To understand the role which the media should be playing in India we have to first understand the historical context.
India is presently passing through a transitional period in its history, transition from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society. Presently we are neither totally feudal, nor totally modern, but somewhere in between.
As I have pointed out in several of my articles on facebook and on my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in, a transition period is a very painful and agonizing period in history. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart, but the new, modern, industrial society has not yet been put in its place. Old values are crumbling, everything is in turmoil. We may recollect the line in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth: “Fair is foul and foul is fair”. What was regarded good earlier e.g. the caste system is regarded bad today (at least by the enlightened section of society), and what was regarded bad earlier, e.g. love marriage, is acceptable today (at least to the modern minded persons).
In this transitional age, old values and new ones are challenging each other From the point of view of people of the old, feudal order it is a sin to marry according to one's choice, and particularly outside one’s caste or religion, it is a sin to give education to women, it is a sin to treat everyone as equal.
But from the point of view of modern minded people the caste system is a sin, denying education to girls is a sin, and love marriage is quite acceptable. Thus old and new ideas are battling with each other in the transitional age.
It is the duty of all patriotic people, including the media, to help our society in this transition period. The media has a very important role to play in this period, as it deals with ideas, not commodities. So by its very nature the media cannot be like an ordinary business.
While the first role of the media is to give information to the people about what is happening in the country and the world, a second but equally important role is to give leadership to the people in the realm of ideas. In both these roles the Indian media, it must be said with great regret, has largely failed.
If we study the history of Europe when it was passing through its transition period, i.e. from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, we find that this was a terrible period in Europe full of turbulence, turmoil, revolutions, wars, chaos, social churning and intellectual ferment. It was only after passing through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through this fire. We are passing through a very painful and turbulent period in our history, which I guess will last another 20 years or so.
Historically, the print media emerged in Europe as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time the established organs of power were all in the hands of the feudal despotic authorities (the king, aristocrats, etc). Hence the people had to create new organs which could represent them. That is why the print media became known as the fourth estate. In Europe and America it represented the voice of the future, as contrasted to the established feudal organs which wanted to preserve the status quo. The media thus played an important role in transforming feudal Europe to modern Europe by giving leadership to the people in thev realm of ideas.
In the Age of Enlightenment in Europe the print media represented the voice of reason. Voltaire attacked religious bigotry and superstitions, and Rousseau attacked feudal despotism. Diderot said that “Man will be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. Thomas Paine proclaimed the Rights of Man, and Junius (whose real name we still do not know) attacked the despotic George III and his Ministers (see Will Durant’s ‘The Story of Civilization: Rousseau and Revolution’). Louis XVI, while in the Temple prison saw books by Voltaire and Rousseau in the prison library, and said that these two persons have destroyed France. In fact what they had destroyed was not France but the feudal order. In the 19th Century the famous writer Emile Zola in his article ‘J’ Accuse’ accused the French Government of falsely imprisoning Captain Dreyfus in Devil’s Island only because he was a Jew.
In my opinion the Indian media should be playing a role similar to the progressive role played by the media in Europe during the transitional period in Europe. In other words, the Indian media should help our country get over the transition period and become a modern industrial and prosperous state. This it can do by giving leadership to the people in the realm of ideas, by attacking backward, feudal ideas and practices e.g. casteism, communalism and superstitions, and promoting modern scientific and rational ideas. But is it doing so?
The truth is that a large section of the Indian media (particularly the electronic media) does not serve the interest of the people, and in fact some of it is positively anti-people.
There are several major defects in the Indian media which I would like to highlight.
Firstly, the Indian media often deliberately diverts the attention of the people from the real issues to non issues. The real issues in India are socio-economic, the terrible poverty in which 75% of our people are living, the massive unemployment, the price rise, lack of medical care and good education, malnutrition, and backward social practices like discrimination against women, against backward sections of society and minorities, honour killing, caste oppression and religious fundamentalism etc.
Instead of devoting most of its coverage to these issues the media focuses on non issues like politics of a low order, film stars and their lives, babas, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, astrology, cricket, reality shows, etc.
There can be no objection to the media providing some entertainment to the people, provided this is not overdone. But if 90% of its coverage is related to entertainment, and only 10% to the real issues facing the nation (mentioned above) then there is something seriously wrong with the media. The whole question is of proportion. In the Indian media the sense of proportion has gone crazy. Entertainment gets perhaps ten times the coverage that poverty, unemployment, healthcare, malnutrition, education , labour, agriculture and environment together get. Does a hungry or unemployed man want entertainment, or food and a job?
if we switch on the T.V. what do we see? Politics which has sunk to a very low order, cricket, film stars, astrology, babas,etc What has all this to do with the massive problems facing the people?
Many channels show cricket day in and day out. Cricket is really the opium of the Indian masses. The Roman Emperors used to say “If you cannot give the people bread give them circuses”. This is precisely the approach of the Indian establishment, duly supported by our media. Keep the people involved in cricket so that they forget their social and economic plight. What is important is not poverty or unemployment or price rise or farmers suicides or lack of housing or healthcare or education, what is important is whether India has beaten Australia (or better still Pakistan) in a cricket match, or whether Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma have scored a century. The Indian media so much hypes up some cricket matches that they become a veritable Mahabharat War!
Enormous space is given by our media to petty politics, film stars, babas, petty crimes, stock market, cricket,astrology,etc and very little to social sectors like poverty, child malnutrition, unemployment, health and education. Most media correspondents attend political meetings, functions showing film stars, fashion parades, pop music, etc. and very few attend to the lives and problems of workers, farmers, students, sex workers, etc.
Some time back ‘The Hindu’ published that a quarter million farmers committed suicide in the last fifteen years. A Lakme Fashion week was covered by 512 accredited journalists. In that fashion week women were displaying cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves an hour’s flight from Nagpur in the Vidarbha region. Nobody told that story except one or two journalists locally.
The media coverage of the education field concentrates (if at all) on the elite colleges like the I.I.Ts, but there is very little coverage of the plight of the tens of thousands of primary schools, particularly in rural areas, where the foundation of education has to be laid.
In Europe the displaced peasants got jobs in the factories which were coming up because of the Industrial Revolution. In India, an the other hand industrial jobs are now hard to come by. Despite all tall claims of ' vikaas ', GDP growth in India has dropped from 5.7% in the quarter April-June 2014 to 5.3% in the quarter July - September 2014. Many mills have closed down and have become real estate. The job trend in manufacturing has seen a sharp decline over the last 15 years. For instance, TISCO employed 85,000 workers in 1991 in its steel plant which then manufactured 1 million tons of steel. In 2005 it manufactured 5 million tons of steel but with only 44,000 workers. In mid 90s Bajaj was producing 1 million two wheelers with 24,000 workers. By 2004 it was producing 2.4 million units with 10,500 workers.
Where then do these millions of displaced peasants go? They go to cities where they became domestic servants, street hawkers, or even criminals. It is estimated that there are 1 to 2 lac adolescent girls from Jharkhand working as maids in Delhi. Prostitution is rampant in all cities, due to abject poverty, and the number of prostitutes may be as high as 20 million..
In the field of health care, it may be pointed out that the number of quacks in every city in India is several times the number of regular doctors. This is because the poor people cannot afford going to a regular doctor ( see my article ' Healthcare in India ' on my facebook page or on my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in ) Many medicines are very expensive. In rural areas the condition is worse. Many government doctors posted to primary health centres often come for a day or two each month, and run their private nursing homes in the cities the rest of the time.
As regards unemployment, it is estimated that 1 crore new youth are coming into the job market each year, but only about 5 lac new jobs are being created in the organized sector of our economy. What is happening to the remaining 95 lacs ? They end up with insecure and low income jobs like street vendors, hawkers, orv even criminals. That bis the main reason why crime is going up in the country
In India, the child malnutrition figures are the worst in the world. ( see my article ' Malnutrition in India ' on my facebook page or my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in ). According to U.N. data, the percentage of under weight children below the age of 5 years in the poorest countries in the world is 25 per cent in Guinea Bissau, 27 per cent in Sierra Leone, 38 per cent in Ethiopia, and 47 per cent in India. The average family in India is consuming 100 kilograms of food grains less than it did 10 years ago (see P. Sainath’s article ‘Slumdogs and Millionaires’).
