GUWAHATI, Aug 9 – Journalists have to assert their independence and public broadcasters should be attuned to the needs of the masses, if the media has to function in a meaningful way in an increasingly corporatised environment. This was stated by eminent journalist P Sainath today while delivering a lecture to commemorate journalist Kamala Saikia on his 20th death anniversary.
The senior journalist mentioned some trends in the Indian media which undermined its neutrality, and eroded principles of ethics. Among the main reason behind it was stronger yet invisible link between media and corporates.
His survey on paid news in a section of Indian media revealed the magnitude of the problem that went beyond corrupt journalists. Paid news was not a very recent phenomenon in India, but since the last few years, owners of media houses made it into a structured extortion of money. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were the two states where the issue of paid news attained massive proportion.
Ties between media and corporates also emerge from media coverage of international events, such World Economic Forum at Davos. Most of the Indian mediapersons who reported from the exclusive Swiss resort were sponsored by Indian industry, a fact that was not mentioned in the reports which were published. “The media today is too corporatised to speak the truth,” he remarked.
There were several routes through which media was taking a corporate shape in India, and according to Sainath a convergence of money, family and political power was very evident. Concepts like Private Treaties and Media Net are being used to build ties between media houses and companies, which actually transformed newspapers or channels into corporate players.
Sainath mentioned that trends such as these undermined democracy, reduced media independence and violated the audiences’ trust in the media. The situation could be gauged from the fact that statements made by Vice-President Hamid Ansari about the media were ignored by many newspapers and channels because those were critical of their conduct.
Links with corporates have also affected the way the media has focused on major issues. When suicides by farmers in India were at its peak, there were only a handful of journalists covering the issue. However, a national fashion event was able to attract several hundred reporters.
Many newspapers or TV channels do not have a dedicated agriculture reporter even when 70 per cent of Indians are farmers. It was similar when it came to covering labour and employment issues, he noted.
There was a growing disconnect between media, and the masses and the poor have been shut out of media. He cited Prof Prabhat Patnaik, who said the moral universe of the media has changed.
Sainath said there are things which can still be done to address the issue, and asked mediapersons to form associations, fight to retain independence, and support local newspapers and journals which have great reach but are free from corporate influence.