Media’s role in educating people

— Madabhushanam Sridhar Acharyulu

Media is a bridge between one person and another, the people and the government and the individual and institution. Being part and parcel of the dynamic society, media organizations are not exempt from being different from the rest of the social character. Media, now, is a communication industry and remained no more a profession. The sacred duty of media of informing the people in general has been replaced by selling ‘saleable’ information to ‘information-starved’ people. While information became a commodity, informing is considered the service for a price. The cost of information is not cost of newspaper or cable fee paid every month. The valuation of information including news and views is unfortunately, based on demand and supply mechanism. Most of the media persons are at present taking money without tariff cards at fixed rates. Most of the transactions, as a routine, are not accounted for. The media before and after Independence and at present is totally different. From Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru at national level to every freedom fighter at gross root level was communicating with people, wrote articles for the emancipation of humanity and to secure the self-rule. Journalism was a passion, service, profession and also a mission. Those values should not become things of past.

Once certain individual journalists were complained of accepting gift cheques or tasting different brands of alcohol or campaigning in clandestine for payment where giver and taker does not account for it anywhere. The times changed, the media organizations have institutionalized the unaccounted money making process without accounting for it. It is both black money and black mailing money transaction. There are two ways of wrongful income – one, taking money for writing favourable stories and two, collecting huge amount for suppressing inconvenient reports.

Missing moral values and legal duties

With the advent of TV channels in multiple numbers, the illegal and unaccounted money transactions increased and they channelized illegal gratification. An astrologer pays big price for a 25 minute slot to a TV channel, only to encash the astrological predictions and suggestions to wear particular precious stones to remedy the worst situations. There is a competition and ‘open’ secret bidding process which benefit the TV channel. They sell seconds for lakhs of rupees while print media put the column centimeters in street auction. Anyone who can decide in media is ready to sell to anyone who can pay, that is the situation with media today. One Baba who used to suggest remedies for the day-to-day problems online and telecasts the entire program, live or recorded, pays unimaginably huge amounts of cash to around 37 TV channels, till a TV channel’s investigative reporter exposed the unscientific way of his suggestions and the click behind it. The so-called Baba suggests eating ‘gup chup’ for better prospects, or going to a particular temple nearby for health, or consuming liquor of different brand for fulfilling desire etc. This is a bit of corruption unknown to the channel viewers. No one questions the logic or science or sense behind it, but book seats in the auditorium where Baba gives open advice to the client seeking the resolution of his mundane problems, which is telecast as it is. The media joins the exploitation of foolish beliefs of the people.

Intellectual Articles became physical ‘articles’

It is difficult to give the examples of media’s corruption because of its myriad forms and styles. The paid news, (we need to add paid views also) is the biggest phenomenon today which institutionalized collection of unaccounted price for promoting the positive stories with different rates and packages. There will be no official tariff cards as used by Advertisement Executives. It is almost impossible to control this payment, because it is a victimless crime where both giver and taker are happy beneficiaries. There is no possibility of complaint. Even if someone complains, such a transaction will not fall within the frame of any definition of the ‘corruption’ as a crime. We have numerous incidences of corruption but not a semblance of mechanism to curb them. Let us understand whether this kind of media’s money-making-process is legally a crime.

The Law

The Prevention of Corruption Act defines corruption as illegal gratification by public servants only, and does not talk about bribery in private companies. Though the second Administrative Reforms Commission recommended any indulgence in unaccounted money-making or paying to be punished as an offence, there is no legislation so far.
Unethical transactions and clandestine money making practices look like corruption but nowhere are they penalized by any regulation. Generally we confuse ourselves with the concept of corruption by mixing both the crimes and unethical practices into one category and denounce those practices as ‘criminal’. They are neither illegal nor criminal, though not valid or justified.

The Objectivity

Free press was primarily considered as virtue of democracy and the expression right was exercised with utmost objectivity during Indian Independence struggle and after. Once the journalism was considered a noble ‘profession’ distinguished from business and industry. Now anybody can understand that like many other professions, journalism could remain neither noble nor a profession. It is more than a business and less than an industry. Profit maximization and high circulation-figures are the target for newspapers and the number of eyeballs matter for TV channel. ABC decides the financial fate of print media while TRP decides that of electronic media. Similarly hits decide the popularity of a web journal.

The objectivity or bias has its roots in the ownership pattern. If the newspaper is independent it tends to be objective and maintains equal distance from all political parties and thoughts. In the previous generation, there were two controversies around ownership of newspapers one, it should not have politically committed thoughts and second- it should not be associated with any business or industry.

