Indian Media is Really the Mirror of the Indian Society

I had gone to a poetry gathering yesterday. After a poem about the government and vices of the society, the discussion shifted to media and its attitude towards news. “Our media cares more about the death of Jiah Khan than the farmer suicides in Vidarbha. The IPL and the match fixing scandal get blanket coverage over all the other issues in the country. Media is interested only in TRPs and nothing else”, someone complained.

rsz_1nikhil_wagle_tweet

I have heard this complaint a million times before. Galtung and Ruge had accurately predicted about which stories get prominence in the media and which do not way back in 1969 in their system of twelve news values. And it is not only the Indian media, but media of every other country, consciously or unconsciously follows this system. Media is the fourth pillar of the society, it is the mirror of the society and it is supposed to uphold the principles of democracy, justice and equality is all bullshit. We all know why the major media houses are in this sector. They are pure capitalist entities, whose sole purpose is profit maximization.

But on the other side, how many of the people who whine about Jiah Khan getting more coverage than the farmers in Vidarbha read P. Sainath? Jiah Khan was a Bollywood actress. India is a Bollywood-crazy nation. India is a cricket-crazy nation. And no one should be disgruntled if media wants to capitalize on that. You do not have to be an admin of a news site to know which stories get thousands of views and which ones do not even go beyond a three digit number. If tomorrow a story about protests against a nuclear power plant gets 10,000 views and a story about Shah Rukh Khan’ Wankhede episode gets only 100 views, the former story will inevitably get more prominence from next time.

A newspaper like Times Of India is the best-selling newspaper in our country says a lot about us. We do not reward quality. I sometimes feel the cliched statement ‘media is the mirror of the society’ is actually true. We ourselves are more interested in Bollywood and cricket and sensational scandals than developmental issues (which require you to think before you can process them) and media satiates this need of ours. Forget media, just have a look at the kind of issues people are discussing on Facebook and Twitter and in the coffee houses and you will get the picture.

I have no hope from mainstream media (except for such honourable exceptions as The Indian Express, The Hindu, Economic & Political Weekly and The Caravan). But there are many alternative media outlets which are trying to bring some sanity to the discourse in India. Kafila, India Together, Pratilipi, Khabar Lahariya are the few I can think of at the moment. If you think media in India is a hopeless entity, do have a look at these small initiatives, read them, reward them, and make them grow.

-By Tejas Harad

Revelry

I don’t know why I weep for them. It’s not like they are my own. I don’t even know them. Forget, they are all fictitious, a creation of someone. Still, they leave me feeling like a tree which has been bereaved of all its leaves, a person whose soul has been stolen, a stream which is flowing dry.

I lie on the bed with those heartfelt emotions which make me feel too bad to make me feel bad. I wonder if I weep for the magic of the pen or the camera or the brush or the strings on that guitar. Or for the souls behind them, who have put their souls in those magical creations. Or for the suffering souls who inspired those stories. Or because the souls in those stories are actually my unconscious souls!

Angel

Image Courtesy: Neha Mestry

Whatever it is, they show me what is so ugly in this world so beautifully. They show me what is there to weep for, to long for. But those stories don’t leave me happy. They make me feel like a lover, a lover whose love is not being reciprocated, but she still pines for her affection. She knows it makes her feel bad. But she still revels in his memories, for it gives her a kind of sad joy.

But every story does not have that charm, that magic, that celestial touch to it. It takes a VS Khandekar or a Sandeep Khare or a Harper Lee to knock you off your consciousness. You drink through their glasses to land in a mystical world of your own, a world which matter is made up only of your own emotions. You don’t want to leave it ever. The suffering of that teary-eyed world is much desirable than the crushing reality of this world.

But the reality is, such magical moments are very rare. You don’t see a falling star every time you look at the sky. You don’t enjoy getting drenched in every downpour. But that’s okay. Full moon is so beautiful, only because it appears only once in a month.

What Guwahati Incident Says About the Media

The case in Guwahati, where a teenage girl was molested by a mob has made headlines everywhere. I hope the media frenzy over the issue leads to a speedy trial and justice for the unfortunate girl.

