‘Journalism has been reduced largely to a revenue stream,’ says P Sainath

In a conversation with Newslaundry, Sainath talks about the corporatisation of media, state of the freedom of the press, priorities of Indian newsrooms and more.

WrittenBy:Cherry Agarwal
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“What is the role of the media? The role of the media is to make money for its owners. Its function is to inform people…and give them news,” says journalist Palagummi Sainath in a conversation with Newslaundry.

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On June 16, People’s Archive of Rural India’s founder-editor Sainath delivered the 1st Neelabh Mishra Memorial Lecture on how corporatisation of the media harms Indian democracy. Newslaundry spoke to Sainath about media ownership, freedom of the press, priorities of Indian newsrooms, among several other issues related to the Indian media landscape.

Speaking on the corporatisation of media, Sainath says, “[In] corporate-owned media, journalism and journalists can never be free. He also added that whatever freedom there was, even in that set-up, has been swiftly shrinking. “There are very fine journalists…but the space they have to function has shrunk quite rapidly.” Quoting American journalist AJ Liebling, Sainath says, “Freedom of the press is meant for those who own one.” He adds that when it comes to freedom of the press, one will have to dismantle corporate monopoly.

But Sainath warns that the answer to corporate monopoly isn’t state monopoly. “We’ve to think of various new forms — collectives, cooperatives, individual initiatives, a lot of these…,” he adds, before speaking about some of the threats posed by corporate ownership of the media. “Corporate ownership destroys diversity, it stifles smaller but important voices. It destroys journalist’s freedom by converting the job market of a journalist into contracts, where earlier they have very solid, tenured [jobs],” Sainath says. Later, speaking about the Working Journalists Act, Sainath adds, “The Working journalist Act in itself, it was a very fine Act. It has been nakedly violated.”

Speaking about the dangers posed by corporate media ownership, Sainath says that corporate ownership enforces self-censorship. “You stop saying things, you stop doing things…because you want to keep your job. You’ve got your family to support. These are real problems for our ordinary journalists in the real world,” Sainath says, adding, “And then you also start recruiting a generation that is groomed and socialised in your economic philosophy — that sees everything through the eyes of their owners. Then you don’t even have to threaten or bully…because there are questions of shared values. Corporate ownership [also] destroys diversity, it stifles smaller but important voices.

Speaking about the recent spate of journalistic killings, Sainath adds, “I don’t want to rank victimhood, for me each one of these was a gigantic tragedy…but we deny legitimacy to the small-town journalist. That is what would be a correct way of putting it,” he says. 

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