Dialogue  July-September,  2010, Volume 12 No.1

Editorial Perspective

Media’s New Role in Sabotaging Democracy

     The sabotaging role played by money, muscle, caste and religion in our electoral politics is a well-known phenomenon. It becomes possible because the elections are fought on emotive issues, such as religion, caste, region; etc.; and, the help of black money and mafia muscle power is frequently and freely taken in winning the elections. Under such circumstances, we needed a vibrant civil society, well informed by a vigilant media and the political will, for the success of democracy capable of enforcing proper governance. The vigilant and responsible media was to help in the emergence of a vibrant and well-informed civil society by helping it in raising the level of political discourse from emotive to rational level. Black money and mafia muscle power may be handled with an iron fist only if there is a political will to do so. The pre-requisite for the latter is, however, a healthy political culture with a shift from ‘power-centric politics’ to ‘people-centric politics’. Such things are not easy as the recent developments have clearly shown.

    The problem has become more complicated with the media joining the nefarious game of ‘paid news’.

     The news sale, by itself, as the papers in this volume show, is both unethical and criminal. As the people of this country believe the published news to be true, by converting advertisement into news, the print media transfers the benefit of its credibility in favour of a candidate, deserving or undeserving, in lieu of black money – the money which neither the candidate shows in his election expenditure, nor the newspaper owner shows it in his Income Tax statement. Needless to say that the corrupt media has come out as a further hindrance in the smooth conductance of fair elections of people’s representatives.

     On receiving the complaint about the news paid for in cash or kind by interested parties from a delegation of conscientious senior journalists under the leadership of late Prabhash Joshi, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice (Red.) G.N. Ray constituted a two-member committee consisting of Pranjoy Guha Thakurta and K.Srinivasa Reddy to enquire and report on the same. The Committee came out with a well-researched 71-page document full of facts exposing the negative role played by the media houses. The powerful press barons, however, succeeded in scuttling the report; replaced by a 15 pages report by the PCI. P.Sainath of the Hindu, who alongwith some other senior journalists like Ram Bahadur Rai, is pioneering the media exposure on this issue, said the other day, during his lecture organized by Delhi Union of Journalists: “In fact, the very same politicians whose initial complaint led to my first story on paid news later avoided voting in the Press Council of India (on the issue of suppressing the Council’s own report naming and shaming the perpetrators of paid news)”. “What does that say about the power of these media barons,” he added. During the voting in the PCI on the issue of the report to be made public, only nine people, including Chairman Justice G.N. Ray, voted in favour; twelve opposed it. It needs mention that among the politicians, Anantha Kumar, BJP MP, remained silent; another BJP MP Prakash Javdekar left during the discussions and another three – Vilas Muttewar and K.Keshav Rao, both Congress MPs, and Sanjay Dina Patil, NCP MP, remained absent. This exposes how serious they were on such a vital issue debated hotly in Parliament, where their leaders shed crocodile tears during the debate on the subject in Rajya Sabha..

     Another disturbing feature about the media groups is their increasing role as corporate players. Indian media companies today, as reported, have invested in about 200 different sectors, which include aviation, hotels, cement, shipping, steel, education, textiles, IT, real estate, automobiles and cricket. This restricts honest reporting and there is even editorial taboo, keeping in view the company’s interests. As Sainath said: “There is structural compulsion to lie in media so invested in stock markets and corporates themselves … They simply can not afford to tell the truth.”

   Yet another malady of the media, needing mention of restraint in reporting, especially when the publisher’s interests are not met. The Times of India group agreed to be more than the willing partner in CWG publicity campaign. It became the bitterest critic of Kalmadi and the Games Organizing Committee only after its alleged publicity campaign deal of over Rs.10 crore was rejected and that of Hindustan Times  was accepted. In this connection, it needs mention that even the Chairman, PCI, has advised to ‘exercise restraint in reporting CWG preparations’. Another weakness of Indian media is the lack of thorough investigation and reporting. Without denying the corruption and inefficiency of the Games Organizing Committee, it needs mention that involvement of vast nexus of vested interest groups, including government officials, politicians, Games Federation officials, and the lack of policy at Central Government level is responsible for the terrible mess, which has remained largely uninvestigated and unreported.     

    The media malady is, no doubt, disturbing. Nevertheless, there is hope as we have many honest journalists in our country and their efforts will certainly bring fruit. The concern was expressed in the Rajya Sabha on hushing up of the PCI panel report. We may, however, have to wait till appropriate steps are taken to tame the media, if it resists self-regulation. The Media Council with teeth and the application of anti-monopoly law is the least we need.

Delhi Commonwealth Games (CWG)

    The CWG mess has several dimensions – and blame game will be endless and futile. The basic fact remains that managemental incompetence has allowed other countries and our own media to point fingers. Failure of a handful, apart from leakage of huge public fund, has tarnished the nation’s image. Then the shortcomings are not the result of lack of only the incompetence but also egos and turf-warfare. It should be noted that almost all of the deficiencies pertain to the Games Village and not to the venues. Apart from the issues of budget, alleged corruption and the very rationale of holding the games, some other significant aspects which militate against our self-respect, are being missed. The shortcomings are being made an issue and rightly so by the prominent countries like England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, out of 71 participating countries. All the six happen to be white countries.

      Some of the statements from these countries have been in bad taste, uncivilised and even patronising. The President of the Australian Olympic Association said that Delhi should not have been allotted the right to hold the Games. Mike Hooper, of course, was exultant to settle scores with Kalmadi, latter having tried to have him ousted (2009) as CWG representative in India. In the background of the shortcomings in the Games Village, Mike Fennel, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, had the temerity to seek appointment with the Prime Minster implying that it is the Govt. of India which is in the dock. He was rightly referred to the Cabinet Secretary. Fennel again in an interview with the CNN-IBN (Devil’s Advocate) suggested that India “did not understand the complexity of requirements” and that “it ought to be a learning experience” as India lacked experience in holding an event of such magnitude.  

      Some of the envoys of the same countries have been raising security concerns, suggesting searching of even vehicles of Ministers. The tone is patronising and condescending. Our security record is good and these busybodies should be put in place, rather curtly. Politeness and courtesy beyond a point become counter-productive. Lastly, a time has come to review the Commonwealth connection, at least in the field of sports, which serves the interests of only a few sports federation officials. It is not the relationship of equality and mutual respect. It’s a rude reminder of our colonial past hence the hectoring tone of Hoopers and Fennels and some envoys that. “Still lot has to be done”. But for this we have to have a mindset of a free citizen of a free country. Holding of a successful CWG, Mr. Prime Minster, should not be the be all and end all of our national pride. Jettisoning the colonial past is a better option in this connection. Surely, the Games can be held minus these six. If we had this attitude, they would not have been all over us.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                - B.B. Kumar  


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati