Thursday, July 15, 2010

Flinging the stones of freedom....

Submitted for the contest , "Is the Indian Media Misusing its Freedom" by Blogadda.

You know that thing about living in glass houses and learning not to throw stones. ? And you suddenly realize that these days , the stone throwing goes on as before, but that glass is getting tougher....

The growth of media (print, television,Internet etc) in India has parallels with the growth of various aspects of society in India.

The first newspaper (the Bengal Gazette) happened in 1780, the first moving picture show (cinema) in 1895 and radio broadcasting began in 1927, essentially reporting stuff from a British perspective. Along with the stirrings and support for the independence movement, there was a quiet rise of some landmark local language newspapers and media across the country , guided by some great figures in the Independence movement such as Lokmanya Tilak.

For a society that gobbles up 99 million newspaper copies (in various languages) as a country, has 81 million Internet users, and nearly 1400 television broadcast stations, that is an amazing increase to have happened, and that too mostly in final 10-15 years of the last century. An abnormally skewed rate of progress.

, we have a free press and media; true, we faced times of trial during the notorious emergency days; true , that we solved that in flying colors in 1977; but we need to remember that developing too fast has a downside, and sometimes affects individual judgement , as well as the perception of the magnitude of profits.

For a country with a 60% literacy rate , countless languages and dialects to cater to, an opening up of the economy and markets field to private players, and a growing population in the ages 25-30 age bracket, the situation resembles a hungry person faced with a massively attractive food buffet.

The media and society food habits in India have some amazing parallels.

In my childhood in the 50's, food was a need , not a hobby. Meals were traditional, cooking methods had remained essentially unchanged, and willful transgressions in the imbibing of food were frowned upon. The rice-dal-chapati-sabji-raita thing was supreme. Tongue tickling elements like pickles, chutneys, fried savouries, had their place in the scheme of things, but never took the place of the main items.

In an astounding parallel, the media in those days, which was primarily Print, was, mostly (barring a few sensationalist papers always involved in personal vendetta politics) sedate, polite, quietly informative, and respected. Very often local news was given priority. There were things you printed and things you didn't. And you had copious amounts of proofs to support any sensational disclosures. News paper owners were there, and were rich, but had , by and large, what we call, scruples.

Over the last 50 years, this state of affairs has been massively disturbed, in food systems as well as media habits. Today tongue tickling and mind tickling things rule the roost. People make meals out of what is called "chatak-matak" stuff; reams of research is done of vada-paos, pao-bhaji's , chaats, tikkis and stuff, because there is a demand. And similar is the case with media; people demand to know sensational stuff, conventional news is considered boring, and the media obliges, one way or the other, with blatant disregard for privacy, assorted types of sting operations, the path being often prescribed by the various sponsors and advertisers in the media.

Old methods of healthy earthy cooking have given way to stuff slathered in exciting textures and colors. Identical things happen in the media world. Accuracy is often sacrificed at the alter of TRP's , just like healthy caloric values are sacrificed at the alter of taste and tingling tongues.

When you have a presumably stable system over a century suddenly mindlessly accelerating in , say 30 years, you get what we call today's media and today's health problems due to indiscriminate utilisation of low value but high sensation value knowledge and food.

Yes, the media today appears to be irresponsible, but so are we. They are the way they are because we allow them to be so. Abnormally simplistic news items are blown up, shouted from the OB vans, printed across 8 columns in newspapers, and you sell so many thousand copies more than your nearest competitor. You can always print a retraction in fine print on page 4, but the damage is done. Just like we are ready to pay sums equivalent of someones monthly house payment, to have a meal of questionable nutritional value at some famous society place, because it tickles our taste buds, and sense of self-importance no end, and what the heck, anyway , there are fancy doctors to recommend meds if things do not agree, and gyms with astronomical fees to slim you down.

And so we are back to the stone throwing from glass houses. We ourselves pretend to live aseptically in antiseptic glass houses. Surreptitiously enjoying every bit of throwing that's going on. We even throw stones ourselves, but like those in the construction business will tell you, and observers of societal mores will tell you, the glass walls have gotten stronger, and shameless. They don't break.

And so we think nothing of intruding into a widow's privacy, sticking microphones in hospital wards to grab dying declarations , grovelling in front of pseudocelebrities and arranging for them to become stars. As far as TV was concerned 26/11 was all about the Taj, Trident, and the Chabad house. Cama and Albless hospital , those that delivered babies that night with mouths clamped, to avoid the marauding terrorists, the several Cesarean surgery patients who quietly left the hospital the next morning, with their day-week old babies to take the trains home, were not considered newsworthy.

Inaccuracy is ignored and defeated by wishful thinking, as happened when , during the Vajpayee-Msharraf Agra meeting, Hindi Star news reported , at variance with other channels, that the agreement was on the verge of being signed/just signed, and this was soon followed by visuals of a grumpy Musharraf walking out on his way back from Agra to Pakistan.

And so, until we realize we are sliding as a society, we are as much to blame as the media. We do it under the guise of individual freedom and independence, they do it for business reasons. Every business house is known to patronize certain sections of media. Some business houses even own newspapers and television stations.

We are responsible for the media we have. And so if you ask me if the Indian media is using its freedom in an irresponsible manner. the answer would be , that it has grabbed whatever freedom we have given it.

It cannot be viewed in isolation. It reflects the undisciplined society we have evolved into.

We have got the media we deserved.


  1. this has gone too long ,govt. we deserve, media we deserve and so on e.g. wehave had elections since 1952. did these govt. represent will of the peoplewith just 60 percent voting.quite a lot wereevrn not allowedto vote till seshan came. its all crap of desrving. similarly media owned by capitalists having their own agenda is not deserved by people of india.they cater mainly to urban middle classes say max.20% of india. literacy rates mean who know abc another fallacy.99million ofmore than 115 crors isjust glasses have not grown thicker our arms have become to call it media is wrong call it voice of chaaterriti

  2. Hey althought it was a big post, I couldn't stop myself in completing it.. Really very well written..

    I wish you a good luck

    Saravana Kumar - Is Indian Media Misusing Its Freedom?

    Yours Frendly,
    Saravana Kumar M

  3. well written.
    what population want media gives them.
    it is the responsibility of people not to watch useless news or bad news if they think it is bad.
    go into deep you will get to know media is not free.

  4. Thank you very much for your visit. It is such a pleasure meeting you. Your blogs are all so very informative and interesting!
    Kay from Musings