Friday, August 12, 2011

Media spreading gloom and negativity?

Yesterday, I was reading a blog written by Rajdeep Sardesai (“Its not all gloom this independence day”), in which he states that journalists by nature tend to be cynical and look at a glass of water as being half empty rather than half full. He then says that “A wave of negativism seems to be sweeping the country resting on a conviction that we are a corrupt, ill-governed country with badly compromised institutions that offer little hope to generation next” (He goes on to say that we have a lot to be proud of). How strange: it is journalists like him who have been responsible for so much negativism in the first place. And yet he is acting surprised? Is he being naïve? Does he not know the influence that media wields on people’s minds? Is he not aware of the responsibility that that influence puts on media? In another post on “When should a minister resign?” he writes “we must guard against becoming a lynch mob that delivers verdicts without offering a fair hearing”. And yet, on his TV channel, Rajdeep leads from the front in government bashing. What he writes in his blog is different from what he says on TV! Out there, in the competitive world of TV journalism, he is at the forefront of asking “tough questions” and demanding immediate resignations. Out there, he is the one spreading negativism….

I have always believed that the role of media in a democracy (especially in a developing country) is to “bring out the facts”, “explain them” and if necessary, “educate” people and “correct the wrong views” they may have. It’s simply not enough to “merely report” a story or “reflect the views of people”. The story may be motivated; even downright wrong. The views of people may be colored by their prejudices. This is not the case only in India. In most countries, the people don’t know enough. That’s why they turn to newspapers and websites – to know more. How strange then that newspapers in turn, turn to the people for their views. The flow of information has to be from media to the public; not the other way around in most cases. Journalists are expected to be “sources of knowledge” and they must use this knowledge to “judge” what is right and what is motivated. They should resist the temptation to treat their studios as courtrooms. But instead, they consider their studios to be the “people’s court”.

There’s another thing about media. In a democracy, media is called the fourth estate. It is assumed that media is neutral towards the other three estates – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The only constituency they are not neutral to, but intensely pro is the public. Media is a vociferous defender of people’s right to know the truth; Media questions the authorities; starts a debate; does all it takes to inform and educate the public. In India however, media is extremely politicized; merrily taking sides between one political party and the other. Truth be damned.

Take some examples:

The Times of India has been waging a war for many weeks now on the condition of roads in Mumbai. It is absolutely right in doing so. Roads in Bombay are pathetic and every monsoon, they become worse. There is rampant corruption in the allotment of contracts for road works. By raising this issue and using its clout, the TOI has forced the Maharashtra CM to give definite commitments to make amends. What the newspaper has failed to highlight ever is that it is not the Maharashtra CM who is responsible for the roads in Bombay. It is the BMC. And that the BMC has been run by the Shivsena/BJP combine for the last two decades. If there is any corruption, it is within the Shivsena/BJP. Yet, in cases where the Congress has been involved (and there are many), the paper has never missed bringing the party’s name up. Is this a case of political bias?

Take CAG reports. Whether the public understands or not, media is supposed to understand the constitutional position of the CAG. The CAG’s job is to look at the government’s accounts and bring out errors/mistakes in the same. It is supposed to detect wastage of funds arising from inefficiencies….or cost increases because of delays in execution. It doesn’t need to appreciate the reasons offered by the Executive. As someone pointed out on TV (before he was shut up by the anchor!)….maybe the courts had ordered a stoppage of work for some time and that led to delays and escalated costs? Then obviously, this would be neither inefficiency nor corruption. But that’s not the CAG’s job. That’s for the PAC to judge. That’s for Parliament to judge. And unless there is a case of corruption made out, it may amount to nothing more than a mere censure of the Executive. Media is supposed to tell its audiences all this. This may not be popular with the public – which may believe that CAG reports are the last word on culpability of politicians. It’s the job of media to correct such views of people, even if that means going against their sentiments of people.

Take the 2G issue. The whole issue became this big only because of the CAG’s quest for popularity. The CAG called it a Rs 1.76 lac crore scam. Wow. As soon as this number came out, it created a political storm. It is such a fantastic sum of money that it instantaneously stuck in the minds of people. People believed in the corruption immediately, believe as they do that all politicians are corrupt. What did media do? Did it caution the people not to jump to conclusions? Did it tell people that there was a due process of law that was still to be followed? Did it bring in the experts to have a good debate on the matter? No. It just “reported” the CAG’s findings. In fact, it added its own masala. Helping cement the view that this was the most corrupt government ever. Rather than criticizing the CAG for seeking popularity, media sensationalized the number put out by it. The truth is that in spite of the Supreme Court itself monitoring the scam, nothing more than a Rs 200 crores accusation has surfaced (the DB Realty-Kalaignar TV-DMK nexus) and even this is still to be proven. There is nothing against Unitech except that it “sold off” equity after getting the license cheap. In fact, there is a difference between selling off equity (which implies profit to the original shareholders) and diluting equity holding (which only means that new shareholders joined the business….no one made a profit). Again, media failed to educate people about this. Was media ignorant, or politically motivated, or was it too afraid to confront the public and tell it that its views are wrong. Of course there is corruption; but media has failed to bring out the real cases of corruption. Raja changed the rules of “first come first serve” to suit some companies. Raja altered the date for submitting the license fees and favored a few others. These look like cases of corruption. But the Rs. 1.76 lac crores is just a joke….

