If there is one domain that seriously and urgently needs a watchdog like the CAG or the CVC it is the Indian media. It is easy to point fingers at politicians as the most corrupt but that is just half the truth. Politicians can be voted out, can be dismissed, can be prosecuted. What about the media though? Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and others from newspapers like Economic Times happily continue at their jobs and happily continue to peddle influenced opinions.
Any effort to seek accountability and responsibility from the media has faced the most vehement protests from them. All this under the guise of protecting “freedom of speech and freedom of the press”. The Press Council Of India and the Editors Guild are nothing more than coffee shop organisations with no binding guidelines whatsoever. In effect, the media has an extraordinary free run to mis-report, spread lies, and indulge in corruption without any liability. For an industry wielding such extraordinary powers, ability to influence policies and the course of a nation who exactly is the media responsible and accountable to? Nobody!
There is hardly a single newspaper or TV channel which has not claimed credit for exposing all the recent scams. This in itself is a blatant untruth. And they don’t stop at that. They even claim “exclusive” reportage of scams. The media IS the scam. It is agencies like the CAG or the CVC which still have some honest workers who have really exposed the corruption and not the media. The last pieces of investigative journalism in my memory have to be pieces like “Indira as Commerce” by Arun Shourie or the “Bhagalpur Blindings” by the Indian Express. For comic relief, I can even offer a long list of plagiarised pieces passed off as editorials or reports. Laughable among them has to be the Times of India’s report on Aishwarya Rai on the Jerry Springer show or more recently Arun Poorie of India Today who blamed a plagiarised piece to “jet-lag”! The very integrity of mainstream media is “dubious”, to use kind words.
If there is a need for a JPC for the 2G spectrum scandal there is also an urgent need for a JPC to investigate the media, its funding and its collusion in the massive frauds perpetrated on the country. Here are excerpts from a report by the Global Financial Integrity (Read the full report here. Thanks to Vaidya who sent this in):
- From 1948 through 2008, India lost a total of US $213 billion in illicit financial flows (or illegal capital flight). These illicit financial flows were generally the product of: tax evasion, corruption, bribery and kickbacks, and criminal activities.
- Adjusted Estimates: The present value of India’s total illicit financial flows (IFFs) is at least US $462 billion.
- Based on the last five years of the study, 2004-2008, India lost assets at a rate of US $19 billion per year.
- Total capital flight out of India represents approximately 16.6 percent of India’s GDP as of year-end 2008. In present value terms, India lost an equivalent of about 36 percent of its 2008 GDP which represents a staggering loss of capital.
- Some 68 percent of India’s aggregate illicit capital loss occurred after India’s economic reforms in 1991, indicating that deregulation and trade liberalization actually contributed to/accelerated the transfer of illicit money abroad.
- IFF Drivers: High Net-Worth Individuals (HNWIs) and private companies were found to be the primary drivers of illicit flows out of India’s private sector.
- IFF Trends: From 1948 through 2008 the Indian private sector shifted away from deposits into developed country banks and moved more of its money into offshore financial centers (OFCs). The share of OFC deposits increased from 36.4 percent in 1995 to 54.2 percent in 2009.
There are high net-individuals in the media too. Much of the country’s corruption receives major support from such media crooks.
To borrow Rajdeep Sardesai’s words the Indian media has turned from “watchdogs to lapdogs”. Protestations of “freedom of press” cannot wash anymore. In a survey in TIME magazine in 2009 it was found most Americans turned to Jon Stewart of The Daily Show for credible news. What’s the surprise? The Jon Stewart show is actually a comedy show on a comedy channel. So much for mainstream media’s credibility in democracies.
Deep Throat of the infamous Watergate scandal advises Bob Woodward to “Follow the money”. It is probably time a body like the CAG or the CVC also followed the money and funding of the media houses. It is not just politicians, the Indian media urgently and desperately needs a watchdog. The media cannot be anymore given the luxury of having its own watchdog. Coffee shops like the PCI or the Editors’ Guild cannot be watchdogs.