The Indian media’s got its priorities wrong and needs to introspect if it wants to be respected

The common man doesn’t care for most of what it covers.

WrittenBy:Justice Markandey Katju
Date:
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The most important issues for the country are our massive poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, healthcare, casteism, communalism etc., but our media usually highlights issues of relatively lesser importance, or even trivial ones, and diverts attention from the more important ones.

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So it is high time that a straight, honest, hard-hitting critique be written about the Indian media.

Take a few examples. For weeks many TV channels showed the Sheena Bora murder case, just as it had some years back showed the Aarushi murder case. Every detail of the case was shown, ignoring the lakhs of farmer suicides, child malnutrition (affecting about 50 per cent of our children), massive unemployment (10 million youth enter the job market in India every year, but only half a million jobs are created annually in the organised sector of our economy, leaving the rest to become hawkers, street vendors, criminals, bouncers, stringers, prostitutes or commit suicide), etc.

After showing the Sheena murder case for weeks, many channels highlighted news about Indrani, that she was depressed, that she is now better, that she had biscuits for breakfast, etc, etc. Were all these newsworthy matters?

Earlier, Radhe Ma was highlighted on most TV screens for days on end, and so were Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Fiza Mohammed (Anuradha Bali), and Bbbas like Asaram Bapu.

The intention of much of our media is to divert attention of the people from the real issues facing the masses to non-issues like lives of film stars, petty politics (which has gone down to a very low level), cricket, astrology, babas, reality shows (like Big Boss), etc. Cricket is one of the opiums of the Indian masses, and is shown day in and day out continuously, as if it were a very important issue. The Roman Emperors used to say, “If you cannot give the people bread, give them circuses (i.e. gladiators fights. ” The Indian media, perhaps taking the cue from the Indian establishment, says: If you cannot give the people bread, give them cricket.

What is important is not poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, healthcare, etc. What is important is whether India has beaten South Africa (or better still, Pakistan) in a cricket match, or whether Virat Kohli or Raina have scored a century.

The national interest, and Article 51A(h) of the Constitution, requires promotion of scientific thinking. But we see many TV channels showing astrology regularly, which is pure superstition and humbug, and other superstitions, obviously to raise TRPs. Is this not anti-national?

Historically the media arose in the 18th century in England and France in the Age of Enlightenment as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time all the organs of power were in the hands of the feudal authorities. So the people had to create new organs, which would serve their interests, and the media was one of the most powerful organs that they created. The media represented the voice of the future, as contrasted with the feudal organs, which wanted to preserve status quo.

At that time there was no electronic media, and not even daily newspapers, so the media was in the form of leaflets, pamphlets, etc. Great writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Junius, John Wilkes, etc. used it to attack feudalism, feudal despotism, religious bigotry and superstitions, and thus helped greatly in the transition of society from a feudal one to a modern one.

The same role was played in India by Raja Ram Mohan Roy (through his newspapers Sambad Kaumudi and Miratul Akhbar), Nikhil Chakborty, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, etc. and in recent times great journalists like P Sainath who exposed farmer suicides and other social evils plaguing our society. The same should also be the role played by our own media. But unfortunately it is doing the reverse. India is presently passing though a transitional period in its history, from feudal society to a modern industrial one. It is the duty of all patriotic people, including the media, to help our society get over this transition period quickly and with less pain. The media has a very important role to play in this transition period, as it deals with ideas, not commodities. So by its very nature the media cannot be like an ordinary business.

The transitional period is a very painful and agonising period in history. The old feudal society is being uprooted and torn apart, but the new, modern, industrial society has not yet been entirely established. Old values are crumbling, everything is in turmoil. Here the role of the media becomes extremely important.

The media’s role is not merely to inform people about events, it is also to educate people and combat feudal and backward thinking, like casteism and communalism, and uplift the low intellectual level of the masses. But our media, instead of doing so, usually goes down to the low intellectual level of the people and seeks to perpetuate it, for instance, by propagating astrology, babas, and superstitions. Many channels mention and show the place where a Hindu god was born, where he lived, etc. Is this is not spreading superstitions and is this playing an anti national role?

There can be no objection to the media providing some entertainment to the people, provided this is not overdone. But if 90 per cent of its coverage is related to entertainment, and only 10 per cent to the real issues facing the nation (mentioned above) then there is something seriously wrong with the media.

In the Indian media the sense of proportion has gone crazy. Entertainment gets much more coverage than health, education, labour, agriculture and environment together get. Does a hungry or unemployed man want entertainment or food and a job?

Enormous space is given by our media to business news like stock markets, and very little to social sectors like health and education. Most media correspondents attend events relating to film stars, fashion parades, pop music, etc. and very few attend to the lives and problems of workers, farmers, students, sex workers, etc.

Some years back ‘The Hindu’ published that a quarter million farmers committed suicide in the last fifteen years. The Lakme Fashion Week was covered by more than 500 accredited journalists. In that fashion week, women were displaying cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves in the Vidarbha region – an hour’s flight from Nagpur. 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 IITs, but there is very little coverage of the plight of the tens of thousands of primary schools, particularly in rural areas where education begins.

All this is largely ignored by our media, which turns a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities that almost 80 per cent of our people face, and instead concentrates on some Potemkin 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. If our media wants to be respected by our people it is time that it now seriously introspect, and start acting in a mature and responsible manner.

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