Hindi journalism has been such an unquestioning and uncritical proponent of majoritarian establishment causes for so long that it is an accepted axiom now, but the outbreak of #Coronavirus has decidedly taken it to the next level.
The ease with which newspapers and news channels in the heartland have surrendered their professional tasks and communalised the pandemic, while meekly turning themselves into megaphones of the government, presents an odious sight.
The Hindi journalism doyenne, Mrinal Pande—who was Editor of Hindustan and Vama, head of Star News, and chairperson of Prasar Bharati Corporation—believes the process of atrophying which began in the early 2000s has now expedited.
In this episode of J-POD, a podcast on journalists and journalism, Ms Pande discusses the role of Hindi journalism in mainstreaming communalism; the psycho-social profile of Hindi news consumers; the quality of Hindi owners, journalists and readers; and what Hindi (and English) journalists need to do to pivot to the digital era after #Corona.
And oh, by the way, she says it is best to return Doordarshan and All India Radio to the information and broadcasting ministry.
3.10: “The terrible model unleashed by one of the biggest market leaders, by reducing the cover price and cross-subsidising the reader through advertising, made Hindi media hugely dependent on government-sponsored DAVP ads.
4.18: “In the early 2000s, I was convinced that print media would undergo a big and quick atrophying process, which would be faster in English, but it is happening just as fast in Hindi and in other languages. #Coronavirus has expedited that process.
8.34: “Corona, by locking people up, has also made them simplistic in their thinking because the sources of news are limited. They are becoming more and more docile and capitulating more and more to the diktats of the state.
10.15: “Hindi media and its readership have a different psycho-social profile like most of vernacular speaking India. Very few English readers know what is the price of a Hindi paper. They would be astounded to know that Hindi papers continue to be priced higher than English language newspapers; that the raddi of English newspapers commands a higher price per kilo than language papers because of the quality of newsprint used. All those chickens are coming home to roost.
“What are the nuts and bolts we are using to create papers? What are the checks and balances? Who is checking the ultimate product? In many papers, it is not the Editor who has the final say. It is the lalaji or his nominated manager. I know cases of major dailies sending their front page upstairs to the managerial floor to be cleared before it goes to press. With this kind of thing, you deserve to die. In a way, #Corona is dealing a death blow, but it is killing something that is already dead.
14.22: “Hindi media has majorly swung towards the government and its policies. The biggest circulating Hindi dailies are, if not totally in agreement with everything the government and leadership says, at least 75 per cent in agreement. The editorials, the subjects and headlines they choose are very guarded. Most of them are very jittery about the unfurling advertising scenario. Things are very bad.
“In the last two years, big Hindi newspaper chains have become mammoth giants, just as Facebook and Google have become mega companies. They have gobbled up all local, small town dailies. They are bringing out 50-plus editions. People living in Nainital do not know what is happening in Ranikhet. People in Delhi do not know what is happening in Gurgaon. These editions have added to the blind spot and created an inward-lookingness in the Hindi reader. He or she just wants to know what is in it for me? Nobody asks the quality question.
18.18: “I foretell a clash between content providers and aggregators. They (the aggregators) had agreed to give 6000-7000 dollars a month for content they picked up from the providers. Now they are going back on their word. This tussle will only grow.
“The Hindi reader does not care who is the aggregator. He just gets on to Google and gets into NewsDog or DailyHunt. This is going to create multiple problems. Eventually when this bubble explodes and it will explode in a year, the content will remain important. Who generates the content? Where is it being generated from? Everyone’s feasting on stale food, but you also need fresh sustenance.
25.00: “Hindi media has had a seminal role in communalisation. It started in the 1990s. That’s when people were embedded at the desk level, which is where the paper is finally put together from the inputs of poorly paid stringers. The desks in Hindi media have been at the forefront of communalisation: they are the ones who craft the headlines, the language; they are ones who decide which news item will be displayed how.
“In groups which have both English and Hindi publications, the Hindi staff have been much less paid than their English counterparts. The political parties have spotted and exploited this. I am appalled to see political leaders, cabinet ministers who you know can’t string two sentences together, writing edit page pieces in Hindi and English on the same day.
29.02: “The Tabhligi incident came on the heels of Shaheen Bagh protests. By then, they had realised that the minority community could stand together and act stubborn, and that many in the majority community are still willing to help and support them. That helped them target and combine it.
“When this ends, I am hoping for some semblance of sanity and thinking to return to people’s heads. Nobody is thinking at all now. We are all worried about delivery of milk and vegetables, but there is more to life than this. There are better things to do. The infantilisation of the country is complete. On top of it you have the sermons from the top every week.
35.25: “Let’s make Doordarshan and All India Radio a department of the ministry of information and broadcasting as before. They were doing much better as departments of the government of India. That’s when the best serials were made, the best musicians, the best thinkers and the best writers were introduced. When it became a corporation, like every PSU, it became a milch cow. It’s better to ask for euthanasia for Prasar Bharati.
39.56: “Even if they have to pawn their mother’s jewellery, Hindi journalists must immediately get a skill upgradation for themselves, learn about digital media. Skilled hands in Hindi will be in great demand. Those who are reporters must learn to write, they must arm themselves with writing skills and a good, healthy dose of curiosity.
“I would also advise English language journalists to switch to the vernacular language they are comfortable in. The times that are coming the media will belong to the vernacular. Try to be bilingual, trilingual.”