NEW DELHI: Pointing out that a disconnect exists between mass media and mass reality in India today, P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of TheHindu, said the media had lost its sense of priorities and was out of touch with the problems of a vast section of the population of the country.
He was delivering the Silver Jubilee Lecture on “Mass media: But where are the masses?” at the Indira Gandhi National Open University here on Wednesday.
Noting that the media coverage and editorials following the recent oil price hike failed to fully understand the implications this would have on poor people, Mr. Sainath said he was surprised that the coverage given to this issue was dwarfed by a model's suicide in some newspapers.
“In the last 15 years, everything that has become a convenience to the upper middle-class has become cheaper. You take air tickets, computers, cars etc…they are all affordable for us. But in this same period rice, wheat, electricity, water, etc. has become 300-500 per cent more expensive for the poor. Why is this not reflected in the media?” Mr. Sainath asked.
On stories of rural resurgence appearing in various magazines in 2010, he quipped that these stories “timed well” with the National Crime Records Bureau statistics indicating 200,000 farmer suicides since 1997 and three Government-appointed commissions recommending the pushing up of official figures of population living below the poverty line.
The veteran journalist said the media today had a “structural compulsion to lie” as several media companies had interests in various arms of the economy. He commented that “private treaties” and “paid news” were undermining the media's credibility.
“Out of the ruins of private treaties, emerged paid news. Private treaties which gave media companies financial stakes in companies became worthless after the stock market tanked in 2008-09. Paid news enabled these corrupt companies and politicians to make unrecorded cash transactions during the Assembly and General Elections in 2009.”
Mr. Sainath also mourned the disappearance of a number of social sector beats from newspapers.
“Today newspapers have no labour correspondent, housing or primary education correspondent. We are explicitly telling 70 per cent of this country that they don't matter to us.”
During the interactive session following the lecture, Mr. Sainath, responding to a question said he was a die-hard optimist. “I would not have survived 30 years in a field otherwise marked by increasing cynicism.” He credited his optimism to
the “goodness and sensibility of ordinary people” he came across while reporting.