Media and Social Transformation
Media and Its Current Specifications-An Exploration into the Global Impact of the Media, a National Seminar at English Department of the Sullamussalam Science College Areacode, Kerala, November 12-13 2013]
As I begin this address on an issue of great national import, Media and Social Tranformation, I would like first to remember three men for whom the letter and the written word was a special and particular form of communication.
Through Al Hilal, an Urdu weekly established in 1912, Azad, India’s first education minister who we fondly remember as Maulana Azad who’s birth anniversary passed just two days ago, November 11 and who shared his date of birth with Acharya Kriplalani. Azad’s political views were radical and revolutionary and because he so trenchantly and fiercely criticized the British for racial discrimination and exploitation of our resources and the needs of the common people across India. He opposed the communal basis for the Partition of Bengal in 1905. Al Hilal was banned in 1914 under the repressive Press Act. Azad was jailed till early 1919 in Ranchi. Returning to an India that now had Gandhi, he grew close to the leader and launched Al-Balagh, which increased its active support for nationalist causes and communal unity. That his words and reach were powerful is clear from the fact that the British again outlawed this second publication under the Defence of India Regulations Act and arrested him, again.
He was a severe critique of the Jinnah and the demand for a separate Pakistan. As the Muslim League adopted a resolution calling for a separate Muslim state in its session at Lahore in 1940, Azad was elected Congress president in its session at Ramgarh. Speaking vehemently against Jinnah's two nation theory — the notion that Hindus and Muslims were distinct nations – Azad lambasted religious separatism and exhorted all Muslims to preserve a united India, as all Hindus and Muslims were Indians who shared deep bonds of brotherhood and nationhood. In his presidential address, Azad said:"...Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism. If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousands of years Islam also has been their religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. I shall enlarge this orbit still further. The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity."
He was a strong critique of Partition and in his historic address in 1947 as bloodshed was the norm, said, “I am proud of being an Indian. I am part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice and without me this splendid structure is incomplete. I am an essential element, which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim.” After independence he became a strong votary for the universalisation of education as our first education Minister.
As part of another great Indian’s struggle spanning over 4 decades, that culminated in drafting of the Indian Constitution, for Dr. Ambedkar, communication, mobilisation and struggle meant creating spaces and launching publications in the print media. For him, this was crucial for emancipating the untouchables. In 1920 when he had just begun his struggle, he launched a Marathi fortnightly, “Mooknayak, (the leader of the dumb)” with strong editorials. Though this magazine survived just for about a year and half it made an impact. In April 1927, Dr. Ambedkar started the magazine called Bahishkrit Bharat (The Ostracized India), a more organised effort after Ambedkar bought a printing press with public donations. The Bharat Bhushan Printing press that brought out Bahishkrit Bharat. This effort was carefully organised and the editorial standard of the issues was carefully maintained by Ambedkar. The journal lasted two years; again in 1930, Dr. Ambedkar thereafter started yet another new journal named, Janata (The People) and this journal had a life of 26 years. He was assisted financially in these endeavours by Shahu Chhatarapati Maharaj of Kolhapur. The name of the journal was changed to Prabuddha Bharat (Enlightened India) when he was in the process of launching the massive historic conversion to Buddhism. In the context of today’s ethics and morals, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s word on Journalism in India (1943) is relevant: “Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the Public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty. To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible. Lord Salisbury spoke of the Northcliffe journalism as written by office-boys for office-boys. Indian journalism is all that plus something more. It is written by drum-boys to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become so blind as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few and their voice is never heard. ( Reference: SECTION VIII, Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah. Vol-I, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches)
Dr. Ambedkar and M.K.Gandhi were contemporary journalists. Gandhi used to write through Young India in the 1920s and then through Harijan in the 1930s. Many a time, opposed in their views and approaches they sparred sharply on issues of focus, most especially caste and the entrenched evils of discrimination. Their differences did not in any way lessen their respect for each other, however and Babasaheb was among the first to reach the mourners when Gandhi was shot dead – in independent India’s first act of terror by the bullets of Hindutva—on January 30, 1948.
