I am among those who have always believed and seen media as a positive contributor, that builds trust among the people and the stakeholders. The tremendous contribution of media in shaping the growth and development of the country cannot be overemphasised. Starting with SITE experiment in 1975-1976, that covered over 2400 villages in six Indian states and territories, the engagement of Indian media with development of the country has come a long way. Now we are living in interesting times, where media, particularly TV, despite challenges from Social Media, is central to all discussions and ubiquitous in every household. The digital penetration has made it more powerful in terms of influencing public opinion and performance. But then today, when we read and importantly watch TV News channels, it is at times disheartening the way media operates; dishing out inflammatory materials and sensationalizing simple events. Catering to the tastes of 10% elite population while ignoring the real issue facing 90% common masses. It is disappointing.
The media is in a mad race and greed for materialistic power. If the trend continues the media will lose its impact, trust and respect of masses. The very idea is devastating. For increasing TRPs or the circulation media organisations have invented the mantra of sex, sleaze and political flogging. While 80% of the population lives in villages and is
predominantly agricultural based hardly 5% of the space is devoted to the issues concerning them. The poor, faces have vanished from the prime time TV and the front pages of the newspaper. They are seen only at times of calamities. While one can understand the self-imposed, avoidable compulsion of private TV channels to get into TRP race for the ad revenues, it is hard to imagine that even our public broadcasters have forgotten their public mandate. Educational and developmental stories are relegated to the back burners by public broadcaster due to increasing commercialization.
Corporatisation of Media has resulted in the concept of Media Economy, the concept of media economy did not exist in India before 1990, but now it is integral to market economy, with shares of major media organisations attracting a huge response. Earlier media, especially print media used to have Editorial Policy –that was shaped by morals, values, ethics and social concern.
Now media houses have Corporate Policies –which are governed by profits and ad revenues. The ugly trend of paid news, advertorials and embedded journalists is a cause of serious concern. The corporatisation is leading to Media consolidation, with chosen few rich business houses, owning major shares in most of the well-known national media organisations and deciding what we shall read, see or hear. The ever increasing Corporatisation of Media is resulting in: deep Polarization, Trivialization and Elite-ization.
Our Politicians, Industrialists, Corporates and Bureaucrats have befriended media to their advantage; influencing all the spheres of media operations from news gathering, packaging to dissemination. They are serving as real gatekeepers, filtering the media coverage that suites their interests. Deciding what we must listen, think and discuss. The politicization of media is leading to radicalization, which in turn results in polarisation of the media and society.
In the contemporary times we are faced with a tremendous challenge, as the news-media, especially the TV News Channels, are increasingly setting the agenda for the nation with their own frame of reference and business interests. This ‘framing effect’, what Noam Chomsky calls, ‘manufacturing the consent’, is more used for personal interests of few rather than the development of the nation.
The “nation wants to know tonight” has been reduced to the cliché as the anchors deliver sermons to the nation for their own TRPs. These prime time, Media Trials, are dominated by 20 known, so called elite faces and 5 anchors, demonstrating their knowledge and wisdom on all the subjects across major national TV news channels. Moving from channel to Channel, they yell their thoughts creating war like situation on the screens. The rest, the common people, don’t matter, their voices don’t matter, their ideas have no takers, and all their problems have a ‘top down’ solution from armchair experts and studio anchors.
Media is becoming largely elite-oriented. Harsh Mander, a noted writer, in his book Looking Away, says, “The same expulsion of the poor occurs also in popular television soap operas, in which the leading ladies wear silk saris and gold jewellery, even to bed”.
In this battle of tastes where the rich rule, the poor stand already expelled. As I said, they have vanished from Prime Time Television, Radio and the front pages of newspapers. This is, what we call, Elitization of media. P Sainath, once remarked that 512 accredited journalists covered a fashion show in which models displayed cotton garments, but only a couple of journalists covered suicides of farmers who grew this cotton. We constantly observe how media is interested in trivial issues rather than getting engaged in serious issues that concern the society.
The time is ripe for media to introspect for their own good to stay as an important 4th Pillar of Democracy but according to Sydney Schanberg. “When it comes to looking at itself, society's watchdog is a lamb.” However, media in India has played and is playing a crucial role in development of the society -checking undesired social evils and practices like corruption and superstitions. But they definitely can do better, especially in the field of ‘Communication for inclusive Sustainable Development’.
We need to clearly differentiate between “Media on Development” and “Media for Development”. Understand requirements of each. Both are equally important but Media for Development is more needed for self-reliant India. For this media has to move from simply being an “informer” or a “watchdog” to “Media as an Enabler”, increasing public access to information and issues concerning development of the nation. Media can effectively make people part of the participatory inclusive development of the nation.
In India it assumes a much higher significance because we are a unique and highly diverse multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious country, which in deed is our strength and needs to be preserved and protected.