Is the Indian media losing touch with reality?

Attacking the messenger—also known as blaming the media—is fast becoming if it has not already become the default mode of Indian politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, film actors, sports stars and virtually everybody else who is at the media’s receiving end.

But when somebody within the media itself turns the telescope on his fraternity, it is news. And Vinod Mehta, editor-in-chief of Outlook, does exactly that in his Delhi Diary. The reason for Mehta’s ire: the media’s reaction to Prime Minister’s speech advocating austerity last week.

“The prime minister’s rather mild and unsurprising address to the CII, pleading with the captains of our flourishing economy to think, worry and sacrifice a bit of their wealth to assist the massively underprivileged, has produced a whopping uproar. Those who earn upwards of Rs 10 crore a year are outraged—and so is the media.

“I can understand the position taken by the pink papers, but even centrist mainstream dailies have poured nothing but ridicule and scorn on the benign Manmohan Singh for having the temerity to ask our overworked tycoons to help curb conspicuous consumption and implement some of the high-minded talk of corporate social responsibility.

“I hope I don’t sound like Comrade Prakash Karat when I say that the reaction to the PM’s speech shows the class character of our media. Since almost all the advertising in the English media comes from big business houses, I can understand, but not endorse, the stand taken. We (and that includes Outlook) know which side our bread is buttered.

“Meanwhile, what I find most distressing is the unrelenting hostility of the media to all poverty alleviation programmes, which are invariably described as “profligate”, “wasteful” and “outdated”. None of this should surprise anyone, but it reinforces my conviction that for the poor of this country to expect that “the conscience of the rich” can be pricked remains a pipedream.”

The choice of words is interesting. Are the wrong class of people, who have no feel for the common man and woman, becoming journalists? Are the wrong class of people in charge? Are our journalism schools too expensive for ordinary Indians? Have huge salaries quelled the fire in the bellies of Indian journalists?

Or is this just a problem with the English media?

Cross-posted on churumuri

2 Comments

  1. Abhi 2.0

    Interesting post though I think it’s quite the contrary. Since journalism is now paying (fat salaries as you claim) decently, it is attracting for the first time, the upper middle class who otherwise would have gone into professional streams like Engg, Medicine etc. It’s an aspirational class of people who’re shifting the debate towards the centre from the far left.

    They’d rather have fully taxed, fully disclosed, hard-earned? CEO pay packets going berserk than hawala money of politicians, babus, closed family businesses or shady builders/defence agents/govt contractors etc.

    Yes, a different class of people are entering the English media. I’m not sure if they’re the “wrong class” though. There was a time when only people from extremely well-off families joined English journalism because either they had no interest in wealth, having so much of it so easily or they didn’t really need the income from their jobs. So you had a massive divide between wage-boarders who were VERY easily bribed since they were so badly off and the Khushwant Singh types who lived off their inheritances till they reached Editor/Columnist status.

  2. Vin

    Someone had once told me that it was the coming of the convented types (like me) into the profession, which has brought so many P’s and Q’s into journalism. Those words were spoken on the banks of the Kukkarahalli Kere in Mysore half a decade ago.

    The speaker was my editor who had once told me that if I were to ever come back to office with freebies given away at press conferences, he would throw me out! I never accepted free lunch/snacks either after that! I don’t know many editors who would say that to their reporters. And I don’t know many reporters who would respect him for it.

    The answer to the pack of questions up there is a resounding “yes”.

    To illustrate with an example: when I came back from England armed with a fancy masters in journalism and a lifetime of debt in student loan, wanting to write about people, (journalism is finally about the people, my editor emphasised to me when we sat overlooking Kukkarahalli Kere), no Delhi editor wanted to talk to me. I don’t regret the fancy degree nor the debt, as much as I regret being a journalist at a time when journalism in India seems to an extension of corporate communication departments of MNCs.

    One of those Delhi editors, the news editor of a promiment news channel, had the gall to say, “Why don’t you work for an NGO?” I asked him when had the mandate of journalism changed? He could only reply, “We want only those who are interested in business journalism or political journalism. I can recommend you to good NGOs.” I came back home and never worked for a mainstream newspaper or a news channel after that. It wasn’t their loss, but my gain entirely.

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