Godi media is about to change, but it must resist the Lutyens pull

Public anger is bound to grow. And it’s inevitable for channels suffering a dip in ratings to take that cue.

WrittenBy:Aunindyo Chakravarty
A TV anchor sitting on the lap of a politician.

Mainstream media is about to change. It will happen in fits and starts. But it is inevitable.

Before I go into the reasons why, let me talk about two terms that Ravish Kumar coined for journalists. The first, godi media, has entered our everyday lexicon. It is a product of the Modi era. The other, Lutyens journalism, is older, and less popular. Ravish used it to describe what passed off as political reporting in the UPA period. Reporters and editors would throng Parliament, North and South block, get a few tidbits thrown at them by friendly mantrisnetas, and babus, and write them up as ‘scoops.’

Lutyens journalism all but disappeared in the past 10 years. ‘Political’ reporting was reduced to stenography. Often it was a simple copy paste of messages sent to them on WhatsApp groups. And because it was impossible to enter the corridors of power, ‘newsroom power’ shifted entirely into the studio, where mediocre minds ruled the airwaves.

The news studio was the key habitat of godi journalism. It worked on a simple principle, best described using the Bengali saying – Raja ja bawley parishod dawley bawley taar shawto gun (whatever the King says is reproduced a hundred times by his councilmen).

These election results are bound to shake up this cosy coalition of the BJP and prime time anchors.

Mind you, the anchors themselves will not change their approach to news. This is because their ‘godi’ness is socio-cultural. It comes from an ideological belief that power is to be respected, not questioned.

Most journalists who became big in TV studios in the last decade, are also politically aligned with the BJP, and are naturally prone to accepting what it says. They believe that democracy means submitting to the Nation State. That is why they are genuinely disturbed by dissent.

The change, when it comes, will be gradually engineered by the owners of the channels. New anchors will be hired, or promoted to prime-time slots. Popular godi faces will suddenly move to smaller channels, with lower reach. Some old school journalists will get job offers and be put on air, to open the door towards INDIA. The flavour of news shows will shift almost imperceptibly.

There will be two reasons for this. The first is that news businesses will need to play it safe in an atmosphere where the opposition is strong and the government is relatively weak. They will also have the leeway to use their platform to pressure the government when India Inc needs anything. An overwhelming majority, with a supremely powerful PM, disempowers corporates. They become supplicants. This is what happened, especially in Modi 2.0. Now it will change, albeit slowly.

The second reason for the shift in terrain of news will be what is coming in the next two years, as the Congress becomes an aggressive and assertive opposition. While the next Modi government might try to revive its sagging popularity by giving more freebies, employment is another matter. I would say, it is beyond the government’s control, because the causes of joblessness lie outside India’s domestic economy. Middle management, and white-collar jobs are already under threat. They will reduce further. AI will increasingly disrupt the employment scene in India’s IT sector, which is among the biggest white-collar employers in the country. So, there will be a lot of anger amongst the middle-classes.

So, if a channel does a show on mahangai (petrol prices, for instance) it will suddenly get a boost in viewership. Even shows that question the government on law and order (remember Nirbhaya?) will get a ratings bump. Channels will take that cue and shift their programming to cover these stories. Till now, godi media flourished because its agenda coincided with what viewers wanted to see. This had already started to slide, well before the elections: A top TV news honcho recently told me that the share of Hindi news in overall ratings was on the decline.

A disgruntled middle class loves to consume news about ‘scams’. UPA 2 faced the brunt of it, because the economic downturn, caused by the Global Financial Crisis, made people generally antsy.  So, stories of irregularities in contracts that had already appeared in the press in 2007-8 – and not made a mark – reappeared in 2009-10 and hit the headlines. The most famous of these was the 2G scam, which happened in 2007, and appeared in the inside pages of some pink papers right then, only became big three years later, when the aam aurat was already annoyed about the state of things.

Coalition governments leak like sieves when it comes to anything that smells of a scam. Don’t be surprised if ‘corruption’ suddenly reappears as an issue, and TV channels send cameras to cover school children on candlelight marches to fight graft. In times of public disaffection – which is bound to intensify over the next two years – protests make great TV. It fetches eyeballs, and ads. It fills the coffers of TV networks.

Those will be happy times for journalists, who thrive when they speak truth to power, and uncover what “someone somewhere doesn’t want reported”.

But that is where real journalists will have to step back and ask themselves the question – are they able to keep a distance between the political agenda of a resurgent opposition and the democratic needs of citizens?

It is important for those who have voluntarily left the world of godi media, to not end up in the lap of the next potential ruling party. It is easier said than done. When you have spent years on the receiving end of governmental intimidation, it is but natural to end up identifying with any political force that is also being targeted. At such times one has to remind oneself that the party system is also part of the overall structure of power, which a journalist must expose.

Otherwise, we will end up reproducing another kind of Lutyens journalism. 

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