Now, Digital Media is the New Target

13 Jul,2021

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona Banerji

Regardless of ministry changes in the Modi government, attacks on press freedom are unlikely to stop. Total control of the media and a complete crackdown on Constitutional rights is the ultimate goal here. I know, I know, it’s not new, it’s been done before. But that does not make it palatable. This argument of X did it first has become so tiresome as to make the study of history completely unnecessary and redundant. It’s like saying someone murdered someone else first 10,000 years ago every time a new murder is being investigated and prosecuted. Is that how it works? No one can be called into question today because someone else did the same thing yesterday and ages ago?

Rant over.

 

In today’s terms, the attacks are manifold. There are attacks on journalists themselves, physical and in cyber space, on their reputations, their safety, their wellbeing. There are attacks on media houses which do not toe the government/party line. And the latest consistent target is the digital media. As this plaintive edit in The Times of India points out, as far as press freedom goes, digital news is not different from mainstream news.

 

In its edit (published Monday, July 11, 2021) on the new IT rules, Times of India says: “…these rules seem like an attempt to intimidate the news media itself into self-censorship, apart from vesting government with overreaching powers over news content. News publishers are right to fear arm-twisting and coercion.”

 

I wish these words were the wakeup call for the news media they appear to be but that is a pipe dream. For all of the last seven years, the mainstream media has been an enabler and an amplifier of BJP, Modi and government propaganda. Yes, more than the media ever has been before. The Times of India itself is being disingenuous, carrying this edit on its own pages. In the columns next door to the edits, (3,4,5), any number of propaganda pieces have been carried, by government ministers and by commentators and staff who are pro-BJP and pro-government.

 

The very existence of the TV channel Times Now – whose editor also writes a lot of faff in the middle column of the edit page – gives the lie to this edit’s long moan.

 

As freelance journalist Shyam G Menon asks in this excellent piece in the Telegraph, why is the spread of the conservative rightwing media cheap while the liberal media is seen as expensive to produce?

https://www.telegraphindia.com/amp/opinion/on-a-toxic-diet/cid/1822209?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tt_daily_twit&__twitter_impression=true

 

He writes: “During my self-funded travels, I live in cheap hotel rooms. At times, it has been the stuff of bed, claustrophobia, a ventilator for sunshine, a fan and a TV. The TV offers you free-to-air channels, some of them dressed in the attire of news. I say dressed because quite frankly I don’t consider Indian television news, with its accompanying music, suspense and drama, the stuff of news. Surfing channels for something watchable, I found that the news channels on offer were mostly right-wing. It meant that if you wanted coverage of content that is neutral or left-of-centre, the hotel owner had to subscribe to a costlier bundle. As a guest, I would have to be wealthy and capable of affording costlier rooms serviced that way. The liberal media is typically neutral to slightly left-of-centre. It felt strange that such an editorial tilt should be expensive to afford.”

 

Menon raises here and further in his opinion piece some very pertinent questions for the media.

 

But at the core is this one problem: by kowtowing to the government – for ads and favours – and choosing a money model exclusively over a journalism model, the Indian media has definitely shot itself firmly in the foot. The TOI edit therefore is a cry in a wilderness of its own creation. Not just Bennett Coleman but every major media house in India.

 

As long as media owners and journalists (who have chosen money and power over journalism) continue in the current manner, nothing will change. This whining therefore is possibly only a weak attempt to test the waters and find some new negotiation point to keep oneself afloat.

 

The current and oncoming bad weather though does not really care.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal

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