Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Is media's chief business is BUSINESS?

By Prof. C.K. Sardana 
(Analyst, media teacher and writer)
If we ask those in the media profession itself, particularly in print, the
above question, the answer will most likely be 'yes'. On the other hand, if
we pose this question to the  old-timers again in print media, they will
also say 'yes' but with a shrug adding that the press is no longer a
vehicle of truthful, fair and unbiased reporting as it should be and has
been in the pre-Independence era. It is the business interest of the owners
which governs the writings in the press.
Let me recapitulate how has the business interest come about. America, like
India, was also a British colony for centuries. While America became free
in 18th century, India achieved independence in 20th century. Today America
is world's No. 1 power on the yardsticks of economic, military strength and
quality of life. India is struggling hard to reach out to that position.
How? The 30th President of the  United States (1924-1929), Calvin Coolidge,
in an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington
D.C., January 25, 1925, said 'It is probable that a press which maintains
an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation is likely to be
more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences.
After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are
profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing and prospering in the
Notwithstanding our earlier pronouncements and policies of non-alignment
and state economy, we are drifting, at a very fast rate, towards the
policies adopted by US Government in line with the psyche of the 'American
people' as clearly spelt out nearly ninety years ago by no less a person
than the then US President. Isn't it a fact that following the era of
globalization commencing in 1990-1991, private sector has emerged as a very
strong economic force contributing to the national growth and economy?
Today, media -- both print and electronic -- is largely owned by business
magnates and business houses. During the pre-Independence era, the owners
of newspapers and journals were by and large themselves activists in the
one cause that united all Indians -- the struggle for freedom. It only
follows that now business interests of the media owners are paramount in
the running of the media.
Even so, I dare say there is freedom of operation in the media. There are
umpteen examples of fast, rather fastest, reporting, analysing and airing
of views of persons of different ideologies, political parties, interests
and backgrounds from a single platform provided by media, particularly
electronic,within minutes of the event, for viewing by crores of people
across the country and even the world. While, these persons are bound to
keep their personal and party leanings at the back of their mind while
responding or participating in discussions, there is a large amount of
freedom in and of the media  to carry their opinions as they come from
their lips.
The owners of media are not there 24/7 to tell the media persons what, how
and when to report or not to report. Yes, the media persons also know and
understand the overall business interests of the paper and the policy of
the owners. Let me illustrate. A leading English daily from the Capital
with several editions carried a byline story about a business house wherein
its top man was shown in a very bad light. That person happened to be a
close friend of the paper owner. He rang him up in Chennai (then called
Madras) and said, rather angrily, 'what is this, you are my friend and your
paper carries a damaging story about me and my business?' The owner heard
that and coolly said 'let me look into this'. In turn, he rang up the
reporter and asked him 'is the story factually correct and is your source
'pucca'?'. The reporter said 'my story is 100% factually correct and my
source is also 'pucca'.' The  paper owner called up his friend and said
'the story is factually correct. If you still have  to say something, send
that to me and I shall get that prominently carried just the next day. No
comeback and the matter ended.
There is another side too. National interest Vs reporting. I posed this
question to  a very senior national level journalist. Suppose, a big Public
Sector enterprise is all set for getting a Rs. 1000-crore order from abroad
for supply of products and services. One day before the release of the
order, a rival company attempts to plant a story highlighting  the poor
quality of products and services of that Public Sector enterprise at some
other project. I asked the journalist 'will you jump into that and do the
story or start collecting facts etc. and then release the story after a few
days?' His answer was 'I will leave everything else and do that story. It
is not at all my concern whether a Rs. 1000-crore order is delayed or lost
causing colossal loss to that enterprise and to the country'. I did not
agree then and do not agree even today. National interest should not be
given a bye-bye in such vital situations as the above.

Relevant to the above discussion is the subject of embedded journalism. In
US, embedded journalism is very much in vogue particularly in global
conflicts/wars where US, rightly or wrongly, is a party. I remember, US
sent a large team of reporters drawn from print and electronic media to
cover conflicts in Kuwait, Iraq and elsewhere. These journalists were given
an 'advisory' that they will report on the basis of US Army briefings
everyday and also not report any incident which was likely to cause dismay
among the government circles and among the American people. Over-riding
advice was 'US is on war and media must also stand by the US Government in
its own way.' There is nothing wrong except that there should not be a
heavy overdose in its implementation.

As said above, the Indian media is now largely controlled by businessmen
who wish to make money. There is nothing wrong in making money but this
must be coupled with social responsibilty. The businessmen cannot be
allowed to say that he should be permitted to make money even if the rest
of society suffers. Such an attitude is bound to result, in the long run,
in the undoing of the businesmen themselves. Moreover, media is not an
ordinary business which deals with commodities. It deals with information
and opinions which should be used to benefit people and not harm them.
Today,70-80% of Indians are suffering from massive poverty, unemployment,
skyrocketing prices, problems of health, hygience, education and evils like
female foeticide, farmers' suicides, dowry deaths, crimes against women and
the elderly, honour killings etc. These problems can only be resolved by
arousing masses' consciousness and awareness and their total involvement in
helping curb such a menace. Media should also help promote scientific
temper and combat backward ideas like casteism, communalism, superstition
etc. It is regrettable that instead of doing its duty in this direction,
the media does the reverse and highlights lives of film stars, fashion
parades, cricketers etc. thereby diverting peoples' attention from the real
issues of corruption, nepotism, favouritism and family promotion.
Prof. C.K. Sardana
General Manager (Retd.)/BHEL/New Delhi.
09893556483 - M

1 comment:

Nidhi Shendurnikar said...

Very well-written Sir ... the main business of today's media is doing business itself at the cost of society and national interest! That is because from a mission journalism has turned into a profit oriented industry either it laps up to the government or to big businesses ...