Friday, September 2, 2011

Dirty Govt, Dirty Media

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to set up a group to deal with issues concerning the accountability and regulation of media has raised the Opposition's hackles, says a report from TOI. The govt wants to control the media, the internet, tap phones. All dangerous signs. Govt wants media to be also brought under Lokpal. The govt seems obviously rattled by the excessive media coverage of the Anna Hazare drama which more or less painted the govt as villain. But that’s the nature of the beast. The news media has long been indulging in excessive and tasteless broadcasting and for a change had to be forced to be on the side of a popular movement. In all the other times most news media outlets have been spokespersons for the Congress and the govt. Do the media need regulation and accountability? Definitely yes, but govt may not be the right body for it.

The media will find it extremely difficult to pull itself out of the paid news syndrome. If normal competition, normal business practices were to be adhered to then some media outlets would have to quickly wind up. In fact, some of them like NDTV should have wound up long back. What does it say when there is a blog titled ‘Don’t trust the Indian media’? Some statistics reported from that blog by FirstPost support the loss of credibility of mainstream media:

“…… newspapers are ranked higher than other media in terms of credible news with people trusting newspapers more than any other medium: 38 percent of the Indians polled trusted radio and television, while 40 percent trusted news in newspapers. Over the past two years, trust in television news dropped sharply from 61 percent to 36 percent, that of business magazines has gone down from 72 percent to 47 percent, and that of newspapers has gone down from 61 percent to 40 percent. Trust in the media in India as a whole declined by 7 percent (from 65 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2010)…The trend continues; trust in media has further declined from 58 percent in 2010 to 50 percent in the 2011 Edelman study.” That seems absolutely believable.

Channels like NDTV, CNN-IBN and their Hindi versions have become extremely bad examples of going over the top to set agendas that are biased in favour of a political party. The bias is not even subtle anymore. A report in Moneylife about NDTV would make one wonder at the miraculous manner in which the company manages to stay afloat:

NDTV got listed in 2004 and is trading below its listed price after seven years. It has given a negative return of 19% compounded in the past five years and a total shareholder return (TSR) of negative 66% for the same period. Its viewership claims, like those of all TV channels, are impossible to verify. Its credibility is at a nadir (after the recent phone-tapping controversy) and its finances are in a mess. NDTV has rarely made money from operations. For the past few years, its consolidated operations have been making cash losses and it has been running on money made by selling loss-making subsidiaries to strategic investors…… Indeed, every few months, the financially-beleaguered NDTV manages to get ‘strategic’ investors with deep pockets and top-flight private equity investors to step in and pick up big chunks of its equity at fancy valuations.”

There’s a recent revelation about Bill Gates’ Foundation having donated over $800,000 to NDTV to promote awareness on maternal health. Reporting on maternal health or creating documentaries on various issues would be regular business for a news channel. Even if money was to support such efforts, normal sponsorship methods are available. Having received such a huge donation from Bill Gates can one expect NDTV to ever report any adverse report about the foundation or Microsoft? This is also true for business channels and business journals. They are unlikely to ever report misdeeds or wrong-doings of the very business houses that they depend on financially. News channels are nothing more than PR outlets for select Bollywood companies or fashion and mostly for the govt. I wonder where in the world you would find shows like ‘saas, bahu, beti’ on news channels except Starnews, AajTak and the like. And all the national debates are with usual suspects – the few 30 odd people you will find any day or night on every other channel. The media never thought it could be manipulated so thoroughly by Team Anna.

The Press Council of India is a statutory body created for the very reason why govt seeks accountability but has left the regulation to the press itself. There is a newer National Broadcaster’s Association dealing with TV channels. The problem with both these bodies is that they are largely toothless. The PCI actually softened their report on paid news a year back. If you check out the names on the board of directors of the NBA they belong to the very gang that is accused of the offences. Hardly any newspaper or TV channel has an Ombudsman to talk about. However, the Govt’s fear and desire to control media is another unwanted evil. Except for giant media organisations like the TOI almost all other media outlets depend heavily on govt spending on advertising and campaigns and therefore are already under some govt influence.

There is certainly one thing that PM Manmohan Singh can do. He can stop accepting sham awards like ‘Indian of the year’ from channels like NDTV. He can also call for an all-party meet to have a moral policy that politicians do not accept awards from media houses during their active political life. The govt should also not dish out awards to media personalities during their active career unless there is really a very exceptional case. The govt has lost as much credibility as the media has. The Lokpal movement is not just one of grievance redress but one that seeks bodies like CBI, CVC etc. to be autonomous and out of govt control. Why, then, should anyone desire govt intervention in any form in the media? The Lokpal is also a redress system and not one of oversight. The media needs an oversight body.