It’s the same story again and again. In the black money matter, media chose to merely report arbitrary numbers like $1.5 trillion stashed in Swiss banks. The Swiss central bank has now clarified that the total amount of money belonging to Indians is just $2.5 billion. Media chose to put the $1.5 trillion story on the front pages; the Swiss central bank’s clarification on the inside pages. In the Hassan Ali black money case, the Bombay HC granted bail today because the ED was unable to show that the money supposedly stashed abroad was generated from crime. Further, the Swiss bank UBS has categorically stated that the documents produced to show that Hassan Ali has Rs 32,000 crores in the bank are forged documents. No paper has put this out on the front page. The public believes Hassan Ali owns Rs 32000 crores and that’s the line that media prefers to tow.

There is so much good happening in the country, but media chooses to ignore all that. Our exports have risen by more than 50% in the first four months of the year in spite of the slowdown globally. Our GDP continues to grow at 8% or more in spite of severe pressures. Indian companies continue to strike big international deals all the time. The government itself has taken several steps on the policy front. But for media, if anything good happens, it is the people of India who are credited. If anything goes wrong, it is the government’s fault. It’s good to keep the government under a microscope, but at times, it is good to appreciate the good work done by it as well. Media doesn’t think so. It is not interested in good news. Good news is no news at all.

The real truth is that media is pandering to public opinion rather than shaping it. So my advice to Rajdeep Sardesai is that please don’t be surprised by the spread of negativity in the country. Take responsibility for it. And recommit yourself to promoting truth; rather than being sensationalistic all the time. It may get you a few TRPs, but it is hurting the country’s self-confidence. Yes, we have corruption….please bring that out. And make sure no case gets buried. But don’t dish out canards. And if someone else is doing that, then stop it from spreading. It’s your job. Please do it well……


  1. the pressure is on the newsroom!! the judgement and maturity has to come from the top. the emphasis on opinion and entitlement to deliver judgements has overshadowed the basic purpose of media to inform n educate.
    i had similar thoughts. pressure is on the newsroom!! the judgement and maturity has to come from the top. the emphasis on opinion and entitlement to deliver judgements has overshadowed the basic purpose of media to inform n educate.
    i had similar thoughts.

  2. "Superannuated Indians Inc."backed by "invisible supporters with money,media assistance,a road map,
    and crowds of young "supporters" staged in Delhi a high drama!Anna wrote to PM,NOT a letter appealing for his intervention but one accusing and challenging him! He replied that he has to deal with Delhi police and not him!Delhi police laid down some pre conditions and demanded written assurances and unedrtakings fro Anna Team. It refused.In the interest of public tranquility,it arrested the Team under preventive custody and lodged in Tihar jail! Anna went on hunger fast! The invisble backers let their trump card down! Crowds of yoth in many places came to the roads in protest!The 'TRP gains conscious media'played it up as a mass upsurge!When the police felt that since they are seeking legal protection, and no harm could be done by them so it let Anna team off! But Anna Team refused and went on hunger strike.
    After much haggling and bargaining both climbed down a little and Anna team had to give a written undertaking to get permission!How,then Anna Team claim it as their victory? it was a"Win-Win"situation for both and not victory any one!hence, the media heading:"Govt. caves in"! is untenable!On the other hand, the Govt. has made Anna team subject to onerous responsibility for ensuring public tranquility!
    Further, by making the Rajya Sabha undertake for the first time in 61-year History of Indian Republic, the proceedings for the impeachment of Calcutta High Court Judge, has established the superiority of Parliament andrendered Anna teams demand to bring judiciary under jan Lk pal Bill as suerfluous!
    Now many are coming out and openly declaring that Anna's hunger -strike is a blackmail"and his Jan Lok Pal Bill has many flaws!Santosh Hegde's conspicuous absence make people think that Anna Team is not united!In Ralegaon Siddhi, Anna's native village people say that Ann's dictatorial attitude is unbearable!Gandhiji was guided by inspiration and this man by his force!
    he has no respct for Constitution or for the Parliament! Knowledgeable persons declare this Govt. has been the most "responsive Govt." we had so far!"Anna keeps changing his stand every now and then.He says the "Second Struggle for Freedom" has started today!This is apparently an
    'attempt to excite disaffection towards the Govt. established by law in India"!No as never before,we have to choose between "Anna(rchy)"or
    "democracy!"Ere long this will fizzle out!