Their heated debate and different approaches can be summed up in these words of Ambedkar when invited by Gandhi to write in his journal. From Ambedkar, “At the end of our conversation on Saturday last you asked me to send a message for insertion in the first issue of your new weekly 'Harijan'. I feel I cannot give a message. For I believe it will be a most unwarranted presumption on my part to suppose that I have sufficient worth in the eyes of the Hindus which would make them treat any message from me with respect. I can only speak as man to man. As such it may be desirable that the Hindus should know my views on the momentous issue of Hindu social organization with which you have chosen to occupy yourself. I am, therefore, sending you the accompanying statement for publication in your 'Harijan'.” This was the text of the statement sent by Ambedkar “ The Out-caste is a bye-product of the Caste-system. There will be out-castes as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the Out-caste except the destruction of the Caste-system. Nothing can help to save Hindus and ensure their survival in the coming struggle except the purging of the Hindu Faith of this odious and vicious dogma."
Now coming back to the present, India with its diversity and pluralism, an India yet steeped in poverty and prejudice, can we imagine a situation where political men, leaders and Indians, sparred and civilized manner through the battle of the word in the realm of ideas? A battle that is fought with a level playing field, where the problems faced by India, south and north, east and west, are dealt with intricacy and subtlety?
Instead we are today faced with the hegemonic influence of the electronic media, that today is at the beck and call of powerful corporations who own the channels and a print media that tries desperately to cope with the frenzied pace of 24 X 7 noisy news hour not unaffected by paid news.
Periodically we have addressed the issues of perspective and fairplay in the Indian media. One such exercise was in late 2006 when we found that the Indian media turns a deaf ear to issues of caste and mass mobilization. At the outset of our niche independent journalistic journey, we had tracked how the 1992-1993 post Babri Masjid demolition violence dropped off the coverage of the national media especially when crucial witnesses of the affected minority began deposing before the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission from 1993-1998. (Communalism Combat, August 1994..Sounds and Silences). We have re-visited the issue. In 2006, Shadow and Silence, we analysed how the media remained complicit in non-focus and coverage of Adivasi, Dalit and Urban issues. Then, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief, CNN-IBN and IBN 7, in an interview with CC admited that there has been a big shift in the media becoming "metro-centric" but denies anything more active at work than simply an urban bias. "The fact of the matter is that the media is metro-centric and as a result we do lose out on the less shining parts of the country. The reason for this however is much more the tyranny of distance than any bias." The relative or complete absence of media coverage of issues arising out of Adivasi struggles in the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, or even the seven states located in the north-eastern part of the country, is matched by the dominance of frivolous and titillating coverage of ‘happenings’ in metros. Worse, the distinctly upper caste tilt and twist to the manner in which developments are viewed and interpreted can be gleaned, for instance, from the epithets that were used for a whole decade against a politician like Laloo Prasad Yadav. A survey conducted by the Delhi-based Media Study Group points to a distinct absence of caste diversity and a predominance of the ‘upper’ castes within the upper echelons of the Indian media (see "Media pundits", CC, July-August 2006). In late 2006, India lost a politician who – like him or hate him – changed the course of this country’s politics decisively. The death of Kanshi Ram and the ensuing coverage by the media (barring a few exceptions) reflected a dismissive upper caste bias. The first quarter of 2006 saw the dramatic story of the shooting (and subsequent death) of BJP leader Pramod Mahajan by his brother and, a few months later, the unsavoury conduct of his son, Rahul Mahajan. Excessive and disproportionately wide coverage of the first episodes and later, a delicate