I picked up two magazines during my last visit to the newsstand: Outlook [Anniversary Special] and Frontline [of which I never miss an issue]. While Outlook elaborates on the degeneration that has gripped the Indian media like a cancer, Frontline features in its characteristically detailed cover story the depravity that the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] finds itself in.
The media used to be the watchdog of society. It is both a critic and a guide; it questions or exposes the wrong as well as gives direction to the society’s progress. Outlook articles argue that the Indian media by and large has relinquished both the duties and embraced the crass commercialism of the globalised world.
Noam Chomsky says that even the New York Times [“maybe the world’s greatest newspaper”] has the concept of news hole. That is, the news is merely meant for filling the holes or gaps between advertisements. The newspaper is primarily meant for advertisements.
Sumir Lal, who quit journalism because he was incapable of swimming with the commercial tide or “go guerrilla like Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka,” writes that the Times of India, under the tutelage of Samir Jain, led the new trend in India. And the new trend is: “sell the media platform to commercial clients, not news to readers.”
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta lists the strategies of Times of India: 1. it charges film producers, fashion designers, actors, celebrities, sportspersons, corporate captains and socialites for featuring them in newspaper supplements. 2. It initiated the ‘private treaties’ scheme by which certain benefits other than monetary payments [such as transfer of equity shares] are made to the newspaper in return for good publicity.
Quite many prominent newspapers in India have aped the strategies of Times of India. Consequently what we read in them is not the ‘real’ news, but paid news. Patrick French argues in his article that the crisis in the Indian media today is the “trivialised reporting, predatory press owners and stories that are paid for by politicians and others.”
The only value left in the globalised world is wealth. Anything can be sacrificed for its sake. Anything – “credibility, integrity, impartiality” [Sumir Lal] – can be put on sale for the sake of wealth creation. What matters is only whether you get figured in the Forbes list of billionaires. Times of India leads and the rest of India follows.
Even the BJP does. That’s what Frontline seeks to show. The political drama that was staged recently in the BJP Kingdom of Karnataka shows that politics is the most lucrative business in India today. An MLA can earn as much as Rs 50 crore [Rs 500 million] just for ditching his party. Skulduggery cannot be more enriching anywhere else!
Of course, such deceptive measures are not the prerogative of the BJP only. When H D Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) says that his “party has been unable to give such funds,” and reiterates that “we are not in a position to (monetarily) help our legislators to this large extent,” the implication is loud and clear: he would have bought the legislators if his party had funds. In still more plain words, his party’s crime is that it is not wealthy enough.
Frontline has chosen to highlight the degeneration of BJP for two reasons: 1. the recent drama in Karnataka, 2. to show how low the party that came into the limelight with the shibboleth that it is “the party with a difference” has stooped.
The list of the BJP’s sins in Karnataka, as given by Frontline, is pretty long.
- a series of attacks on churches in 2008 and 2009
- Sri Rama Sene’s [sibling of the BJP] assault in a Mangalore pub in the name of culture. [We may recall the Tehelka sting that proved that Pramod Muttalik, founder of the Sene, was ready to sell riots for a price. What matters, again, is wealth.]
- polarisation of communities along religious lines
- Corruption and scandals – There’s a very long list of them in the magazine.
Frontline quotes H S Shankaralinge Gowda, a four-time BJP legislator. He remarks about his party: “Only lafangeys (loafers), thieves, liars, looters and land-grabbers have a place in this party, not honest workers.”
The media or the politics – both are focused on one objective, the noble objective of Globalisation: wealth creation.
Where do we go from there?