‘Of course the Indian media is irresponsible and rotten’
Vol 0 | Issue 1
Were the matter not so serious and so important to the future of Indian democracy, I would still be laughing my guts out. Yes, I am talking about the firestorm triggered by the strong criticism of the Indian media by the new chairman of the Press Council of India Justice Markandey Katju.
And the equally ill concealed anger and contempt with which the Shankaracharyas, Ayatollahs and Cardinals of the Indian media have responded to the criticism. Before I bore you further with grimy and unsavoury details of the whole mess, let me point out one truly startling aspect that seems to have escaped the eagle eyes of media pundits.
One of the key criticisms made by Justice Katju is that the Indian media often covers events in an irresponsible, and even dangerous way. Obviously our Gods and Goddesses of news and views have not taken kindly to that.
So the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) that represents the scores of TV news channels has slammed Justice Katju by issuing a statement that has been dutifully carried out by all media outlets. But there is a hidden gem in that diatribe that actually got me laughing.
Let me quote the August BEA: "The sane & balanced(italics mine) coverage of two recent incidents – the Ayodhya judgment and Gopalpur riots – belies the assertion of the PCI chairman."
Just look at the manner in which the statement reflects the mentality of a spoilt brat who now claims to be less of a spoilt brat. What exactly does the BEA mean when it says that the coverage of just two incidents – Ayodhya and Gopalpur riots – was sane and balanced?
Isn’t it admitting in a perverse way that the media coverage of many past events has been insane and imbalanced? Anyone with common sense knows how true the latter is!
Please allow me to bore you to death with more quotes that reveal as much about the authoritarian mindset of Justice Katju as they do about the intolerant mindset of the Indian media.
The first is from the BEA and the second priceless gem is from another august body called the Editor’s Guild. “Any criticism made in a holier-than-thou fervour defeats the very purpose it is sought to be made for".
Now just pause and think for a moment. How would you describe the tone, tenor and approach of virtually all television anchors of India when they are holding forth on the 2G scam, the Radia tapes, the so called Chinese military threat to India or the so called destruction of Indian secularism because an essay on the Ramayana by A.K Ramanujan was taken off the syllabus by Delhi University?
Does the term holier than thou come to mind?
Here goes the second quote: "The Editors' Guild of India deplores the ill-considered, sweeping & uninformed comments (italics mine) on the media and on media professionals by the new chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju.”
Now please turn the clock back just a wee bit and recall the hysteria surrounding the Anna Hazare fast in August, 2011 or its precursor in April, 2011.
Was the manner in which every single politician of India was branded a corrupt thief not ill considered, sweeping and uninformed? And I must come back to that old chestnut 'holier-than-thou'.
Do you remember the manner in which most in the media virtually formed a lynch mob against you if you had the temerity to suggest that many statements being made by some members of Team Anna were ill considered, sweeping and uninformed?
Let me provide you with another very recent and shining example of how an ill considered, sweeping and uninformed Indian media misleads readers and viewers either because of ignorance, plain stupidity or sheer laziness.
Now that the dictator of Libya Muammar Gaddafi is gone (Saddam has long gone), the Western powers ably supported by the western media now have Iran in the cross hairs.
In a sickening enactment of déjà vu, the western media is going to town about how Iran is now on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons and how the West must take pre-emptive measures before mankind is destroyed by the Iranian Ayatollahs.
What does the Indian media do? It blindly repeats what the western media is saying. Are the well read, thoughtful and historically well briefed leaders of Indian media not aware that this is just a repeat of the lies unleashed by the USA in the run up to the invasion of Iraq?
Today, consumers of media have many other sources of information thanks to the internet. And can you blame them for not having an iota of respect for the manner in which this free, independent and fearless media blindly apes its cousins of the West?
Pardon me for saying this, but I always thought that the whole myth about media being objective, fair and unbiased was a bunch of horseshit. Media has always been ideological. If you subscribe to one ideology, you will only see the shameless manner in which the painter M.F Hussain was hounded out of India into exile by zealots.
If you subscribe to another ideology, you will only see the shameless manner in which author and activist Taslima Nasreen was hounded out of exile in India by zealots. Come to think of it, readers and viewers are not dumb morons.
They will appreciate it if you have the intellectual honesty to openly wear your ideological leanings on your sleeves. But please don’t be holier than thou even as you persist in being ill considered, sweeping and uninformed.
That too, when thanks to the internet, Indian consumers of media are acutely aware of how many TV channels and newspapers actually take money from politicians to write favourable stories about them (they have always done it in the case of business magnates and tycoons who have the option of throwing product and corporate ads your way).
The Indian media might collectively and shamelessly behave like a cartel and try damn hard, but the stench of paid news is not going to go away in a hurry. And readers and viewers are acutely aware of the actual number of concrete steps the Indian media has taken to minimize – forget about eliminating – the scourge of paid news.
Why blame only Justice Katju when Indians with common sense nowadays actually smirk derisively while discussing Indian media? Obviously, you will get criticism, sneers, sniggers and worse if you pontificate sanctimoniously about political corruption and look the other way when it comes to media corruption.
And pray, how was Justice Katju wrong when he criticized the media for focusing more on the trivial rather than the important. Look at how the Indian media covered the news that Swami Agnivesh will join the Big Boss reality show! And look at how television channel editors – stung perhaps by Justice Katju – have announced some self imposed guidelines on how to cover the birth of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s baby!
It is truly laughable. It is easy to criticize only Hindi and regional language channels for peddling mumbo jumbo and worse. But really, everyone does it. And what is the reason trotted out for this saturation in coverage of the trivial and the absurd at the cost of the important?
Well, the market demands it, and readers and viewers prefer such stories over stories on starvation deaths. The logical question to ask is why not the whole hog go and show pornography since most viewers would prefer it over Swami Agnivesh in Big Boss?
You can't claim on the one hand all the privileges and perks of being the fourth pillar of Indian democracy and then trot out the excuse that you have to listen to market forces and cater to what people want. Many people want free booze and cash during elections. So what’s wrong if politicians provide that? After all, they too are listening to market forces!
All this would have mattered less but for the most glaring, spectacular and persistent failure of the Indian media: its absolute inability to read the mind of an electorate before elections.
I remember as a young journalist back in the 1980s when some pro Congress newspapers gave the party a handsome majority in the assembly elections of Haryana before polling. They even trotted out a fancy analysis by so called market research agencies to bolster their claims. The fact is: the Congress was decimated. Since then, the inability of Indian media to get the pulse of people during elections has become even more embarrassing.
Look at how the Indian media kept insisting that it was a tough battle between the DMK and the AIADMK during the recently held assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. The DMK was decimated. I could go on and on with similar examples.
The question to ask is: how do you always get it wrong during elections even when the writing on the wall is clear? Quite naturally, even a child would know that something is seriously wrong, perhaps even rotten.
Surely, no sensible person would agree with the demand made by Justice Katju that he be allowed to become an arbitrary judge, jury and executioner (incidentally, hasn’t the same media been cheering Anna Hazare when he demands that he be made the judge, jury & executioner?).
But come on. Let’s get off the high horse. Like everything else in India, there is a systemic rot in the Indian media. Hiding behind the rhetoric of press freedom while doing all you can to make a mockery of it is surely not the way to go about it.
Sutanu Guru is Managing Editor of The Sunday Indian
By special arrangement with The Sunday Indian