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 http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264738 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.