Mediaah! Is our media free to report the truth?

03 May,2012

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

It’s World Press Freedom Day today and I’m sure most journalists in India don’t even know that the day is celebrated as that. There will be a few speeches, an I&B ministry communiqué and a statement from the President or Prime Minister… at the time of writing even these haven’t come in.

 

I guess in India the issue of press freedom isn’t as grave as it is in some countries. Though we’ve known even Chief Ministers and local leaders using brute force or the law on those who even attempt to be tongue-in-cheek in their cartoons, one wouldn’t say that democracy is under threat in the country.

 

Earlier this week, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), an NGO that studies issues like press freedom, presented its annual report on press freedom in South Asia. Here’s the vital para on India: “India has, in its vastness, displayed diverse trends. There are parts of the country where journalism functions with few constraints and dangers apart from the constant pressure of commercialisation. In the conflict prone regions such as Kashmir, the North-Eastern states and the Maoist insurgency districts – where journalism that tells the full story could make a difference – tensions persist and dangers are ever present”.

 

In an overall comment, the IFJ communiqué notes: “The shift towards contract and casual employment has led to a weakening of professional commitment and the growing influence of commercial and advertising departments in the functioning of media houses”.

 

So, the report isn’t gloomy as I remember it was a few years back. However, there’s an uneasy calm. And with reason.

 

Some months back, just after the Anna Hazare agitation, DNA’s editor-in-chief Aditya Sinha wrote in his column how his paper had lost government advertising thanks to its belligerent stand on the government in Anna’s fight against corruption.

 

The malaise of using advertising revenues to stifle the media and ensure a positive media is widespread in the private sector. Nearly every other publisher will relate the story of how his or her publication lost vital revenues thanks to its editorial content.

 

I have had ad managers do the same. Not yet at MxMIndia mercifully, but in the past and elsewhere, I do know how big and small business bullies the media.

 

So with CNBC TV 18 and Bloomberg UTV part of the two Reliance groups and rumours of NDTV also having benefitted from some largesse (from a business house), there’s worry about how independent the biz channels will be. So far I don’t think there’s anything amiss, but you never know!

 

On the Ambani investment in Network 18, the IFI report notes:  “Reasoned media debate on the matter has been suppressed by the enormous advertising clout that Reliance retains”. I don’t think that’s entire true. Save possibly Mint, Outlook magazine and independent voices like Moneylife and some bloggers, our media – mainstream or otherwise – seldom discusses the goings-on in other organizations.

 

The pressures on the media come from various quarters. If you are in the business of conducting film awards, you can’t critique the stars as they may get upset and not attend your show. And that mind you is quite serious because the ratings and revenues can take a beating if there aren’t enough stars walking the red carpet. Ditto with municipal corporations, schools where the boss is seeking admission for his/her kid and the list could go on. There are just too many holy cows

 

Often journalists must blame themselves for some of the pressures. We are too worried about upsetting sources and sensitivities. So, while at one level we may critique the world for its ills, we are worried about being on the wrong side of friends in high places. By doing so, journalists are devaluing themselves as the biggies they know will never really respect them for their true worth.

 

It’s also vital for media owners to know that that by compromising on core journalistic values, they are only killing their own brand. One may argue that the publications that have been indulging in paid content publicly for over a decade are in fact prospering. Perhaps, yes, but that’s because the masses still don’t know what’s really up. However, the few who do will not forget it for a lifetime and will tend to discount the motives of every story that appears in the paper or channel.

 

I don’t really know what’s the format of the Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate. Perhaps he (and Star) must train their cameras on whether truth is actually allowed to prevail in the Indian media.

 

Buzz/ping me if you have a story to tell. Confidentiality assured. There are various ways to do that: Mail: pradyumanm[at]mxmindia.com, BBM: 23050B5D, Gtalk: pradyumanm@gmail.com, Twitter: @pmahesh and the mobile: 98338 76278.

 

Disclaimer: Although he is CEO and Editor-in-Chief of this site, Pradyuman Maheshwari’s views in Mediaah! are not necessarily those of the rest of the team and MxMIndia.com. And decidedly not those of the sales team 🙂

 

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