By Tathagata Satpathy, ex-MP

Another great exhortation from Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi is that the Indian media should go “global” at a time when the nation enjoys a “very strong presence” at different international fora. True, the Indian media has failed to spread out beyond the nation’s boundaries, both print and visual, other than to areas abroad where there is an Indian presence. 

While many of us have an exalted notion of the greatness of India and there are those who boast of India aiming to achieve a Super Power status in the near future, the reality on the ground is different. In the Asian region itself, India yielded ground not only to China but in the vision of most other countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia or even Cambodia, it has no relevance. It is pointless to mention neighbouring countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan or Bangladesh where a near-total mistrust and dislike for India is all-pervading.

In the Indian media field, a particular national newspaper boasts of being the largest-circulated English daily in the world and this has more to do with the large spread of the English-educated population within a nation of 1.50 billion people than its popularity as a dependable media. None other than Indians take a fancy to it outside this country.   

The history of Indian media has been murky. Mostly owned by Industry, mining or political interests, the shadow of slanted news has been ever-persistent. It has come to such a pass in the present times that a single major business house virtually owns the bulk of the national-level television channels. The Emergency in the mid-Seventies was a blot on free India because the government interfered with the media, thereby damaging its reputation. However, the media overcame that and saw a huge spurt in growth because citizens wanted unbiased reporting.

Over time, media owners preferred to take stands that would help them and their friends in their business interests. After the Emergency, the next big jolt to the Indian media has come now. The present Union as well as most state governments are demonstrating extreme intolerance towards free and fair reporting which affects the credibility of the national media. This intolerance has noticeably increased after Modi coming to power. For example, the whole world would be interested to know what is happening in Kashmir. The near complete blockage of verifiable news from that region demonstrates that the Indian media is not free. 

Both national and regional media are yet to work out economic models of survival which would be independent of state or national government ads or doles. The financial distress faced by Indian media in recent times has helped an extremely small set of business interests buy up all the ailing media houses. The economic threat meted out to Press Trust of India by the Union government recently over carrying an interview of the Chinese Ambassador to India was a clear indication of state censorship. When such acts get publicised, the world does not trust media reports emanating from a country that does not have genuine freedom. 

Quality is what makes a product popular, which can only be measured by editorial neutrality, accuracy and corroboration. When these are absent, media loses its shine. The print medium was overtaken by the visual media, TV channels, by the turn of this century. Now, even these TV channels are under threat from digital media available on handheld phones. India has a lot of print, television and digital channels but none qualify at a global sphere. While there might be many reasons for the different media failing to attain global recognition, a major reason would be the non-acceptance of Indian social mores throughout the world. We are no more considered as harbingers of change. Because of negative coverage by Indian media, even the Nepalese citizens stopped watching Indian TV after their earthquake of 25 April 2015. This showed how our reporters need to mature to global levels.

Contrast this with the Al Jazeera English and Arabic channels beamed from Qatar, the tiny Gulf state, which reach large viewership across continents; and they are not necessarily Moslem viewers alone. Quality stands out. Question could arise as to how India with its huge size could not come up with a global TV network. The answer may not be too difficult to fathom. Almost all Indian TV channels have business or political interests driving them. Thus excellence in journalism has never been a matter of priority for the Indian owners.

India’s Doordarshan seemed a poverty stricken channel. In the year 1990, Satellite Television Asia Region (STAR) and later CNN came in and started beaming news and other programmes, some related to American propaganda about the Gulf War, in a high-voltage manner and changed the way Indians were treated to visual programmes and news. The BBC maintains its old aura, and reaches Indian homes too. Sky TV, Fox TV and a host of other television channels revolutionized the way the world watched TV in later years. The wars in the Middle East, like the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the play of Patriot and Iraqi Scud missiles over the skies, reached homes around the world live, adding to the popularity and reach of Western TV channels.

By contrast, what the Indian TV News channels specialize in is panel discussions in which the host makes a hero out of himself, with a bunch of mostly sad, faceless, meek participants make a laughing stock out of themselves. Otherwise, it is Rhea Chakraborty dominating the screen in what is being termed a ‘media trial’. Reaching out to the wider world for the Indian media is easier said than done. 

The Prime Minister, it seems, needs very many such activities to throw up regularly to entice people and make them discuss something new each day. That, probably he thinks, will keep the citizens’ focus away from real life problems facing every Indian today; all due to massive governance mismanagement. 

The last one, as far as one can remember, was about the possibility of making India the toy manufacturing hub of the world; a field in India has no name and China and Japan lead the way. These are just pointless exhortations that do not sound true anymore. 


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