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A Free Media - Really?

A Free Media - Really?

April 23, 2010

Can we really claim to have a free press just because our mainstream media isn’t controlled by the government?

We often gloat about our free press in India or the UK and US, proudly talking about a soundly functioning fourth estate that time and again takes on the establishment and keeps them on their toes. I agree to a certain extent – there are several recent examples: the MPs expenses scandal here in the UK cases like that of Priyadarshini Mattoo and Manu Sharma in India, or the latest, Narendra Modi, the man behind the Gujarat riots, being summoned by the SIT for an enquiry because of the furore created by the media. These are indeed shining examples that our press is doing its job in keeping our democracy intact.

But having said that, I am increasingly worried about the imposing, opinionated, ideological bearings of our mainstream media – the unrestrained temptation to editorialize and take sides. Doesn’t The Sun’s open support for the Conservatives in the election, or the Independent’s explicitly pro-global warming stance, amount to brainwashing? Doesn’t the Indian media’s approach to reporting on the Maoist conflict, basically toeing the line of the government and belittling human rights activists, amount to callous journalism?

What is more seriously worrying is how our mainstream media has largely become a rightwing lobby group (run by corporates), within which there are the leftists, rightists and centrists. The foundation or the basic inkling is towards supporting free market capitalism, corporate globalization and an insatiable hunger for development – at whatever cost it might come. So you might have the far right Fox News or the leftist CNN apparently at loggerheads on issues like immigration, race or abortion, but in the end, on economic policy – the church of modern existence – they are all basically supporting the theories of globalization, obedient to the established rule in their reportage about growth numbers, GDP, development, economic policy or reform.

Take the corporate business media for instance, Bloomberg or CNBC – there is a frenzied euphoria when the market goes up or down, when big deals are signed, when corporate scams are unearthed, but has there ever been a serious attempt by any of these networks to dig deeper into the dark underbelly of these corporations? Only 2% of India invests in stock markets – yet news channel after news channel is dedicated to providing them with up-to-date analysis on what’s buzzing in the markets. However, not a single channel has taken the responsibility to make their viewers aware of the ethos of the companies they invest in. Why, for instance, has there been no investigation on the MoUs signed by Vedanta and the escalation of Maoist violence in those regions?

This role, instead of doing serious investigative pieces, of taking on established institutions, of giving a voice to the minorities, is being taken up these days by documentary filmmakers, bloggers and dissenting activists. If the media was serious in its pursuit of unearthing the truth, they would have been the ones making documentaries like Food, Inc. or writing essays like this one instead of pontificating in newsrooms, cynically dismissing any opinion that doesn’t gel with theirs.

The truth is we don’t have a free press – it’s just that instead of being controlled by the government, the modern media is controlled by corporations and economic interests. Any organization, once it becomes too big for its own shoes, can’t after all remain free.


  • Raja
    24.04.10 12:57 AM
    The media may be biased. They may be trying to sell certain stries more than the others. But that doesn't mean that the media are not free. Yes, they are controlled by a few people/corporates and chiefly serve their purpose. But as long as it is not controlled by ONE dictatorial presence, it IS free.
    If "free media" means free from any bias/prejudices, than we are dreaming of Utopia.
  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    23.04.10 09:08 PM
    I always know Congress is up to something when the press gets a wild hair about Paris Hilton or some other c-list celebrity's shenanigans and nothing serious hits the news that day.
  • g2
    23.04.10 03:33 PM
    Media is a business and it is run like a business... during the recent communal riots in Hyderabad, the essential services act was grossly violated in the areas under curfew as milk was sold as high as Rs 150 per liter and essential medicines etc at even higher prices. This did not even receive a mention in the mainstream national media because is not good business, because there is not much TRP in it.

    The media chose to report on the Sania-Shoaib wedding bells happening just a few miles away...

    There were only two papers that cared to mention it, an Urdu daily based in Hyderabad and The Hindu (which reported it two days after the incident was reported in the Urdu daily)
  • Lazy Pineapple
    Lazy Pineapple
    23.04.10 02:55 PM
    Totally agree with you... the crap dished out to us these days really makes me wonder about journalists. I am sure lots of them want to make eye opening fims and write truthful articles but governance by the corporates must be killing their stories...
    The movie Rann did depict so much of what you have said here.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    23.04.10 09:56 AM
    Agree with Gori Girl - this kind of smoke and mirrors masquerading as a fair source of information is not new. The Adam Curtis documentaries The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares and The Trap have the corruption of the media by business/political interests at the heart of their agenda, and are very much worth taking the time to watch.

    More than ever, writers have a responsibility to uphold accuracy, state clearly what is opinion and what is fact, and agitate where necessary. As such, it's great to see a piece like this here.
  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    23.04.10 06:32 AM
    It's not news, it's infotainment. Unfortunately, real journalism is hard to come by these days. I completely agree with your assessment about who is really running the media.

    But this isn't a new thing. If you look into what William Randolph Hearst and Harry Anslinger got up to in the 1930's in the American press, you'll see that it's been used as a vehicle for influencing people towards a desired end. Usually politically (i.e., corporate) driven.

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