Dialogue  October - December 2005 , Volume 7  No. 2

The Media, as it is Today

M.V. Kamath

The first thing to remember when one speaks about the Media is that one should not generalize. The second thing to remember is that there is no way of judging the Media in its entirety. This article concentrates on the English media, considering that it reaches out to the vast middle class which, in effect, runs the country. This does not mean that it suffices merely to study the English language newspapers. Indian languages newspapers have an even vaster readership. Only the other day the Hindi daily, Dainik Jagran ran an ad which said: “Dainik Jagran is the largest read daily in India, with an astounding 1.92 crore readers.” The paper claimed that it was bigger than The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Telegraph, The Deccan Chrenicle, The Economic Times, The New Indian Express. The Deccan Herald and Mid-Day put together, their combined readership being 1.89 crore.
    It is not clear whether the former Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Jaipal Reddy had all this in mind when, speaking at the inauguration of an international seminar on Media Concerns of the day in early November 2005 he criticised the increasing “trivialisation and sensationalisation” of news, in our daily papers. Threats faced by the media, said Mr. Reddy, were internal. He noted that ‘Page 3’ people were increasingly trying to get into page 1 by joining politics. He said: “I am not opposed to entertainment, but where is the information?”. Instead of discussing their dressing sense or appeal, said Mr. Reddy, the media should focus on their work. On the face of it, that is an impossibility. The former Information Minister made another point that is intriguing. He urged the media to work towards upgrading its content through continuous education of journalists to ensure they were well-informed, not just in current issues but also in world history and politics. The presumption here is that the present crop of journalists is ill-informed and what is worse, ill-educated. That may not necessarily be true.
    What has happened in recent years is that newspaper proprietors have taken over the right to decide what should go into their papers and how. The constant explanation given is that presently some 65 o 75 per cent of the literate population is between 18 and 35 years old and this generation has no interest in serious matters. The further presumption is that this generation of readers is only interested in sex, food, style, fashion, society and physical comforts, including a healthy bank balance and has no use for discussion of serious subjects. This would explain why some – and only some – of our leading national English dailies have been concentrating on the trivial and the vulgar. There is no knowing to what extent this presumption is true. It is regrettable that this explanation has not been challenged. No effort has been so far made to assess the opinion of the young. It is, therefore, significant, that as recently as 15 November, the Kolkata-based The Statesman went out of its way to seek the views of the public. It wanted to know, through a series of questions that took an entire page how the average reader felt on a serious of issues. Was information given adequate? Accurate? What did the reader think about the selection of news, the quality of writing, the space given to life style etc etc. The reader was specifically asked such questions as: “would you like to see more light reading? Do you like the choice of our cover stories? Does fashion feature enough? Do students get enough space? “etc etc. it is very daring of The Statesman indeed to submit itself to valid criticism. How one wishes other newspapers would follow suit!  
    A frequent complaint against some newspapers is their devaluation of sex, thus, addressing a meeting in Delhi called to observe International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, former deputy chairperson of Rajya Sabha, Ms. Najma Heptullah said that she felt “permissive representation of women in mass media” is the first step that lowers the inherent inhibition that is built into our psyche”. She added: “it legitimizes a perception that women are only about skin and body. The new permissiveness is actually stereotyping the image of women and in a more vulgar way”. Ms Heptullah insisted that the media “should stop projecting indecent representation and expression of women in commercials and visuals”. It needs to be pointed out that it is not just the policy-makers in a newspaper that are guilty of debasing journalism. Equally – perhaps more so – to be blamed are the advertising agencies who, in recent times, seem to have lost all sense of proportion. And there is no one around to take them to task. The usual explanation given again is that sex, sells. The average reader puts up with this with a sense of resignation knowing that there is precious little that anyone can do to mend matters. But that, again, is not quite true. Only the other day, an activist filed a Public Interest Litigation against Mumbai Buzz charging it with displaying obscenity. Hopefully the Court will deal severely with the offender.  
    The trouble is that newspaper proprietors take the public for granted. The approach is one of: “Hi, hi, hi, am I not clever?” But will filing a PIL truly help? At best it is a palliative. What needs to be done is for the Government to strengthen the hands of the Press Council of India and give it the necessary authority to levy heavy fines on newspapers which cross the line of decency. Neither Mr. Jaipal Reddy nor Ms. Heptullah can be described as professional media haters. They are responsible citizens like most of us. That they have spoken out loud and clear is an indication of how deeply hurt citizens are with the newspapers they subscribe to. The sad part of it all is that the media today has no vision, unlike those hard days in the twenties, thirties and forties when the immediate goal for the media was the fight for independence. It has been said that where there is no vision, there people perish. A media without a vision is enough to make the nation blind. Is that what our greedy newspaper proprietors are aiming at? To destroy first the young and then the country? What price, freedom?

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati