Mediaah! Is the Indian media really free?

04 May,2017

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

This comment wouldn’t have been written had it not been for a half-hour show on NDTV last evening and a comment on the same on the Swarajya website.

There’s a fair bit of noise on the political influence on the media. There are fears that those who don’t support Prime Minister NarendraModi could face a hard time from his government. Or how the PM and his team reportedly didn’t attend a conference organised by a newspaper because of unhappiness over its coverage of the elections coverage in UP.

It’s very clear that there is a large section of the television news media that is politically biased. Watch a leading English news channel, and it’s evident that it’s pro-BJP. The anchor just doesn’t listen to an opposing view. There’s another which is clearly anti-BJP. And there are a few which offer a mixed bag of views, but there are very few television networks are that editorially neutral.

The story may be slightly different in the case of newspapers, but there’s no doubting the immense influence that political forces and the governments in power have over the news media, which depends a fair bit on the government for revenues and access.

The key worry for those who care about the news media is not the fear of the government but the huge influence that advertisers, big business and the non-media interests of owners have on their functioning.

A mention of this was made by former BJP IT cell head Arvind Gupta on the NDTV show, but given constraints of time, it wasn’t discussed further.

The media which depends almost entirely on revenues from advertisers doesn’t want to take on anyone.

There have been many cases – some from even the most trusted names in the country – where advertising has been pulled out because of adverse coverage in a newspaper.

Then there’s the issue of news organisations getting into organising events – conferences and awards where the presence of industry, political, sports and entertainment biggies is critical. Entites which hold film awards functions face a huge problem of stars backing out if they have stuff written/aired against them. They simply don’t turn up, even though performances at these events earn them top dollars. Some news organisations are known to give away awards to people/ entities in lieu of favours or monies.

Is there a way out of the mess the news media is in? Newspapers and channels are finally a business and owners will do whatever it takes to stay afloat and not harm their interests. What happens in the bargain is a significant erosion of independence and credibility.

In the late 1980s, industrialist VijaypatSinghania chose to sell The Indian Post, a well-produced English daily because its reportage was harming his business. He was very candid when he admitted the conflict of interest.

It would do much good to those owners who are facing the same predicament to just opt out of the news media than let the world know they can be compromised.

Or is it that a country which is not too fussed on ethics and corruption, passage of time ensures things are forgotten and condoned. We all know of some entities indulging in unethical practices, but do we really shun them? On the contrary, we embrace them. We allow them to flourish. We read or watch them, we attend or speak at their events, we accept their awards.

Perhaps we deserve such a media.

And if you think you don’t want such media entities to survive, make a start, and do what you should do.

 

Pradyuman Maheshwari is Editor-in-Chief, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are his own.

 

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