But I wonder about the factors which propelled this news story to the national consciousness. Of course, there are those 12 news values which Galtung and Ruge proposed as far back as 1965. And even the video shot by the journalist of a news channel played a role. But there is more. The bias of the media towards the rich (and the middle class), and the urban milieu is more than obvious.

If the Guwahati incident was to happen in some remote village in Assam or even to a poor girl from Guwahati, I doubt it would have gained the same attention. Few years ago, a very tragic incident took place in my village. A girl aged less than two-years was raped by her own father, which led to her tragic death. The whole village was shocked, but no media entity took notice of the incident, not even the vernacular newspapers.

This sheer lack of will on the part of the media to report about underprivileged sections of the society is due to two main reasons. The working population in the news media sector is mainly from urban middle class. Also, the biggest target audience of the news media is again urban middle class.

Unless something extra-ordinary happens in a village, media does not care to report it. I would understand if the issue was only about resources, which is clearly not. The other problem is that this bias is very intrinsic and many from the profession will not readily accept it. Hence, creating awareness about the issue becomes necessary.

My Culture, Your Culture

Media scholars fiercely debate the cultural onslaught of West on the other parts of the world. World over people watch Hollywood movies, American sitcoms, listen to English songs, etc. It has created an elite mass in developing countries which resembles more to the West than their own country.

If we think about India, the picture is not any different. India has a sizeable chunk of English-knowing population. This population is exposed to Western culture through media all the time. According to scholars, this has led to cultural imperialism. People are adopting western ways of living, western values, western mannerisms. Loss of indigenous culture is not a good thing in the long run. This also leads to an inferiority complex about one’s own culture.

But when people in India discuss cultural imperialism, they conveniently forget the imperialism that is prevalent in our own country, the imperialism by urban India on rural India.

In rural India, television is the most dominant media. Other medias pale in its comparison. Internet has just reached there. Movie theatres are a rare sight. No one listens to radio due to lack of FM stations and dominance of TV. And there is no legacy of reading habits among rural folks, which makes print a struggling media.

But television has captured the imagination of everyone. There are more television homes in villages than in urban India. You will see women and girls (most of the times men too) glued to the TV, watching saans-bahu serials in prime-time. They know the plots of each serial that is on air.

I always wonder what magic these serials have which makes them so popular. But that is besides the point. The point is the culture depicted in these serials is way different from the culture of villagers watching them. The difference is comparable to the American TV and India. Even if the serial is in say Marathi, the language is way different from how the villagers speak. In the Zee Marathi serial ‘Eka Lagnachi Dusari Goshta’, the language is so urban (with English words littered all around) that many rural people will find it incomprehensible. The central theme of the serial is ‘relationships’, which they will find hard to connect with. The houses shown in the serials are so posh and spacious that they seem like palaces to them. The women must be envious of the comforts and the societal mobilisation enjoyed by the women in the serials.

Even though rural India is a major audience for TV channels, serials set in villages will hardly find a place on TV. There are two main reasons for this. The first reason is that the serials with urban story-lines are doing as good in villages as in cities. This can be attributed to the rural India’s aspirational mindset as well as the general curiosity to get acquainted with the elite culture. Hence, producers find no need to change the status quo.

The second and more important reason is the ethnocentrism. The people at the helm are all from urban middle and higher class. They are not aware about rural realities. They have not seen that culture. If we contrast Marathi serials with Marathi literature, this becomes clear. Marathi literature is full of story-lines which are from rural heartlands. That is because they are written by the authors who have lived there. This is also true of Marathi cinema to an extent. The movies such as Tingya are a proof of that.

I will not call imposition of urban culture on rural milieu through media as cultural imperialism. I don’t know if it is right or wrong. But there certainly is a need to be aware of this.

News Agencies And Information Imperialism

An editorial in London Sunday Telegraph, while talking about news agencies, once said, “…like the air we breathe, it is nowhere, but it is everywhere. It is shapeless but shapes men’s thoughts. It has no policy but policy can not be made without it. It is journalism, at its most self-effacing, yet at its most essential.”