dismissal of the son’s involvement with drugs by an otherwise vigilante media, do leave some questions unanswered. Following the July 11 bomb blasts in Mumbai the media, especially television, came in for sharp criticism. Repeated images of police round-ups of youth in minority dominated areas created the public impression that dozens of Muslim suspects were being interrogated. The subsequent release of all these persons, save one or two, did not attract comparative coverage. This raised questions about the ethics of television channels that actively contributed to creating a public image of who the guilty are but then remained silent when the answer proved indecisive. A specific case related to a prominent Hindi television channel. The channel broadcast an inaccurate report relaying that after the bomb blasts firecrackers were burst at Padgah village, off Mumbai. The fact that the village is minority dominated and that it is home to persons allegedly accused of participating in earlier terror attacks, added spice if not truth to the broadcast. Agitated residents protested this coverage to the village sarpanch and registered an oral complaint with the police (who refused to register a first information report, FIR). A meeting was thereafter held with various members of the mohalla committee condemning the coverage. Several sarpanches and gram panchayat chiefs attended the meeting. However, the said channel carried no correction in its subsequent telecasts. Similarly, an accompanying story reveals local and national media coverage of the recent violence in Mangalore where the role of the police has also escaped any media scrutiny. This was Sardesai’s reasoning. "If properties are sealed in Delhi I will have four OB (Outside Broadcast) vans stationed there to capture the story but if a much more serious issue arising out of farm labourers’ struggles erupts in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand or the North-east, I am limited by the fact that I just do not have an OB van located there," says Sardesai. "How do I telecast a protest in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand when I do not have an OB van stationed there? Therefore a protest in Chhattisgarh or Adivasis being shot at in Kalinga won’t make news the same way as workers being beaten in Gurgaon, just out of Delhi. It is the tyranny of distance at work here." Increasing space given to religio-ritualistic stories is also a relatively recent phenomenon. It is not only the channels but also pages of the print media that are lending more and more space to festivals like Holi and Diwali and even customs like Karva Chauth! On October 2 each year, Dussehra day, 16 lakh persons (at the minimum – the outside figure is 20 lakh) converged at Nagpur to celebrate the golden jubilee of the mass conversion of Dalits, under the leadership of Dr Ambedkar, to Buddhism. While the local Marathi press did cover the event, providing its own colour and interpretation, the national media and television channels simply skipped the story."CNN/IBN did a forty-seconder on the event but it is true we did not carry the pictures. We did however follow this up with a panel discussion on the contribution of Ambedkar. There is a point there in the absence of coverage but it is the geographical factor – Delhi is easier but it is true that we must introspect on the issue. Maybe we are making excuses," reflects Sardesai. On September 29, 2006 a ghastly gang rape and mass murder at Kherlanji in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district left four members of a Dalit family brutally massacred with Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, the father, being the lone survivor. The Maharashtra police and administration were continuously making irresponsible statements and events so far already suggest a clear attempt to suppress evidence of the crime during the primary stage of investigations itself. The post-mortem report was a travesty of a document and despite the gory conditions in which the mother and daughter’s bodies were found, Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (which is applicable for the offence of rape) has not even been applied. But the Kherlanji case did not become a Jessica Lal or Priyadarshini Mattoo case for the media. Why?
In 2013, the acquittal of the 26 people found guilty for the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre of 1997 by the Patna High Court received perfunctory coverage but for the The Hindu.
