This is a scene from the movie ‘The American President’ where a presidential aide blasts him for not stepping up and talking to the media as often as his opponent does criticising him. I have quoted this before on this blog but worth recalling: (Quotes, where they appear are in blue)
Presidential aide Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox): “You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known. And I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59% of Americans have begun to question your patriotism. They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand”.
The President (Michael Douglas): “Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference”.
Along comes a spider and he is starting to scare the little Muffets in the Indian news media. Retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Markandeya Katju has stated “90% of Indians are mentally backward and need to be uplifted” by the media. That’s right. Where the news media’s magnitude of nonsense is concerned a majority of the Indian population drinks the sand because they don’t know the difference. Fed on a daily diet of ‘rashi and kundli’, mindless Cricket discussions, divisive debates, hollering anchors and reporters, senseless Bollywood crap, Saas and the city, Saas, Bahu aur Betiyaan, ‘Bhoot-Pret’, spurious opinion polls, fashion shows, Kareena adoring her wax statue and utter nonsense like replaying worst moments from BigBoss they do not have a choice. Most Indians are struggling to make ends meet and can’t be faulted for the kind of trash they absorb from the news media. If these were recognised as entertainment channels there would be no problem but they are supposed to be ‘news channels'.
Justice Markandeya Katju (MK) is now the Chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) and he is ringing some discomforting alarm bells. He wants to clean up the news media, implement punitive measures for infringements and improve the quality of media functioning. He is pitted against an extraordinary gang which is as thick-skinned as any political group.
Written over a year ago, the post ‘India’s Worst Journalists’ continues to remain among the most popular posts on this blog. Some of the so called journalists in the list like Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghose, Arnab Goswami among others can share the credit for destroying the credibility of TV news. In recent times the excessive promotion of a Shahrukh Khan movie or excessive space to Modi-haters or Kashmiri separatists is the trend. Some of these media celebs have also been decorated with Padma Shris. I guess that reward is for their excessive mental masturbation on mundane, trivial issues and keeping the real issues in the closet and from the public. That most of these media outlets and journalists are politically inclined toward the Congress is also not a big secret anymore.
Any decently educated and discerning person would hold the mainstream media in utter contempt. Justice Katju does too and that isn’t surprising at all. But before that let’s pick on that coffee shop called ‘Editors Guild’ (EG). For those who came in late, the EG club is nothing but the usual kitty party that rich ladies host with friends to kill time and money except that the EG kills reputations and truth. This is the same EG, when Rajdeep Sardesai was its head, which also sought to bury the Radiagate conspiracy that involved Barkha Dutt and some other journalists. Most of the EG members are your friendly regular crooks. So why would the crooks want policing? Aha! There you are! So when members of this EG appeared before the standing committee of the parliament for the Lokpal bill they were unanimous – Media should not be under Lokpal.
Outlook reports: “Representatives of the Guild led by its President T N Ninan appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice and Personnel here and said since media was a "private body" it should not be brought under the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog”. A private body? Hmm! Let’s see, they get to peddle opinions to the masses, they get government quota on housing, they get political ads, they get govt ads some of which are mandatory and they exercise powers like many private businesses don’t. In short, they want all the luxuries of government money and accountability to none. Sounds pretty much like NGOs who also don’t want to be under the Lokpal. Funnier still is that Committee Chairman, Abhishek Singhvi, records that the Guild members have stated their views "clearly and provocatively".
Here are some more scathing observations by MK (All of this in an interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN):
Indian media is, very often, playing an anti-people role. Let me give you that in three respects. Number one, it often diverts the attention of the people from the real problems which are basically economic. 80 per cent of the people are living in horrible poverty, unemployment, facing price rise, healthcare etc. You divert attention from those problems and instead you project filmstars and fashion parades and cricket as if they are the problems of the people.....
I think it is even worse. I think it is deliberate action of the media to divide the people on religious lines and that is totally against the national interest.....
Yes, the general rut is very low and I have a poor opinion of most media people. Frankly, I don't think they have much knowledge of economic theory or political science or literature or philosophy. I don't think they have studied all this.....
See very often I find those debates totally frivolous. First of all there is no discipline. If there are four people on the panel, all speaking at the same time, is this the way disciplined people should behave? When you speak, I will never interrupt you. But why should you interrupt me when I am speaking?
The majority, I'm sorry to say, are of a very poor intellectual level, media people, I doubt whether they have any idea of economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature, I have grave doubts whether they are well read in all this, which they should be.....
MK is not saying anything new. Such thoughts on the news media have already been voiced over and over again by many in the social media, including on this blog. In response to MK’s statements Karan Thapar points to the National Broadcasters Association (NBA) as a self-regulating body for TV channels. Unlike the PCI, the NBA is not a statutory body and therefore is really not accountable to anyone just as the TV channels are not. MK wants the electronic media also to be under the PCI and for it to be renamed as ‘Media Council’. MK would need to substantially revamp the PCI too. It is the same body that buried its own ‘paid news’ report because most of the members are crooks themselves.
Some of the credit for the collapse of credibility of news channels has to go to some media celebrities like Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, Arnab Goswami, Shekhar Gupta, Vir Sangvi, Sagarika Ghose and more. They are responsible for vitiating the atmosphere so much that any sensible discussion of national issues is simply impossible. And they know the kind of panellists they need to pick who can kick and scream and talk over each other. Of the many great people available in this country you can trust the news media to pick on the most uncouth and uncivilised characters as their panellists. They don’t want a decent debate, they want the drama and the spin. Some of the people that adorn the TV screens actually need to be in prison for some of the worst offences. Some of the channels need to be shut down.
How Justice Katju deals with the crooks, only time will tell. But there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that the new chief of PCI is finally one who is with the people and the country.