The problem lies in media houses being regular business units just as any other business unit now and still enjoying extraordinary privileges. It definitely needs a watchdog but certainly not one that involves govt or people from the media themselves. The watchdog has to be an independent and autonomous body with adequate powers. Both PCI and NBA or toothless bodies by the very people who are offenders. In the current scenario both, the govt and the media, are dirty. They are incapable of being a watchdog for the other. However, an independent agency as watchdog for the media is inevitable.

Also recommend: CNN-IBN-Barber Shop &   TV-Popups: Fraudulent Invasion of Privacy


  1. When UPA is corrupt equally our Indian media too. If UPA has rot on this nation equally our media too. But these two are exercising mini emergency now. From government side, the Angel for cong and six foxes from media what the author of the article mentioned.

    Now it is high time to do well without media, CBI, IT, ED FOR THEY HAVE BECOME ROTTEN FROM THE CORE


    Feds: More Microsoft misdeeds
    By James V. Grimaldi
    The Washington Post



    In the first public address after his release from hospital, Hazare slammed Chidambaram, using shockingly crude language. "He is not speaking the truth. He is the real 'khodsal' (mischief-maker) behind my arrest even before I could start my fast. The DIG told me that they (cops) got orders from the top," Hazare said. "This government consists of a mob of "labaad" (cunning) people," he said in Marathi.


  4. I believe that media companies fighting among each other for govt advertisements is the problem, they should come on a platform and decide to share the govt ads proportionate among themselves [technicalities can be discussed]. This way all of them will survive and also will not be burdened by the govt obligation. At the same time they can report independently. Also the share holding patterns should be controlled such that no one group/individual owns majority shares to dictate the terms to the MD/editor. Instead they can ask the media company employess to own shares.

  5. As a true Indian I fully support the anti corruption movements & long for examplery punishment to CWG scamsters. But I strongly beleive media's blatant, crude & jarring coverage during CWG days & Anna movement is dangerous for the country, the Anna movement was an out and out media creation managed by an event management company funded by vested forces, media is the most potent weapon in creating public awareness they should surely be more responsible otherwise this may not be start of disintegration of India

  6. INDIA IN THE YEAR 2040....

    1) A notice board in BJP conference room.:
    "please keep mobiles in MANMOHAN SINGH mode"

    2) SUNDAY TIMES 2040.
    a) Kasab dies in jail at 70 due to high cholesterol (too much mutton biriyani).
    b) The PM ( Rahul Gandhi) said Opposition comments on the extravagant expenditure on Kasab is unwarranted.
    c) Govt has spent only Rs 18500000000 so far.
    d) Opposition asks why ministers expenses to visit to Kasab (to check his well being) should be included in reimbursement sheet.

    e) Kasab family thanks Indian Govt. as Kasab never had biriyani in his younger days in Pakistan.

    f) Pawars family owns half the world and also controls, the Russian and Japanese mafia.

    g) Golmaal 27 released. Tushar Kapoor, still can't speak or act.

    h) A. Raja's grandson arrested for 16G scam
    i) Amnesia is passed on. Kalmadi's family say they dont know who Kalmadi is.

    j) Girl in Delhi walks 25 feet safely, without getting raped.

    k) Lakshadweep Lions to join as the 63rd team in IPL.
    l) Pawar's grandson who had become a Malayalee in 2011 resigns from the Trustee post of Padmanabha Swamy temple, says there is nothing more to loot.

    m) Pakistan says Tamil Nadu & Karnataka was always part of Pakistan. PM, Rahul Gandhi says the issue can be resolved by talks. Hina Rabbani's daughter to come to India for mediation, will talk to S.M. Krishna's grand son.
    n) Teacher " where is the CAPITAL OF INDIA?"
    Student " in Swizerland" as all Capital has been transferred there.
    o) Kasab's old letter found written to Osama bin Laden in 2010. You can hide in India. Letter now has antique value & can be auctioned at 5000 dollars.

    p) Constitution amended. Now foreigners can become PM.

    q) Because of so many acts and no law, one lawyer is allowed to take only one case during his life time. Each case will be attended by one judge only. If the judge dies during the 40 years of the case, his son will automatically become a judge and will continue the case.

    r) Manmohan Singh award for the dumb and noiseless declared.

    s) Fortune 500 "All the 500 richest men in the world are Indian Politicians"

    t) India is now the biggest lender of money to America, Japan and other poor countries.


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