Indian journalism, once one of the most respected professions after Independence, is under attack. Terms like #Presstitutes and #PaidMedia abound on social media day in and day out. A lot of senior editors are attacked consistently and scream from the rooftops that they are abused by trolls.
But the question to be asked is: Why has it come to this? While any kind of abusive language is bad and should be discouraged, the truth remains that Indian journalism has degenerated a great deal since 1947. While some fault lines were present from the very beginning, they have grown wider and some new ones have emerged.
A look at the seven deadly sins of Indian journalism today…
1. Communism: We are taught in journalism school that we shouldn’t be biased. Of course that is not possible. Every human being on earth has a certain amount of bias and it is impossible to be 100% objective.
However how do you explain the fact that most senior editors are out and out Communists? It shows in the causes they take up and the people they back and attack. The Right is anathema and has to be criticized no matter what.
That is why the Congress is favoured (as it is Left-leaning) and the BJP is rubbished (Right-leaning). That is also the reason why there is so much tension in social media. Most of the new voices are Right-leaning (of their own accord) and instead of indulging in a healthy debate they are dismissed as trolls.
That is also the reason why you will find great sympathy for Leftist Naxalites who have killed thousands and thousands of people in media and intellectual circles.
2. Proximity: While one does need contacts in the ruling class to do in-depth reporting and get scoops, one does not want to be caught in bed with them. However today you find that senior editors regularly wine and dine with politicians and take favours from them.
Journalism. Politics. Industry. Civil Society. It has become one big incestuous society with the “You scratch my back and I scratch yours” principle ruling. For one, you totally lose your objectivity and after that “fair journalism” takes a total back-seat to “perks and privileges”.
How many senior journalists are spouses, children and relatives of politicians? The huge number will alarm you. Out of them how many are part of the Left-Congress ecosystem? The high percentage will surprise you.
3. Indulgence: After Independence, journalism was seen as a service and almost all editors and journalists led very modest lifestyles. Then the money started coming in slowly and today those in the upper bracket lead absolutely lavish lifestyles.
Foreign junkets. Lunches in five-star hotels with expensive gifts at press conferences. Favours from politicians that result in huge properties and businesses. It’s all happening. There’s also talk of suitcases of money exchanging hands, but that’s quite difficult to prove.
4. Hate: The media is fast losing credibility and power. But most senior editors have ended up spewing hate instead of reinventing and adapting to the new world where social media rules. They hate it that a common man can have a greater voice than theirs.
Print journalists were happy with common people in the Letters to the Editor section. TV channels were happy with concepts like Citizen Journalists. But today everyone is a journalist. Everyone has a Twitter account. Everyone has a YouTube account.
Anyone can break news and anyone can start a trend. Senior journalists hate this. That’s why you’ll find them being quite abusive on Twitter. That’s why you’ll see the bizarre sight of a senior journalist getting into a scuffle with a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in faraway New York in full public glare!
5. Superficiality: Investigation journalism is as good as dead in India. In the 1980s, Chitra Subramaniam was associated with Bofors. In the 1990s, Sucheta Dalal was associated with the stock market scam.
You don’t get such kind of widespread investigative reporting anymore. UPA2 offered an absolute buffet of scams and scandals and yet the media by and large chose to take a backseat and wait for someone to pick up the cue.
People like BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, activist Anna Hazare and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made the most of it while organizations like the CAG ruffled the feathers of the high and mighty. The media has totally stopped digging deeply.
6. Opinions: Opinions on their own are not bad things. They are natural. But when they totally cannibalize actual news, then it’s a real cause for concern.
Today we have opinion channels, opinion papers and opinion magazines. Most media houses are peddling chiefly opinions and not news. News reports masquerade as edits and headlines take such a clear stand (sometimes even against what the copy says) that you could call it agenda journalism.
In the absolute pits is prime time on English TV news channels. No research is done. No news is given. You just have ten people screaming their opinions at each other all the time. You can’t call that a debate by any stretch of imagination. That’s why TRPs are falling.
One report said that all English TV news channels together account for just 0.03% viewership of all channels combined. Even DD news is racing ahead of them in terms of viewership.
7. Spinelessness: There was a time when our editors were the conscious keepers of the nation. Not anymore. Nobody takes a stand anymore unless it suits them. Personal interest and business interest both trump national interest.
Things like the anti-corruption agitations are covered well only if it ensures high TRPs. It’s not all doom and gloom, but the mundane and ridiculous by far outweighs the really good stuff coming out of all media houses.
If the mainstream media continues with their ostrich in the sand approach and refuse to change, then social media will totally dominate public discourse in the years to come. This despite the fact that MSM has both the depth and talent to do so!
Sunil Rajguru is a Bengaluru-based journalist. He has worked for the Hindustan Times newspaper and website, CyberMedia, the Centre for Science & Environment and IT market research firm IDC India. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/