April 2, 2013

Darling wake-up. Smell the coffee. Maybe India does not have a 'Fourth Estate'


Arvind Kejriwal's fast was for unfair rise in prices. Reactions from political corners was anticipated. But it also made the Aam Aadmi understand the tone and tenor of what it calls "media". Since the day of the fast, and till the time all the letters were bundled to be sent to Sheila Dixit, the kind of news reports which were published meanwhile had more in it than what it appeared.

Among those who supported Arvind Kejriwal during this fast, there were cries and shocks about the so called "news media's" role and that it was not giving the movement enough coverage. These "cries" and "shocks" come from layman who also considers a large section of India's news media as the Fourth Estate - impartial and objective. To all the people who are expressing shock and anger, my question is - why do you expect  Arvind Kejriwal to be given any news coverage anyway? The so-called news media is a business enterprise - not a social service. The news media favored Anna (more on that in later part of article) because he brought TRPs. Everything happens only and only if there is a monetary gain. The talk of Fourth Estate, journalistic idealism is now considered "blah" - it died with Lokmanya Tilak - the man who started Kesari (1881).

Let's dive into history.

The Fourth Estate did exists in the spirit that it should exist for 100 odd years in India (from 1881-1980). However, and after the printing technology began to be used for newspaper production (post 1980), operation costs increased, and advertisements were the only savior. Marketing, content packaging, supplements, began to take center stage - and whatever transpired since then, is a part of India's journalism history which is worst than the history of the worst brothel in India.

Our forefathers in journalism had set a good example of practicing high level of ethics. Those 100 years was the period when publishers and journalists had a spine. And it showed. They had an ideology which was not influenced by market conditions, but by passion to provide the masses with unbiased reportage. Kesari was so fearless, that the editors were jailed often (today they are accused for their nexus with corporate's - take the Jindal case or the Nira Radia case). Very often Kesari had to furnish sureties to rescue its staff - it faced the rage of pre-independence British, and the rage of power intoxicated rulers after independence.

Let's look at the present situation now.

As of 2012, India has more than 400 news channels and 86,000 newspapers, and maybe a few thousands news websites - which I am not sure if they are even registered. How many editors have you heard have been jailed? prosecuted for their unbiased reportage? Or lauded or appreciated for their investigative or developmental reports? This is directly proportional to the investigative or developmental stories a news organisation does. India is a developing nation, there are so many news stories and issues - all you see is four faces on News TV - who we are told are "experts". And more than investigative journalism, the trade is about "sound-byte" journalism - aapko kaisa lag raha hai? - 9 out of 10 journalists in India should have done a hotel management course.

The news media trade is also about creating controversies and keeping them "alive" for it brings TRPs. The fact is - news media today does not exists for the service of the people. It exists to make money. And it is a "pet dog" (not watch dog) of the mighty and influential - which is why many politicians and industrialists have invested in it.

Now take into account these examples of politics and news media relationship- Saamna (Shiv Sena), Sakaal (Sharad Pawar), News 24 (Owned by Rajiv Shukla, former journalist, and now congress minister), Prahaar (Narayan Rane), Network 18 (CNN IBN etc., Mukesh Ambani has investments in it), and down south we have the gamut of Jaya TVs (Jaya Lalitha) and Sun TVs (Maran's - accused for involvement in 2G scam) - how can any of these newspapers or TV media provide objective news stories?

The last investigative news story which I felt had some impact was Deepak Sharma's news story on Salman Khurshid. Maybe I am overlooking other investigative stories - let's assume there were hundred investigative news reports in 2012. Which were they? Did they match the scale of Nira Radia expose by Open or Deepak Sharma's expose on Salman Khurshid? Why not? If these 86,000 newspapers and 400 odd news channels were fulfilling the role of "Fourth Estate" as Lokmanya Tilak did with Kesari - India would have been a different country. Today, websites like are doing much better job of exposing and giving platform  to grass root issues in India as compared to anchors who sit in their fancy studio's and expect us to digest their tripe.

The exposes that Arvind Kejriwal made are "investigative stories" - and he could do it because he is not a part of media. The media might question him, but he presented evidences against  Robert Vadra, Sharad Pawar, Mukesh Ambani and many others which could be investigated further. If the 'Fourth Estate' was really functioning as it should, it would be ashamed of its incapabilities. But instead the news media (and because it is so much influenced by corporate's and politicians) ganged-up against Kejriwal and systematic pressure was built up to gag him - read this and see this. Also, what does it have to say about the fictional 'Fourth Estate' of a country where sources having access to evidences against the corruption of the big and mighty prefer coming to Arvind Kejriwal instead of going to a newspaper or a TV channel?

At this point there is something you must know - the Robert Vadra, Sharad Pawar, and many other expose's  would have never been telecast. Yes, you and me would have never known about it. They were telecast because Arvind Kejriwal never revealed the name of the person he was exposing until the time of press conference. The media had no choice, but to come at the place where the press conference was happening, and see who he was exposing - perhaps some news media maybe even regretting it now. But not revealing the name to the media before the press conference was crucial - had he already revealed the name of the person he was exposing - the person who was being accused could have got a court order to stop him and the media itself (knowing it gets revenue support from corporate or politicians) would have backed out.

After all this  - do you feel these 400 odd news channel, and 86,000 newspapers are serving the people of India? And in what way? Forget serving people, imagine the influence these number of news channels and publications must have right now to mold or dilute public opinion. Indian's look at newspapers and news channels with a lot of trust, but there is little suspicion in their mind that it can also be a source of propaganda and misinformation. Our this ignorance, is the 'power' of today's news media. No news channel or publication wears the loyalties of its master on its sleeves, and consequently people rarely can make out with their limited knowledge whether it is a "Fourth Estate" or a "Mouthpiece".

Earlier newspapers harnessed a certain ideology - in case of Tilak's Kesari - it was Swaraj (democracy), boycott (boycotting everything that was contrary to the interest of the country), Swadeshi (growth of indigenous industry, agriculture and commerce by which the money generated in the country would remain in the country and would be utilized for our own country) and national education (education that would arouse patriotism among students and would also provide them training in business, commerce and research that would lead to the progress of the country).

Today, all these so-called "news media" questions Arvind Kejriwal - what is your ideology? I would like to pose a question to these news media conglomerates - What is the ideology of your news organisation? which causes are you addressing to in the society? and how? The fact is - no cause will be taken up unless there is monetary/political benefit attached.

Let me illustrate why the so-called "news media's" role is doubtful.

During Anna Hazare's anshan, the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) conducted an exhaustive media monitoring exercise. The exercise was done between 16-28 August, 2011. They monitored two Hindi channels-Aaj Tak and Star News. Collectively, they devoted 97% of total news time during prime viewing hours (7 to 11pm) to Anna's fast. In two English channels-CNN-IBN and NDTV 24x7 the figure was 87%. It is also estimated that through Anna's 13-day fast ,the viewership of English news channels increased by over 70% and of Hindi news channel by over 80%. The news clips were classified by their tone, 5,592 were
positive towards Anna and his cause, while 92 were characterized as negative. You can see a massive imbalance there - ideally, the positive and negative (critical) should have been the same. It is because of such reporting that now many say that "Anna" and "Kejriwal" are creation of media. Did they ask for it? They were doing their job, but the so-called news media had other agenda - and it was NOT supporting Anna's cause. Anna just brought them good TRPs. People were glued to their TV sets. With good TRPs come advertisers who are willing to pay more. But as soon as the so called "news media" realized that for the current political parties this could mean loss of political influence and power, an advisory was released - no more Anna or Kejriwal. The layman has to understand that there is a nexus between political parties and corporates, corporates and media, and political parties and media. They offer their services to each other, and the common man continues to be fooled.
Heres how: 
- Political parties depend on funds from corporates during elections.
- In return, corporates make political parties frame policies in a manner that benefit them - for instance, contracts or subsidy's.
- Political parties and corporate often invest in media, or buy ads - this means a large revenue  source of the  media comes from corporate and political parties. Who will bite the hand that feeds it? (An example of corporate-media relation: - and the common man knows about it because it went worse)
Soon enough, the reality TV industry jumped on the bandwagon, and took the people of India on the 'Satyamev Jayate' ride hosted by Aamir Khan, and sponsored by Reliance. Will Aamir Khan also do a Satyamev Jayate on topic of corruption? Will he also call Arvind Kejriwal? That would be a litmus test. It perhaps also wasn't because this channel wanted to "contribute" to the society by creating a series like Satyamev Jayate. Perhaps it just made economic sense to ride on the "emotional wave" which Anna's campaign had created, and also fill the "Corporate Social Responsibility" gap (by the way, there was controversy surrounding that too The common man mistakes this as social service and philanthropy but it is also an attempt to "create an image" which can be used as a "testimonial" when questions about integrity are raised against the same corporate's. And by the way, this is also how the television industry was looking at Anna's Janlokpal Bill agitation. 

If you look at the coverage starting from the time Kejriwal went on fast (23 March 2013 to 4th April), you'll notice that the stories are constantly negative, and some of it is plain irresponsible journalism. The common man is unable to put things in context. What happened? It is the same news media which till last year was very enthusiastic about ideologies of Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal - suddenly their discourse becomes counter-productive to the nation?

The so-called news media gave space to bloggers whose qualification to comment on issues of politics are not clearly known (example: - it is a clear effort to manufacture an anti- AAP public opinion. Will the same media give space to bloggers who are supportive of AAP? If not, there is every reason to doubt them for they are not objective. And then there was one columnist  (who does not live in India, but Hong-Kong!) who offered his two cents on First Post ( on the support that Arvind Kejriwal received in the Times Poll - his headline proclaimed "If Kejriwal is influential we are in trouble". I am not sure who did he mean by "we". Perhaps he was referring to his brethren in the paid media industry.

If you look at countries outside India clear rules are established as far as media coverage goes during elections - Norway, France, Denmark, US, UK have "equal media time" access during elections. During the November, 2013 Assembly Elections, you can be sure that AAP won't be given any airtime. In fact a steady campaign to malign its methods and ways will be carried out beforehand. And it is possible that new laws curbing use of social media will be passed.

There was a time when India practiced journalism which gave us much pride. There was a time when publishers, and media owners knew the responsibility they were taking up. There was a time when they all had a conscience. Do you know what the words of Lokmanya Tilak were? The founder of Kesari?

"Kesari belongs to people. Neither have I brought it nor I am going to take it away. All patriots who are anxious for the interest of the country, should keep it going" 

How many so-called news media organisations in India can say the same today?

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