Though so many people buy newspapers, watch TV news, and participate in the incessant flow of news and views on social media, there is widespread and growing distrust, contempt, and even disgust with the media in general, and television news and debates in particular.
It is indeed paradoxical that the humongous spread of media and constant discussions in drawing rooms or public places on politics, the economy, the stock market, and a number of socio-cultural issues has not been able to bring credibility to media or mediapersons. News anchors and actors, writers and columnists have acquired visibility and celebrity status, but not trust. In fact, there is more notoriety and nuisance associated with them. There are, of course, exceptions, but very few really.
The question is why the media and journalists suffer from this trust deficit. Many explanations are offered. Some critics say that the ownership and emerging monopolies in the business of media are causing this trust deficit – the corporates who own the media also control content.
But this criticism has been there for decades. For example, the Left used to call newspapers ‘Zut Press’, because the newspaper owners mostly belonged to jute textile mill owners.
The ‘private equity’ regime developed by the media managements, monopolising the advertisement flow, starves new and small newspapers of ad revenue. There is a ‘swap mechanism’ which gives huge ads to big players. In this system, ad space and time is exchanged for the commodities advertised. Everything from luxurious flats to airline tickets are swapped in this manner. The papers or the channels cannot dare go against the advertiser.
The new entrant in this multi-crore racket is Baba Ramdev and his Patanjali products. Today, Patanjali is a multi-billion rupee empire, supported and even subsidised by the regime.
Some newspapers also own or have a large share in the TV media. Packages are thus set for ads on multiple media. That starves other, mainly new and smaller newspapers, of necessary revenue.
Till the late nineties, there was no private TV media, and the term “media” meant only the written word. The government directed the newsprint import-price-quantity-distribution mechanism. The government controlled the radio, TV, and the Films Division. There was a huge hue and cry over this monopoly.
After the Emergency, the Janata Party promised to liberate the media from government control. The idea of PrasarBharati and its norms was created during that brief period of the ‘Second Freedom’. But neither the Janata Party nor any subsequent government really followed the principles of that idea.
Now, we are witnessing the government further tightening its grip on the media. The high-handed approach of the I&B ministry in the functioning of PrasarBharati, and the ‘fake’ ideas of controlling fake
Ever since the NarendraModi government came to power at the Centre, the SanghParivar has spread its tentacles far and wide, and has brought the media and many editors under their orders. Divisive news items and articles pervade pages and TV debates. Islamophobia is spread so menacingly that a kind of communal fear psychosis haunts people all the time.
Media managements privately say that various government departments and public sector undertakings give thousands of crores worth of advertisements, and so, the press and TV are obliged to toe the ruling party’s line.
Modi’s ubiquity on all channels and in the press is actually a money-spinning machine for the media houses. He is Prime Minister as well as a crony corporate equivalent of Citizen Kane, with the same kind of megalomania and narcissism.
The almost-compulsory screening of all his speeches in India or abroad, the ‘Mann kiBaat’ broadcast, the saturated and continuous social messages of ‘BetiPadhao’ or ‘Swachh Bharat’ or GST (all paid for by the government) – they have made all the media jarring and immensely boring. There is hardly any space left for real news, analysis, or investigative stories. It’s ironic: The news media is famished of ‘news’ content.
That also explains the carpet bombing coverage of Sridevi’s allegedly mysterious death, and Salman Khan’s conviction and subsequent bail in the blackbuck-killing case in Rajasthan. Even coverage of the Indian Premier League can be used to camouflage the many banking scams, NiravModi and MehulChoksi frauds, petrol and diesel price rise, the growing discontent in rural and even urban areas. As the 2019 elections come closer, more and more such diversions will be played out in the media.
There was time when a newspaper was the main medium of political education, cultural exchange, and socio-economic debates. Today, the print media as well as TV news have become either cheap entertainment (there are honourable exceptions) or the hedonistic promotion of consumer goods.
Most drawing room discussions or public discourses are oblivious of the global events influencing us. China, Pakistan and the US determine our world view; in contrast, during Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s eras, the educated Indian was more aware and even concerned about the world.
There is a world out there, but life has become tribal. The current version of globalisation has made trade global and minds local. The news business today is just a reflection of that.