All through history, the rise of the right wing has seen a rage against intellectuals in public life. In India where politics sets the pace and everything else follows in its wake, this is especially evident in the news media.
Rare is the newspaper or news magazine today which values experience and expertise of the scholarly kind beyond the convenient op-ed piece or interview. It is of course completely absent on television, more or less.
The result of this anti-intellectualism is a barrenness of thought in the newsroom as it wades through journalism’s choppy waters.
The lockdown prompted by the COVID pandemic which has resulted in a sea change in the news consumption habits of Indians is one of the many unexamined areas of intellectual exploration.
We do not know if this change will last or whether things will return to status quo ante. But there is little doubt that receiving news, views and juice through the mobile phone is here to stay.
What impact will this have on individuals, society and democracy in the long run?
In this episode of J-POD, a podcast on journalists and journalism, the philosopher Sundar Sarukkai discusses what the pandemic has done to news production and consumption—and where it could land India.
Prof Sarukkai was, till 2019, a professor of philosophy at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore. Previously, he was the founder-director of the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities.
Working primarily in the philosophy of natural and social sciences, Prof Sarukkai has authored four books of his own and two in partnership with Prof Gopal Guru, now the editor of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW).
3.00: “The newspaper is like a train companion in life’s shared journey…. Younger citizens may be reading fewer newspapers but on the other hand they are consuming news much more.
21.20: “The newspaper is a diverse, multiple space, which is “produced” in different ways. The localisation of news has localised our vision.
25.06: “The notion of control is much less visible in newspapers. It tells you, “I am not the master of the world”. Social media creates this fake perception that I have everything at my fingertips.
29.06: “By not giving the reader the choice, by not giving just what the reader likes or like to hear, the world-view offered by a physical newspaper challenges the reader’s notion of the world far more than news consumption through the screen.
32.15: “The larger worldview offered by a newspaper prepares you to live in a diverse, contentious society. By allowing readers to pick and choose what they will consume, social media has turned content creators into daily wage earners selling their wares at the marketplace.
41.10: “Is it the function of media to be able to resist, or respond to, or critique things like religion? Should media be able to find the voice to be critical insiders of religion, politics?
43.57: “Media training does not inculcate enough critical thinking in journalism students. They are are not taught social sciences and humanities as they should be.
46.51: “Fake news and the problems that the mainstream media faces from social media is not really to do with superstition, etc. It is being produced, and consumed and created by extremely rational individuals with very great technical expertise.
48.42: “We have such flawed newspapers. We have no good dance reviewers, no good film reviews. No theatre page. Newspapers have completely given up on their larger aspect of education. They have done a very unthinking job.
53.30: “Letters to the editors are the heart of a newspaper. It is the opening that connects the media and the consumer, to keep a check and balance. Somewhere the readers have a right over the paper, however nominal that may be, not because of the price you pay to buy but because of the nature of news.
58.23: “Capitalism in the way we understand it thrives because it postpones our memory of fear. The constant erasure of fear is the function of modern consumerist society. With #COVID, fear has come back to haunt society, very deeply. The media has a very important role to play in helping us with ways of coping with vulnerability and fear.
61.30: “In the name of liberating people from the fear of #COVID, governments have been able to do things they otherwise couldn’t. The news media is a willing tool in that process with its images and words. Fear suits the media because it is a story; it is entertainment. It gives them great purchase over people. Every media would like to be Doordarshan, with great penetration and great power over the people.”