Indian Media becomes subservient to officialdom

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, drawing huge crowds at every election rally. He is seen here with Telugu Desam Party President Chandrababu Naidu (left) and Jana Sena Party President and Actor Pawan Kalyan in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh on May 8, 2024 (PTI Photo from Narendra Modi Facebook Page)

From our Leader in Indian Newslink Digital Edition May 15, 2024

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Venkat Raman

“To my mind, the freedom of the Press is not just a slogan from the larger point of view but it is an essential attribute of the democratic process. I have no doubt that even if the government dislikes the liberties taken by the press and considers them dangerous, it is wrong to interfere with the freedom of the Press. By imposing restrictions you do not change anything; you merely suppress the public manifestation of certain things, thereby causing the idea and thought underlying them to spread further. Therefore, I would rather have a completely free Press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated Press.”

That was an extract from a speech delivered by Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the Newspaper Editor’s Conference on December 3, 1950.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is undoubtedly the most popular Prime Minister in recent decades. He is seen here (with turban) serving at the Langar of Takhat Sri Harimandir Ji Patna Sahib Gurdwara in Bihar’s capital Patna on May 13, 2024 (Narendra Modi Facebook Photo)

Distaste and Distortion

Today, neither Mr Nehru nor press freedom is considered significant in India. Amidst a growing sense of distaste and distortion, the Indian Media, for the most part, remains subservient to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his government and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Gone are the days when newspapers and television channels used to have healthy debates and hold the government to account. Today, almost all major television channels (owned by tycoons who plough the government) hold debates that are not only subjective and unashamedly pro-government and anti-opposition but also shouting matches between the anchors and panellists. “The general election is just a formality, isn’t it?” asks the interviewer of Mr Modi during a podcast, while another starts his telecast screaming, “Mr Modi will return with a thumping majority.”

Some possibilities

If opinion polls are any indication, Mr Modi will perhaps return, if not with a thumping majority, with sufficient numbers (along with his partners in the National Democratic Alliance-NDA) to become a record third-time Prime Minister. It is also possible that the BJP may make a dent in the opposition-dominated South Indian States of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala and Karnataka. The NDA may emerge even stronger than before.

There is also a possibility that the BJP may not after all do as well as the Media Circus claims. People in India are reeling under the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis, unemployment and a host of other problems- not all of them a result of BJP mismanagement. But as political pundits say, “every government has to bear the brunt of public ire, even if monsoon fails farmers to reap a rich harvest.’

Whether the BJP and its allies will sweep the polls or not will be known only on June 4 when the votes are counted and results declared. But for media to pre-determine the outcome and declare the victor is presumptuous.

In an article written for D Rad of the Glasglow Caledonian University, Himanshu Sharma says that in TV debates and reporting in India, it is all about bashing opposition party and affirming the views of ruling party members, making insensitive remarks against Muslims and holding Hindu-Muslim debates to polarise the minds of viewers.

BJP supporters say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi (see here displaying his index finger after casting his vote in Ahmedabad on May 7, 2024) will win with a resounding majority in the general election, pools for which are at an advanced stage (Screen Shot)

“These mainstream TV news are full of toxicity and divide with one agenda which is to make India a Hindu state. Interestingly, Prime Minister Modi does not shy away from taking a secular stand in public but also never reprimands his ministers and party members who openly terrorise Muslims in public speeches (The Wire, 2022). Newslaundry, a media analysis site, has analysed Indian TV news debates from March to June 2022 and found that seven mainstream news channels held a majority of their debates on Hindu-Muslims and communal debates (Newslaundry, 2022).”

The Economist asked in an article last year, “What is the Indian perspective?.”

The publication answered: “Watch Palki Sharma (of Vantage-First Post) and a message emerges: everywhere else is terrible. Both on Wion and at her new home, Network18, Ms Sharma relentlessly bashes China and Pakistan. Given India’s history of conflict with the two countries, that is hardly surprising. Yet she also castigates the West, with which India has cordial relations. Europe is taunted as weak, irrelevant, dependent on America and suffering from a “colonial mindset”. America is a violent, racist, dysfunctional place, an ageing and irresponsible imperial power.”

This is not an expression of the confident new India Mr Modi claims to represent. Mindful of the criticism India often draws, especially for Mr Modi’s Muslim-bashing and creeping authoritarianism, Ms Sharma and other pro-Modi pundits insist that India’s behaviour and its problems are no worse than any other country’s.

Abysmal Opposition

As we have said earlier, too often journalists are confronted by cognitive dissonance which could constrain them to subscribe to delusion and/or orient them towards the pursuit of excellence and truth.

Weber described an “abysmal opposition” between two types of ethics: Those following their convictions wish to preserve their own moral purity, no matter what consequences their policies may have in the real world.

We believe that a healthy discussion is important, rather than sensationalising of news.

We would hope that it continues to get more frequent and louder.

Because a good newspaper should not only be responsible but also responsive.

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