A Derailed Media: The Wheels Have Come Off

23 Jun,2017


By Shailesh Kapoor


If you have been a follower of news media in India over the years, there’s high chance that you would see the freedom of the pressas a fairly natural outcome of our democratic machinery. In a country where taking offense has turned into a national pastime, the media has still been an independent institution, except in extreme times like the Emergency.


Sections of the media have been guilty of catering to political interests of certain parties or politicians. But the larger media landscape has been one of an independent, though often opinionated, press. There have been propaganda papers and party mouthpieces, but those have been exceptions in a largely flourishing media environment over the years. Till recently.


Over the last month or so in particular, the derailment of the freedom of the press idea is stark and evident for us to see. The wheels are coming off. The issue has come into focus especially since the launch of Republic TV, even though many would argue at least two mainstream Hindi news channels have been BJP mouthpieces for almost three years now.


But with Republic TV’s launch, all efforts on being ‘seen’ a neutral media, even while having a political agenda, has been discarded. The channel is so evidently pro-Establishment that even when it covers the odd anti-BJP story (only twice in two months so far), there’s a sense of apology in the way it’s covered.


Pro- or anti-Establishment doesn’t bother me much. It’s an editorial prerogative to take a stand on political issues, and at times, ideologies could align themselves in a way that a certain vehicle may end up supporting or opposing the establishment in what may come across as a pattern.


What bothers me immensely, however, is the distortion of the idea of “news” itself. If you see primetime coverage in the months of May and June, you will notice that there’s been endless discussions on several channels on two topics in particular: Kashmir and the Indian Army. There’s been a nationalistic fervor to call out those who are against the Indian Government and the Indian Army’s approach in Kashmir.


In times when the GDP has declined, the GST is ready to roll in, farmer agitations over support prices are peaking, and the impact of demonetisationis still not fully understood, the economy would logically be the most topical theme to cover. But you will struggle to find coverage and analysis on these topics on TV in particular. Because apparently, it would need fact-checking, which is hard work, and may expose the establishment, which is not everyone’s idea of how they want to run their media house today.


To further complicate matters, the NDTV raids came in the middle of this prevailing atmosphere of a polarized and divided media. The show of strength that followed at the Press Club indicated the growing dissatisfaction that parts of the mainline Indian media have with the current Government at the center.


The silver lining, in such times, comes from the Internet, which has the structure and the ability to present the truth in a more layered and multi-faceted way than most channels and newspapers are willing to. Of course, you need to know which sites or handles to visit for that. But at least, you have some chance of getting an objective coverage of topics that concern us today.


We are only two years away from 2019, and I dread to think if things will get worse. But is that even possible?


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