The sessions court found the caste warriors guilty but the Patna High Court acquitted the offenders. Were there any extensive debates on national newshour and television? No. Why, is the question that we need to ask. An interview done in June 2012 of Brahmeshwar Nath Singh by Dan Morrison of The Telegraph is telling. He had traveled to Ara, the seat of Bhojpur district in Bihar state, to meet Brahmeshwar Nath Singh, the leader of the Ranvir Sena. An illegal army of wealthy landlords, the Ranvir Sena left a bloody trail through low-caste villages of what is now southwest Bihar during the 1990s and early 2000s.Mr. Singh had been the group’s mastermind, and was a demi-god to the feudal bosses who felt besieged by Maoist guerillas and the increasingly assertive peasants who supported them. “Violence for the restoration of peace and harmony is not a sin,” the white-haired farmer told me, as his youngest grandson capered at his feet. Four days later, Mr. Singh, 65, was gunned down during his morning walk. His followers then rioted in Ara, burning the local circuit house and several government cars. On Saturday, as tens of thousands of seething mourners poured into Patna for his funeral, young men carrying bamboo staves and iron rods beat passersby and torched hundreds of cars while the police fled their advance. Mr. Singh’s body was cremated as night fell on the banks of the Ganges River. The national media let this crucial verdict that raises questions of accountability, violence and justice unaddressed. The upper caste and class bias of the media in India is matched by its deep rooted communal blinkers.
Hate crimes, generated through hate speech and hate writing are rarely focused or deconstructed on television or even in print unless the offenders are an Akbaruddin Owaisi or a Qadar Rana (Muzaffarnagar). The vitriolic offenders of the Hindu right, especially the Praveen Togadias, Ashok Singhals, the Giriraj Kishores and Narendra Modi’s are given short shrift, excused for the persistent and perennial criminal lapses as the upper caste and communal sway of the media reveals itself. Togadia, is presently trawling Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s ground level preparation for the polls of 2014. He lays the ground for BJP’s hopeful reaping of electoral dividends. Varun Gandhi’s speeches made when the country and UP went to the polls, escaped the long arms of the law in the sessions court at Pilibhit and we have now challenged his acquittal in the Sessions Court. Tehelka and for one short evening Headlines Today carried the expose of how over 75 witnesses were ‘turned hostile’ by Varun Gandhi’s men, but the media steadfastely refuses to cover the process and tactic of hate speech by communal and supremacist outfits to create an atmosphere where hate crimes can break out. Amicus Curiae of the Supreme Court, Raju Ramachandran (in the Zakia Jafri and Citizens for Justice and Peace case against Narendra Modi and 59 others) has recommended the prosecution of Modi under sections of the criminal law violated by him when he spilt vitriol in 2002-2003 especially at Becharaji in Mehsana in September 2003. But the media, complicit in the whitewash attempts on the man, fail to remind readers and viewers of the criminal liability of the man argued in the Zakia Jafri (and Citizens for Justice and Peace) case pending judgement before the Magistrate in Ahmedabad. The media refuses to pin blame on the men within the national opposition, Yogi Adityanath, Varun Gandhi and Narendra Modi currently facing legal action on the criminality of the use of hate speech to incite violence against innocent members of the minority.
Muzaffarnagar 2013 is another story of how hate speech and hate writing came into play and were used cynically to take over 75 innocent lives and render over 42,000 displaced. If this country is to be saved from the fires of communal violence again and again, the media more than anyone else should pull off its kid gloves when it speaks to the fomenters of hate speech and hate writing. Major political players, however influential monetarily should not be protected from this cynical means used to spread division. FIRs for inflammatory speeches, have been filed against 4 BJP leaders, one Congress leader and one politician of the BSP. Subramanian Swamy and Praveen Togadia, both pathological in their hatreds for minorities have been booked for abusive and incendiary ‘twitters’. But the hasty bail granted on October 21, 2013 was scantly covered by the national media. Presumably Som moves freely in Uttar Pradesh with no restrictions or consequences.
Far from being a vehicle for social change or transformation, large sections of the media have become the means to perpetuate not just the status quo but clearly visceral narrow, business, corporate and even communal agendas. A recent wakeup call earlier this year was the appeal by Press Council Chairperson,(PCI) Markandey Katju “to exercise restraint in reporting cases of bomb blasts and terrorist cases,” and avoid doing anything which may “fan or promote communal hatred and animosity.” Justice Katju was responding to a letter sent to him by National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Chairman Wajahat Habibullah after the Hyderabad blasts earlier this year. The letter said that “even before the completion of the investigation [in the Dilsukhnagar blasts of February 21, 2013] and on the basis of what appears as unfounded conjecture, the media appears to have targeted a particular community.”