In UK, delinking of the newspapers from industry was in demand for a long time to secure ethical status of journalism as a profession. If an industrialist runs a newspaper, his business interests will dominate the content of the news and views which will affect the natural objectivity of the press. None heard the demand and, nowhere had it happened. In India also the First Press Commission made an elaborate analysis why the industry should not be allowed to start a newspaper and strongly pleaded for delinking. A similar suggestion emerged after the advent of strong private TV media. The Broadcast Regulation Bill 2007 had a provision saying a newspaper cannot have more than 20 per cent shares in electronic media and vice versa. It is stated that because of this provision the bill never became legislation and will never become. The industrial lobby is so strong that cross-media ownership restrictions were shot down along with the bill that contained it.

The owners of media

This is an important question. The ownership of the media is now in the hands of big industrialists and rich politicians. Strangely enough the political parties do not prefer to own media but leaders wanted to have a dedicated media to follow them with camera all through the day.

The caste and political aspirations of that caste form the foundation of the media organization now-a-days. To counter that newspaper, the competitive caste with political support or for political support could launch the media. They own both print and electronic media and will have multiple editions, huge network; they get into other businesses also. With media in hand they command the political executive. Eenadu supported Telugudesham when NT Ramarao established it with a missionary zeal to end the Congress Rule in Andhra Pradesh. Though they claim that they are unbiased, the readers could understand what it is. Saakshi came into existence with similar objectives and purposes of Eenadu for a different social group. They have proclaimed orientations and favourite forces. Self, of course, is the prime factor. When ‘my industry, my caste, my company, my political party or my group in political party, or exclusively my political interests’ are primary, their media cannot be objective, impartial and their views can’t be devoid of orientation. The truth is drowned in the din of self-interests.

The Cinema and Newspaper were used as media through which publishers gain political power. After NTR, present Union Minister Chiranjeevi is the latest example who travelled to power through Cinema and his shares in TV media. The politicians started buying shares in electronic media, sometimes in more than one channel. In Hyderabad several politicians established media empires.

The news they report get oriented to suit the proprietor and political interests. The reader or viewer today cannot understand the truth of the news which is camouflaged by these orientations, bias and self-interest.

The individual journalists who were very close to the political heads and belong to the same caste, became very rich not because of their dedication to journalism but because of their dedication to such politicians. The others, who objectively reported, remained constant applicant for posts in newspapers to live on or go out of it. Some individual journalists built estates as they belonged to the former state.

The individual journalists collect mamools (like haftha vasool) from the Excise, Agriculture, Forests and even Police Departments in some places. They are even threatening the farmers for selling seeds claiming that they cannot sell branded seeds in violation of Intellectual property rights. Unfortunately the Police, and Agriculture Departments threaten the farmers for selling the seeds, while newspaper reporters also claim ‘bribes’ from farmers with a threat that, if not paid, they would report to Police and Agriculture Departments who would again collect bribes. The Fact is that the farmers do have a right to sell seeds they grow, when they are not in a branded form. This right is protected by Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers Rights Act, which innocent farmers do not know, and journalists do not care to know.

Rupert Murdoch’s media scandals in UK led to closure of historic “the News of the World”. The criminals are glorified, victims’ privacy was intruded, police were bribed and knowingly untruthful news stories were planted to sensationalize and kill sensitivities. Everything was for making money. Criminal cases were registered, editors sacked, and journalists were arrested.

Niira Radia’s tapes exposed several important and high profile personalities almost from every walk of life, but traditional media did not discuss it until the magazine media and web media published detailed transcripts of the phone conversations revealing conspiratorial lobbying by big industrialists, corrupt politicians and celebrity editors who sold their pens, views and finally the souls if they had. After being bombarded by the social media network and magazine media, it was inevitable for the traditional media to discuss it in their own space. Media came under attack by media, a good phenomenon indeed. The loss of credibility is equivalent to death. Law cannot give death penalty to corrupt media. But the readers, viewers and blog journalists or content developing users can bring down the empires of corrupt media and put them to critical appraisal. That is the contribution of Information Technology to the freedom of expression.

About the Author
Madabhushanam Sridhar Acharyulu is an Author of 30 books on Law & Journalism both in English and Telugu languages.He is the Central Information Commissioner in New Delhi. He was Professor and Head, Center for Media, Law and Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

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