The news agencies wield tremendous power in news media space. Many news vehicles depend on them for their daily dose of national and international news. The news agencies are the media of the mass media. A news agency is to a mass medium, what an apex bank is to commercial banks within a nation’s financial system. If the media are the agenda-setters, then news agencies are super agenda setters.

But how desirable is the power that these wire services enjoy? Reuters, Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP) are the top three agencies of the world. They dominate the news flow not just in their home markets, but across the world. Many developing countries are dependent on them for world news. These news agencies are very efficient in their news gathering as well as presentation of news. This has helped them to consolidate their market positions.

Everybody is not happy about this domination though. People accuse these wire services of furthering western interests and imposing western culture on poorer countries. Reuters is headquartered in England, while AP and AFP in USA and France respectively. In the AP’s recent History book, Breaking News, CEO Thomas Curley writes, “The news agencies are attributed with global issues such as: the reduction of the world to a “global village”, cultural imperialism, ethnocentrism, media imperialism, media dependency, global agenda-setting and the imbalance in world information order.”

News Agencies

McBride report says, “These agencies have a particularly wide international reach due to the size and technological strength of their systems of collecting news and distributing it in many languages all over the world.”

In the amount of news that is supplied by top agencies, most of it is about developed countries. Developing countries make up only small percentage of the overall news coverage. Also, this coverage is primarily about various crises (like earthquakes, floods, tsunami, etc) or political upheavals.

Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere once noted sarcastically that the inhabitants of developing countries should be allowed to take part in the presidential elections of the US because they are bombarded with as much information about the candidates as are North American citizens.

Every news agency serves as a major selection screen for the foreign news which is made available to the country’s media. Through the amorphous machination of news agencies, Euro-American ethnocentrism has become prevalent across the length and breadth of this world.

To counter this hegemony of news agency moguls, Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP) was started in 1970s. NANAP was a product of Non-Aligned Movement which was started in the wake of cold war. It was an arrangement for exchange of news among the agencies of the non-aligned countries who were for long victims of imbalance and bias in the flow of news.

At a conference of ministers from the non-aligned countries held in New Delhi in July 1976, the concept was developed further. The declaration adopted at the conference stated that the present global flow of information was characterised by serious deficiencies and inequalities…. In a situation in which the means of information are dominated and monopolized by a few agencies to spread information as they wish, at the same time the rest are denied the right to inform and be informed objectively and accurately.

Press Trust of India (PTI), India’s premier news agency, was incorporated with the same spirit, though a bit earlier. PTI, owned by a cooperative of leading Indian newspapers, with 450 domestic newspaper clients, was founded in 1949. The agency distributes services internationally to the US, UK, Australia and UAE. It distributes international news in India from AP and AFP, as well as AP Photos and International Commercial Information.

PTI had a stiff competitor in the form of United News of India (UNI) since the time it was launched in 1961. UNI was a major player in India’s wire services since its inception, but started losing ground since mid-nineties. It has lost many of its prime subscribers since then. Once having a first-rate team of journalists, the agency is now struggling to survive. The decline of UNI has helped PTI to establish its monopoly.

If we are talking about the limited point of views in news media landscape, Japan’s media scene calls for an interesting study. Japan is a media-saturated nation where the level of consumption of both newspapers and television is extremely high by global standards. Its media sector is dominated by its five large conglomerates. They are present in multiple media channels, including newspapers and news channels.

Japan is different from most Western countries both in acceptance of government intrusion into the reporting process and in the concentration of print and broadcast journalism in media conglomerates. Japan has a unique system of press clubs. Press clubs comprise a select group of newspaper reporters with exclusive access to a designated facility provided by a specific government office, corporation, or other organization; they play a key role in shaping daily coverage of events, particularly on political and governmental matters.

Media organizations receive financial and operational support from the government, guaranteeing a level of success if they follow informal guidance and honour implicit understandings. Arguably the most important news source, the NHK, has an ambiguous relationship with the government despite being formally autonomous.

In this complicated world scenario, where the only purpose of news media industry is to maximize profits and where they have so many vested interests, it becomes a puzzle for a lay reader to decide which news is authentic and which is not.

(This post was part of my college assignment.)