exclusive field reports and wrote  “Everybody Loves a Good Drought”, righteously a best-seller for years now.

He fought to bring the attention of the world to “the world’s most complex part”- rural India. He is still fighting the tiger economy.

If not to the millions of farmers who are marginalized, we ought to lend our ears at least to “one of the world’s greatest expert on famine and hunger”, as Amartya Sen called him. No one better explains the link between globalisation and growing inequality better than he does.

He is presently working on The people’s archive of Rural India, as the only exclusive space for the poor and oppressed.

 

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