Mr. Habibullah referred to an article by B. Raman, a former intelligence official and security analyst, who had written: “It seems to have become the trend that if it is terror, it has to be a Muslim. If it is Muslim, he has to be from the IM [Indian Mujahideen]. If it is the IM, it must have acted at the instance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI].” The NCM Chairman highlighted the need to discourage such a trend. Agreeing with the note, Justice Katju said in a statement: “Since an impression has been created in some quarters that most Muslims are terrorists, the police often arrest some Muslims on mere suspicion. Once such a Muslim is arrested, it is difficult for him to get bail…even if he is ultimately found innocent, nobody can restore so many years of his life spent in jail.” There were a large number of cases falsely implicating Muslims, he added. The PCI chief said that within an hour or so of a blast, TV channels started showing messages or emails sent by an organisation with a Muslim-sounding name, claiming responsibility. This was “irresponsible” as any “mischievous person” could have sent the message. “By showing this on TV screens, a message is conveyed to the viewers, even if by insinuation, that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb-throwers.”
We do not yet know how a mature and confident Indian print media will respond to these serious advisories. The blustering electronic media driven by the corporate interests of their financiers (top level anchors are today not mere journalists but corporate executives driven by an entirely different ethic) are unlikely to be shaken out of their crass unprofessionalism. It is the National Broadcasting Authority (NBA) that is the regulatory mechanism for this medium. Is it independent and autonomous? One of our visible national television networks claiming the highest ratings sells itself on Pakistan hating and bashing several times each week.
The media’s role in unprofessionally jumping to conclusions on perpetrators of violence has been matched by the failure of the state government’s concerned to prosecute officers responsible for the deliberately malafide and malicious investigations and prosecutions. Until these unprofessional acts are punished, such crimes of negligence and delinquency are likely to be repeated.
History of sorts was created on March 12, 2013 when India’s leading information technology firm Infosys that has created corporate legends of sorts by its ethic was compelled (after Court proceedings valiantly assisted by the Rajasthan unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties lawyer Prem Kishen Sharma) to pay Rs 20 lakhs in compensation to Rashid Hussain, an IT engineer whom it unilaterally sacked after he was simply detained by the Rajasthan police for the 2008 Jaipur blasts. Infosys took this questionable action when Rashid was simply detained not formally arrested or charge sheeted even. Infosys however terminated him within weeks of the detention without issuing any show-cause notice and without giving him an opportunity to defend himself. Corporate India’s dedication to human rights values stands exposed. Rashid was kept in detention for 10 days and was later released as no evidence against him was found. Rashid Husain challenged the termination order in the local labor court in August 2008. After three years of hearing, the labor court delivered judgment in his favor in March 2011. According to Rashid's counsel Prem Kishan Sharma, the court had observed there were "mala fide" intentions behind his termination. Still Infosys resisted. Infosys moved the Rajasthan High Court in April 2011 against the labour court judgment. After 20 months in the High Court, Infosys agreed to pay a compensation of Rs.20 lakh to the sacked engineer. After the settlement between Infosys and Husain, the High Court disposed of the case on 21st Jan 2013, scant media coverage of this has been seen. No apology from the Rajasthan state or its police was forthcoming, let alone Infosys.
