Mass media biased towards Anna Hazare's cause say experts according to an article in DNA on Sunday, August 28. Bhaskar Rao of Centre for Media Studies adds in the same article: "By its very nature, television is a very biased medium. Whenever a big issue or a campaign like this crops up, news channels try to be on top of it. This is the trend that prevails everywhere," …But unfortunately in the Anna Hazare case, I think TV channels have overdone it…The main issue here is corruption, which is the elephant, but the media has given extensive publicity to "the elephant riders, which is Anna Hazare and his team". There was a lone voice of support for news television channels from noted journalist and Editor and Managing Director of Pioneer newspaper Chandan Mitra, who feels it was not the case.
Everything in the lines from DNA that I’ve quoted could be true. Except that the article misses certain points about the media. Let’s take Chandan Mitra. Apart from being the MD of The Pioneer, he is also BJP member of the RS. That’s double a privilege. The Pioneer is a journal that had many writers severely criticising the Anna movement. One even called it “spreading canards..” Truth is, the Anna campaign made an unwritten proposition to the media – ‘You are with us or against us’. Given that terrible choice there was only one way for the media to jump – the people way. TimesNow took the lead and the rest just had to follow. And follow they did with the best attempt to draft the worst camouflaged tarnishing of the campaign. They pulled out Mahesh Bhatt, Nandita Rao, Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander, Nandan Nilekani and many more that they could lay their hands on. All these worthies did their best to tarnish Anna’s campaign and hold the govt line that all this was against the constitution. Constitution! It’s a word you’d have heard more in the last ten days than ever before in the last 3 decades. Suddenly, constitution was the final line of defence for everyone against Anna’s campaign.
People may have some idea of the privileges of the media but let me give a few examples. Even the lowest level employee in a well-known media outlet extracts the greatest privileges from the system. For instance, you could glide through a curfew area if you flash your media house business card even if you are not a journalist or not have a permit. You can bargain the best discounts at hotels and many other shopping outlets. Your payments could get priority in government organisations if you’re from the media. Even a passport office gives you priority if you flash your media card. The parties of big media houses and their indulgences are something to behold. If you ever happen to attend one of them you would hardly believe these outlets actually serve the general public. So it’s only in a situation like the Anna movement that many media outlets had a compulsion to tilt in favour of common people. They had no choice. Otherwise, throughout the year they are more or less an extended PR department of the government. How do I know? I’ve been there and done that in my association with one of the highest circulated journals in the country and probably the world. It is absolutely shameful!
The current media as we know it has come about since the reforms of 1991. Prior to that, and maybe even now, the biggest advertiser is not private enterprise but the government. The very survival of many media outlets depends on the govt. In such a situation can the media really be expected to be on the side of facts and truth? Despite all their claims those in the media who accept govt awards like the Padmas must seriously question their own conscience. I was witness to the terrible reporting of the Gujarat riots by star media celebs like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai. They are also the ones that whipped up the most emotions during Kandahar. They are now Padma Shri award winners. Both NDTV and CNN-IBN have awarded Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi sham awards like ‘Indian of the year’. Are you seriously expecting them to represent the people’s concerns?
On January 17, 1991 I was at home in London. It’s a historic day. I watched till late night the first Gulf war that broke out. Even the BBC that normally shut down broadcast then at midnight carried on airing reports till around 3am. In less than an hour CNN, an otherwise unknown cable channel, became an international household name. History hangs on tiny chances. In the current Anna campaign TimesNow grabbed that tiny chance to become the channel to grab the most eyeballs. If the other competitors followed, it was out of sheer compulsion and not out of any sense of reporting factually. Thus NDTV, CNN-IBN, Headlines Today and even all the Hindi channels rushed to stand by the people. This time they were all also watching people on the social networks. So, in normal times a media that is a slave of the government had no choice but to be in the right books. Make no mistake, in the days and weeks to come, some of these channels will revert back to their normal position of standing for the govt. They will do everything to indulge in mud-slinging against the Anna Hazare team just as they tried to during the initial stage of the anti-corruption movement in April and June (Against Ramdev).
Ashutosh, the MD of IBN’s Hindi channel, has openly accused some English channel media celebs of being govt spokespersons. He mentions how some of them have acquired luxury flats and residences in a discussion conducted by Karan Thapar. Believable? Absolutely! Go and take a look at the kind of flats and bungalows that our media celebrities live in. You will not find that very different from Bollywood celebrities. Rahul Kanwal even tweets about rising interests bothering home buyers, but I really doubt it’s a problem that seriously confronts him.
Following the outbursts of Kiran Bedi and Om Puri, the Parliament has moved privilege motions against them. Hmmmm! PRIVILEGE is the key word. The media reports it but it fails in their job to defend the right of free speech of these individuals. That parliament has been endowed with such extraordinary powers is wrong. The media should be standing up for these two individuals despite their buffoonery. They will not. What they said and did may be excessive but they weren’t wrong. It’s the way people feel. What does it say about a journalist who cannot get near the people and feels comfortable in her studio when she can rush to Egypt or Libya? Barkha Dutt has learned one thing at least, that being crooked doesn’t pay! It equates with you with politicians who constantly take the people for granted.
Democracy is not a relationship between the rulers and the ruled. It’s a process between and among equals. The moment parliament thinks people are subordinate they go terribly wrong. People are not subordinates. They are the reason parliament exists. They are the reason constitution exists. They are the reason why media exists. The day our media realises that and learns to be honest our parliament will be honest. Till then, our media, more than our politicians, poses the greatest danger to our democracy.