Indian media’s credibility is at an all time low. The arrest of two senior journalists of Zee TV on charges of blackmailing & extortion has put a huge question mark over integrity and credibility of the Indian mainstream media. Naveen Jindal, Congress MP & owner of Jindal Steels has accused the two newsmen of demanding huge sum of Rs. 100 million to block publication of news adversely effecting his business interests.
A little reminder here will be in order. Zee TV is the same channel which fabricated & manufactured a false story on 2001 Parliament attack case which attempted to implicate innocent kashmiris in the attack. A miracle saved one of the accused ,SAR Geelani from Gallows and another one, Afzal Guroo, is awaiting a second miracle to happen.
Indian media was never impartial and unbiased. However, Media’s biasness towards corporate houses and media persons acting as the lobbyist for corporate sectors in the corridor of power and brokers of secret deals among different corporate groups started in the early eighties. Ramnath Goenka of the Indian Express can be safely called as the father of this trend. The way he handled Nusli Wadia-Dhirubhai Ambai tussle and started anti-Ambani Campaign was the first eye-catching example of media’s role in corporate politics and lobby.
Not long ago, the scandal of “paid news” shocked every news reader. This was followed by disclosure of tapes of conversation between corporate lobbyist Nira Radia and two most admired journalists of India (Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi) lobbying for cabinet birth and even specific portfolio for a tainted politician A. Raja, are the 21st century version of the trend started by Ramnath Goenka in 1980s. In the tapes, both of the journalists promised Nira Radia to lobby for A. Raja for the telecommunication portfolio in the UPA-2 Government. From their conversation, their proximity to the center of India’s power corridor is crystal clear.What these tapes bring to light is the kind of corruption that is plaguing the Indian media and the most shocking aspect of the whole episode is to the length the entire media fraternity went, barring a few gutsy magazines, papers and TV channels, to censor the whole issue.
In her defence Dutt claimed that she was talking to Radia as part of her journalistic routine and Radia is only one of her sources. That may be true. But from the conversations it is evident that two of the biggest corporate media houses in India were lobbying for a tainted person to be reinstated in the same ministry. Incidentally, Barkha Dutt is a Padmashri award winner. In another conversation another reputed journalist Vir Sanghvi is heard saying “What kind of story do you want? Because this will go as Counterpoint, so it will be like most-most read, but it can’t seem too slanted, yet it is an ideal opportunity to get all the points across.”. In yet other conversations Sanghvi is heard discussing ministry formation with Radia. The tapes also feature several other top journalists being hand fed by Radia on the kind of stories she wants to appear on major news papers.
Indian media is an excellent master at peddling the myths of its own choosing and liking. For them it’s only the rich and the increasingly vociferous middle class or the national interests that matter. Only news that give this credulous audience or sense of ultra-nationlism, a false sense of security matter to them. For them, the hundreds of struggles going on in every part of India to protect natural resources and the environment, like Water resources & Amarnath Road Construction in Kashmir, are a threat to their existence. And the people who take part in these struggles are terrorists.
In the recently concluded 9th Media Nation Summit in philphines, president of the organizing foundation, Bart Guingona said: “Media is the watchdog of the government, but who watches the watchdog?”It is crucial that this problem should be discussed freely since the role of the media shapes not only the country’s policy and development, but also the people’s everyday lives. Hitherto any effort to seek accountability and responsibility from the media has faced the most vehement protests from them. All this under the guise of protecting “freedom of speech and freedom of the press”. The Press Council of India and the Editors Guild are nothing more than coffee shop organizations with no binding guidelines whatsoever. In effect, the media has an extraordinary free run to mis-report, spread lies, and indulge in corruption without any liability. So if there is one domain that seriously and urgently needs a watchdog like the CAG or the CVC- it is the Indian media.
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Feed back at firstname.lastname@example.org