Remember in contrast, how Australia as a country in the Commonwealth of Nations apologized unreservedly to Bangalore-based Dr Mohammad Haneef for wrongly detaining him on terror charges three years before (2010). Not only that, an undeclared amount in compensation was paid, in the hope that this would mark the end of an "unfortunate chapter". "The AFP (Australian Federal Police) acknowledges that it was mistaken and that Dr Haneef was innocent of the offence of which he was suspected," the Australian government said in a public apology. "The Commonwealth apologises and hopes that the compensation to be paid to Dr Haneef will mark the end of an unfortunate chapter and allow Dr Haneef to move forward with his life and career," it said, according to AAP report. Haneef, 31, is a cousin of Sabeel Ahmed -- the main accused in the failed attack on the Glasgow International Airport in the UK in 2007. The Indian doctor, who was working at the Gold Coast Hospital since September 2006, was arrested on July 2, 2007 from the Brisbane airport. He was charged with recklessly giving support to a terrorist organisation when his mobile phone SIM card, which he had left with his cousin before coming to Australia from the UK, was linked to the attack. His 12-day detention was the longest without charge in recent Australian history, triggering outrage in India as well as in Australia. The formal apology came after Haneef agreed on a substantial but undisclosed compensation payout from the government after two days of negotiations.
In contrast, governments and even in some cases, courts, driven by the aggressive campaigning and hate mongering by the communalist Hindu right stridently oppose compensation and reparation being paid to those who were wrongfully accused and tortured for the Mecca Masjid blasts. The National Commission for Minorities had in August 2011 recommended that the policemen guilty of unwarranted detention of youth should be prosecuted, a compensation amount of Rs 3 lakhs each be paid to the victims, and this amount should be deducted from the emoluments of accused policemen. The response of the Andhra government to the NCM recommendations has been questioned as callous and insensitive and now the high court has turned the decision down.
Wasif Haider from Kanpur, the city of his birth did well academically and was employed in an envious position at Fortune Five Hundred American Multi-national Health Care Company namely Becton Dickinson India Ltd. based at Kanpur U.P. Then comes the nightmare haunting this young man’s life that has simply not gone away. For reasons best known to the Uttar Pradesh police, he was implicated in number of false criminal cases under various provisions of Indian Penal Code. He languished in jail for eight years subjected to all kinds physical, mental and psychological torture. Today after the acquittals there are no criminal cases pending against him and while he was incarcerated reports in The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Hindustan and Aaj appeared covering the course of the cases and the acquittals. But in a remorseless display of unprofessionalism even after Wasif’s release on 12.8.2009, a few of these publications, one in particular, kept referring to him as “aatanki Wasif” or “terrorist Wasif.” Should not these publications be made to pay in compensation for this determined defamation?
Wasif has challenged this media house and now tries to battle a lower court’s order dismissing his complaint against the editor, publisher and CMD of the Jagran group through an appeal in the Allahabad High Court. To cite just a few examples, on 28, 9.2010, Dainik Jagran (page 8) published a fictitious bit of news calling Wasif a traitor and gangster lodged in Bareily jail. Wasif released in 2009 had never been lodged in the Bariely Jail and on the date mentioned there was no sedition case pending against him. Then, again on 09.12.2010, the newspaper Dainik Jagran at page 4 dubbing him a terrorist even providing the public with his mobile number! Such a systematic vilification campaign was intended to impact on his reputation and social relations. Again the same newspaper on 11.12.2010 called him a terrorist on page 1, a campaign that was furthered through a report published again by the same newspaper on 28.12.2011.
Calling a person terrorist while the case is on (and as in this case resulted in acquittals) is unethical reportage and bad, unprofessional journalism. It has ethical, societal and financial implications. Even after his acquittals through 2003, 2004, 2005 he is still referred to as a terrorist.
Surely in civil and criminal terms some action needs to be initiated against those sections of the media that violate all norms of professional ethics and standards and in fact misuse their power to make and break reputations? The Press Council of India makes recommendations but it is Courts that can actually set precedents and make amends. It is to be hoped that many of those wronged like this by an unchecked and virulent media are compensated for, monetarily. Substantially. As in the case of Dr Hanif who was given an undisclosed amount by the Australian government apart from a much publicized apology. Freedom of expression as all our fundamental freedoms comes with a deep responsibility. To the truth, above all else.
