Indian media is going through its worst phase. Some may believe that the draconian Emergency imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi from 1975 to 1977 was the worst phase. However, there are strong reasons to think differently.
During the Emergency, many journalists fearlessly revolted against the fascist regime. But today — with the exception of a handful — most journalists have meekly surrendered to those in power. In the face of a majoritarian government, journalists have turned into sycophants, always making sure they toe the line of their political masters.
Second, during the Emergency, blank editorials in newspapers like The Indian Express and The Statesman served as a reminder of the strict censorship imposed on the Press. Today, news is being censored and truth is being concealed but there are no blank editorials to serve as a reminder of the harrowing circumstances. The situation is clearly scary.
Spread of propaganda through media
In the last six years or so, particularly, hate speech and propaganda have taken centre-stage in mainstream media. Sensation has replaced sense, noise has replaced news, and news channels have turned into a hub of cheap thrills. The media should ideally act as the voice of the voiceless, but surprisingly it is busy guarding the vested interests and the powerful.
Rather than dispelling false notions, it is aiding power-hungry politicians in spreading their vicious propaganda. The recent coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi, which turned into a Covid hotspot, bears testimony to that. Those connected with the Tablighi Jamaat were vilified as ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘jihadists’ and even portrayed as terrorists.
More shameful is a recent show by a TV channel on ‘UPSC jihad‘ — brazenly claiming “infiltration of Muslims” in the civil services.
The saddest part is that those spewing venom against Muslims are masquerading as journalists and are propagating their agenda under the garb of freedom of expression.
Focus on non-issues
The Indian media has become adept at diverting people’s attention from the real issues. In 2018, when Kerala was hit by floods, the mainstream media was busy covering the wedding of actor Priyanka Chopra and singer Nick Jonas.
This year, in 2020, when 35 lakh people in Assam were facing the ravages of floods, the mainstream media chose to report every development in the ‘game of thrones’ between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and then deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan.
Similarly, when the coronavirus pandemic was rampaging through India, the mainstream media was weaving pointless conspiracy theories around the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. Each time the attempt has been to show us the circus while our kingdom burns.
The logic is simple — people can question the government only when they know what is happening. These days the media tries its best to keep people away from issues that go against the establishment. It is said the best case against democracy is a five-minute conversation with an average voter.
How many commoners know that millions in India have lost jobs? How many of them know that the BJP-led government has no data on migrant workers and farmers’ suicide? And that the present government is not giving much-needed financial stimulus to the economy? The duty of the media is to make common people aware about important matters, not about which actor is consuming 2 grams of marijuana!
Barking up the wrong tree
The Indian media deliberately barks up the wrong tree. The boisterous anchors of prime time debates choose to ask questions not to those who command power but to those who sit in the Opposition.
They shamelessly take sides and present a lopsided version of the story. The spokespersons of opposition parties are at the very beginning of the debate declared wrong. When what Nehru did 60 years ago becomes the main point of prime time debates, one can easily figure out the follies of jingoistic anchors.
Suffering from acute moral bankruptcy, the mainstream media is running as a money-making business that sidelines all morals and ethics of journalism. The TRPs are sought by hook or by crook. We all saw how certain sections of media, to gain brownie points out of a situation, portrayed actor Rhea Chakraborty as the ‘most wanted criminal’, without any shadow of proof to back their claim.
The most intriguing part is that the ‘TRP race’ which entices the TV channels to tread on the wrong path is itself fake and flawed. The alleged TRP scam that came to light recently, raises serious questions about the morality of prominent sections of media. Ironically, those who are supposed to make the representatives of people credible, are themselves struggling to save face.
Public-funded media is required
We are witnessing an alarming situation. There is a crisis in this country as far as journalism is concerned. The bridge between the government and the citizens is media.
Imagine, what will happen if this very bridge is half-broken? Before things come to the point of no return, people have to take a stand and support good journalism. The pen is mightier than the sword and it is important for us to ensure that the right people hold it.
Interestingly, ‘Gandhiji ke teen bandar’ are handy in today’s situation. If each person in this country resolves to religiously follow ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil’ while consuming news, the ghost of bad journalism will stop haunting the country.
In other words, every person needs to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear towards propagandists masquerading as journalists. News is becoming a money-making business. What we need is people-funded journalism. Funding good journalism equals to empowering oneself and writing one’s own destiny.
Simridhi Makhija is a student of DLDAV Model School, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi.