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Cover Story

Media never had it so good
Post-Licence Raj, Media became Big Business, Glitzy & Glamorous with both Print & TV looking at circulation & TRP figures to attract Advertisements
Issue Date - 16/02/2012
Journalism has come a long way since its inception in Independent India. Pre-Independence Congress floated a ‘national’ newspaper, the National Herald to counter the ‘imperialist’ media represented by big newspapers just before partition and in at least the first few years after India became free, journalism was all about patriotism and nation building.

Big business was present in media from the very beginning. The main English newspapers were funded by business houses, the difference with the present day being that till at least the late 1980’s most of these ‘big men’ were not proactive in the media world. In that they had professional editors running the newspapers, all men (unfortunately no women at the time) of substance who had a world view, a full knowledge of the newspaper industry and a nose for news.

The Emergency imposed by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, however, showed the huge chinks in the media armour as most of the national dailies published from New Delhi crawled even when they were only required to bend. Except for the Indian Express under Ramnath Goenka and his battery of editors, and the Patriot run by the indomitable Edatata Narayanan there was little to no resistance from the newspapers to the censorship that accompanied the Emergency. But after this was lifted the media came together to declare that it would resist any such attempts in the future, and working journalists marched on the streets at the slightest threat of censorship even emanating from the states like Karnataka and Bihar at the time. The 1980s thus became a new decade for a vibrant, irreverent and above all honest media that went into the villages, that reported from the streets, and covered probably some of the worst cases of communal violence in Delhi, Assam, Punjab with admirable responsibility.

News magazines emerged to capture the market, with the Rupee One Sunday and its more sophisticated competitor India Today heralding a new kind of journalism. The newspaper industry grew rapidly, with the vernacular press making its presence felt in the states as circulation increased across the board. The print media – there was no television except chaste Doordarshan – never had it so good, with the industrialists by and large giving journalists the space to report and write.

It all began to change after the advent of news channels that allowed sensationalism to overtake sobriety in reporting. Media ‘stars’ were created over night, as stories took on a larger than life hue, and in many cases the reporter became the story. The facelessness and commitment of reporting was replaced by stardom, and big money that poured into television from all sides.

Media became big business, glitzy and glamorous with both print and television looking at circulation and TRP figures to attract advertisements. Reporting was reduced to a ‘sound byte’ with young freshers given a mike and a camera to go get comments of various VIPs without even understanding what the story was all about. And aggression replaced reporting skills that started affecting the quality of the profession, even though the quantity in terms of manpower, channels, newspapers and of course money had increased manifold.

And this is where we stand today. Except for a few exceptions in the print and electronic media, the transformation is complete. However, the censorship that the media fought so valiantly against at one time has come in from the back door, with the proprietor-government relationship cutting into free and fair reporting.

The respect for the journalist amongst the common man has dwindled once again as a result, and it will take a full and complicated somersault for the media to revive as a pillar of democracy across the country.


Seema Mustafa           

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