Finally, the single biggest hurdle for the media and any role towards social transformation comes from the phenomenon of paid news, paid opinion polls, all promoting a particular neo-liberal, communal and supremacist ideology.
It would be apt to end with apprising this eminent gathering of the recommendations of the report of the Election Coverage Monitoring Committee appointed by the Press Council of India to monitor and cover elections in Gujarat in 2012. Among other recommendations the need to monitor and act immediately on complaints of paid news was high-lighted as the need for the PCI to issue revised draft guidelines on the issue. The Committee recommended that the Election Commission should be advised to hold work-shops on suspected paid news for the field officials ahead of elections in any State. Media experts, editors and senior journalists can be drafted to brief the officials tasked with conducting elections at the Centre and more particularly at the State-level on paid news both in electronic and print media. Like Election Observers, appointed by the Election Commission of India, there should be Media Observers, comprising senior journalists from outside the concerned states, going to polls. Media Observers should be stationed periodically in the concerned state from the time the Code of Conduct begins till the final day of voting. PCI should have a mechanism to have a list of dedicated and sincere journalists, for conducting the duty as Media Observers, in not so familiar regions. Media Observers should be made accessible to all stakeholders, including man on the street, for registering any case of ‘paid news’.
The Committee observed that, “ In the recent past, major political parties and ‘resourceful’ candidates as well, have been in practice of having ‘elaborate media centres’ region wise. For example, for 2012 Assembly polls in Gujarat, corporate-like media centres were set up in various centres of Gujarat, as part of poll strategy by the political parties. There should be close monitoring on these media-centres, as most likely ‘nexus’ is established from these Media Centres of political parties, for ‘favourable’ reports both in print and electronic media.” Besides, public hearings by PCI appointed Committee should be held in each region at regular intervals, for all those concerned to register any complaints, regarding misuse of media and paid news. The hearings should be conducted a number of times, say fortnightly, during the period from beginning of Model Code of Conduct and final day of voting. An elaborate follow-up should be done, after each hearing. With actions taken/suggested reports being made available in the public domain.
Stringent ethical monitoring norms need to come from within the media as a democracy sustained by independent coverage can not recommend censorship. Social media and the internet have also raised serious issues of ethics, balanced coverage, hate speech and deterrents. While censorship cannot be the advised solution, the absence of independent evaluation and monitoring of deleterious trends within media bodies and organisations, on the issues of balanced representation, democratic coverage of issues concerning the largest number pose a serious threat to professional and independent journalism. The deliberate blind eye turned to perpetrators of hate speech and hate writing by the majority has caused a severe alienation among the oppressed and deprived sections of the population who have little or no faith today and scant respect too, for the Indian media as a whole. This is a sorry situation indeed. The media’s failure to tackle these serious issues and its domination and hegemony has raised such questions that now demand some answers:-
· Is there a monopoly between the leadership of newspapers and channels on the one hand and among membership and representation of media monitoring bodies like the Editor’s Guild, National Broadcasting Authority, rendering independent assessment, a farce?
· Who decides the composition and authority of these bodies? Are those being judged also the Judges? Wither then autonomy, integrity and independence?
· What about the ownership, financial arrangements of newspapers and television channels? Today a major corporate player has bought into two of the major English channels and the famed Ennadu language network. Does the Indian public not have the right to know when these financial changes are effected and made?
Not tackling these questions and issues of national import have at the moment put the Indian media’s credibility at an all time low. With its rich robust and independent history and tradition, in the Indian sub-continent and the worlds, urgent corrective measures are needed to restore public confidence.
(The author is a human rights defender, journalist and educationist)
[Paper read at Valedictory Session at can u typecan u type can Media and Its Current Specifications-An Exploration into the Global Impact of the Media, a National Seminar at English Department of the Sullamussalam Science College Areacode, Kerala, November 12-13 2013]