There’s a looming threat of misinformation in the Indian subcontinent. Most media houses are either run by businessmen with strong links to politicians or worse, run by the kurta-clad themselves. If it was a covert operation earlier, today the ownership is out in the open. Every political party worth its salt is trying to gather as much media steam to envelop the country. Knowledge is power, but when the power of disseminating it is at the hands of netas, you have to take every information from their media vehicles with much introspection.
Experts attest that many communal riots would not have taken place but for the false stories deliberately planted in news papers. Editors beholden to their employers and often to politicians regularly dissuade younger journalists from pursuing awkward stories, preferring instead to print safe plants and handouts from politicians. Such freedom tends to be confined to the editorial pages, which have now become the unique preserve of a select menagerie of wind-bagging superannuated bureaucrats, and pious academics.
A few years ago, the debate was about whether the media controlled politicians or whether politicians controlled the media. Now TV news channels are lining up along political lines and have become more in-your-face. NDTV is owned by Radhika Roy, who is CPI leader Brinda Karat’s younger sister and Prannoy Roy’s wife. The Times Group is partly owned by an Italian, Rabritio Mindo, who happens to be related to Sonia Gandhi. Hindustan Times is no more with the Birla’s and is now controlled by the Times Group. Andhra Jyoti is owned by Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), a Muslim political party. The Statesman is controlled by the CPM. Mathru Bhoomi is funded by the Muslim League and the Communist Party of India. Kairali TV is controlled by the CPM.
The situation isn’t any different in Tamil Nadu. If Jaya TV is owned by AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha, Kalaignar TV is run by the DMK while Mega TV is funded by the Congress. The Dalit Panthers of India have floated the Tamizhan channel while the PMK have set up their own. The political equation is as polarised in Kerala. There’s Jai Hind TV owing its allegiance to the Congress. That places it in direct opposition to Kairali owned by the CPM. New entrant, Sudarshan TV is backed by the RSS. Karnataka hasn’t remained untouched either. JD (S) leader Kumaraswamy has launched Kasturi channel and is also the proprietor of Amogh, one of the largest cable distribution networks in Karnataka. Udaya TV is part of Sun Network and the Maran brothers who are related to the DMK. Rumour is rife that Ramoji Rao’s ETV Kannada could be bought by a rival outfit. With the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for 2009 and the Assembly poll in 2011, things could get quite convoluted and muddy. The viewing public wouldn’t know whom to believe as they are clearly media vehicles for their political masters.
The solution lies in community radio, community newspapers, video and audio cassettes. Internet is another medium, which can contribute to free and speedy dissemination of information and usher in ‘digital democracy’ and creation of ‘netizens.’ Folk media like Harikatha, puppet shows and street can also be revived and used as vehicles of effective social communication.
The question is, are we discerning enough?
(This piece has appeared in my Media Watch column that runs in Agni every week)