This putrid new India
India wasn’t like this. The corrupt, the crooked and those who were impacted by investigative and adversarial journalism did not outright kill a reporter or an editor if he did not really relent. There were other ways to ‘handle’ them. The resourceful ones – especially the top politicians and businessmen – managed to get the journalist’s beat changed or got him transferred or even arranged a promotion so that he or she did not bear a grudge. This was especially true in Delhi and the other metros for many years until the era dawned when editors lost control of the newsroom and the moneybags took full charge. Now the news that’s fit to print does not find space in many major newspapers. The same is the case for television news. The bigger stories are just filtered out or mentioned in passing and seldom followed up. The only space that is left now is the internet and online publications, which have been allowed to breathe easy by those who want to control the narrative as the net does not yet have much penetration.
The corporate world has a deathly grip on what the country reads and watches, and anything that crosses the red line is not entertained. The recent acquisition of a dozen television channels and several newspapers by a single corporate house has ensured that the managers of these groups decide what has to be put out and what has to be blocked. And all of them have little patience for old-fashioned slogans that demand justice for the poor and oppressed or for civil society groups demanding governments be protective of national resources. These interests are trenchantly against the left parties and those working with the poor and the struggling. The convergence of corporate interests with those of the government negates the essence of journalism, which has to speak the truth and demand accountability from the State. These facts are being lost on those social media activists or trolls who are relentlessly targeting journalism and the liberal values that underpin this profession.
What is compounding the problem in India is the shadow the ultranationalist ideology is casting on the business of government. Now criticism of the government’s conduct is tarred as anti-national activity. Newspaper editors, at the behest of their owners, do not want to provide space to political reporting or news emanating from civil society. They simply want to steer clear of trouble with the government – more so in the states than at the centre.
The other day, I was speaking with the owner of a mass circulated multi-edition daily about how the newsroom has changed and he was candid enough to say that there was little space for reporters in his organisation now. Most of the newspaper’s content (80%) was prepared centrally at its head office and there was just some space left for local editors to fill. There were no reporters for the Congress and other opposition parties, he said. Only the ruling party was being covered. It is apparent that the media barons, in the name of profitability, have stolen the newspaper from journalists and turned it into a product for mass consumption.
While the newspaper groups in the regional language segment have found ways to be on the right side of the government, which helps them earn large profits due to increased government advertising in their pages, the television channels too have aligned themselves with the new political order. Bizarrely, they speak angrily against those who are in opposition and seldom raise their voice against those that rule India. I never knew this was journalism!
Cleverly, the media, with the help of social media, has changed the way news is perceived. What gets precedence is what is trending and, as we have seen, that can be manipulated too! For instance, cosmetic issues are created to side-step and drive out from our consciousness incidents that show the poor performance of the government. If one watches the manner in which the media has been left to chase some other dud after the Gorakhpur tragedy that saw 70 children die of encephalitis, it is apparent how this media manipulation takes place.
In this world, those who pause and reflect on our putrid reality and demand accountability from a government are the new enemies of the State. The outriders of this new India killed Gauri Lankesh as she refused to forget why she became a journalist.