All this is largely ignored by our media which turns a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities facing upto 80 per cent of our people, and instead concentrates on some Potempkin villages where all is glamour and show biz. Our media is largely like Queen Marie Antoinette, who when told that the people have no bread, said that they could eat cake.
Secondly, the Indian media promotes superstitions. like astrology, babas, etc
As I have already mentioned, in this transitional age, the media should help our people to move forward into the modern, scientific age. For this purpose the media should give leadership to the people in the realm of ideas,as the European media did when Europe was passing through its transition from a feudal to a modern society, by propagating rational and scientific ideas, but instead of doing so a large section of our media propagates superstitions of various kinds e.g. astrology. babas, etc
It is true that the intellectual level of the vast majority of Indians is very low, they are steeped in casteism, communalism, and superstitions. The question, however, is whether the media should try to lift up the intellectual level of our people by propagating rational and scientific ideas, or whether it should stoop down to that low level and seek to perpetuate it?
In Europe during the Age of Enlightenment the media (which was only the print medium at that time) gave leadership to the people in the realm of ideas, by seeking to to uplift the mental level of the people and change their mindset by propagating ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity and rational thinking. Voltaire attacked superstitions, Rousseau attacked the entire feudal system and Dickens criticized the horrible conditions in jails, schools, orphanages, courts, etc. Should not our media be doing the same?
At one time courageous people in India like Raja Ram Mohan Roy wrote against sati, child marriage, purdah system etc. (in his newspaper ‘Miratul Akhbar’ and ‘Sambad Kaumudi’). Nikhil Chakraborty wrote about the horrors of the Bengal Famine of 1943. Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi supported the Independence struggle.
Of late, however, all that has changed.
What do we see in the media nowadays?
Many T.V. channels show astrology, babas, etc. Astrology is not to be confused with astronomy. While astronomy is a science, astrology is pure superstition and humbug. Even a little common sense can tell us that there is no rational connection between the movements of the stars and planets, and whether a person will die at the age of 50 years or 80 years, or whether he will be a doctor or engineer or lawyer. No doubt most people in our country believe in astrology, but that is because their mental level is very low. The media should try to bring up that level, rather than to descend to it and perpetuate it.
As regards the print media, many of the pages in the newspapers are full of advertisements, and the other news is also largely not news worthy. The editors are usually no longer independent, and have to do what the owners tell them to do. And the owners apparently tell them to avoid focusing on the real problems of the country, which are socio-economic.
I am not saying that there are no good journalists at all in the media. There are many excellent journalists. P. Sainath is one of them, whose name should be written in letters of gold in the history of Indian journalism. Had it not been for his highlighting of the farmers suicides in certain states the story (which was suppressed for several years) may never have been told. But such good journalists are the exceptions. The majority consists of people who do not seem to have the desire to serve the public interest.
The Indian media must now introspect and develop a sense of responsibility and maturity.
The basic problem before journalists, however, is that a large section of the bigger media has been taken over by corporates, and journalists dare not displease their masters for fear of losing their jobs. Many journalists have of late been sacked, or placed on contract basis where they have no job security. The lower level journalists are paid a pittance. How,then, can they work freely ?
When I went to Bihar a couple of years back to attend a function in Patna, many journalists met me and said that no journalist dare write against the Bihar government or its Ministers, and even if they do, their story will not be published, because if they do they may be transferred, or the newspapers will not be given government advertisements. Pressure is excercised by the state government on the proprietors not to publish anything against the government, and the proprietors, being businessmen, would not like to displease the government. Consequently, no news adverse to the then Bihar government was being published. This was confirmed by a committee of the Press Council of India which I had appointed in its report.
How then can freedom of the media, which is a guaranteed right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, become a reality ?