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Of course the Indian Media is irresponsible and rotten...
Issue Date - 24/11/2011
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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 and no thanks to your best efforts, 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 go the whole hog 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 is 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. Lets 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.
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