People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 01

January 06, 2013






Worthless Journalism Must be Discredited


THE present feel-good, advertisement-dictated worthless journalism that does not see the basic reality of our country can surely be discredited by a progressive and sensitive journalism that focuses on agenda building for changing the society, hoped N Ram, former editor-in-chief The Hindu in Hyderabad on December 16, 2012. He dedicated this hope to Comrade P Sundarayya, who had great vision in building such progressive publications of the Communist Party.


N Ram was the main speaker at the P Sundarayya centenary seminar on Media, Culture and People organised by Sundarayya Vignana Kendram. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member B V Raghavulu presided over the seminar.


Ram said that this discrediting of worthless journalism is the need of the hour for Indian journalism today. The Indian journalism scenario cries out for an independent and hard look into the ethics of news media. There is a need for accountability and reforms in the system to put an end to rogue practices such as paid news, advertisement sharing contracts for content etc., said Ram.


He however opposed proposals for licensing powers to Media Council or Press Council. Instead the performance of media has to be independently monitored by people outside the profession who command respect in their fields and it must not be politicians, he said. Ram called for greater discussion on what kind of regulatory measures must be adopted for achieving this.


Ram underlined that free speech is under serious threat in India today and spoke about increasing draconian measures being put in place to curb freedom of expression. He called for a conscious struggle to overcome these curbs. He referred to the recent episode of arrest of two young girls who expressed their opinion about Bal Thackeray on Facebook. He said these laws are not in tune with our times. The practice of goondas coming on to the streets and exercising their right to be offended has become a grave danger for democracy, he felt and cited the attacks on the works of M F Hussain and Salman Rushdie in this context.


Ram spoke about two media worlds existing -- one in developed world where it is facing severe challenges from internet platforms and is under decline; another in developing countries like India, China, South Africa and Latin America where there are still possibilities for growth of media, both in terms of circulation and revenues. In the developed world, the digital revolution has adversely affected the prospects of both the print and electronic media so much so that the media industry is no longer in control of its future. The global financial crisis of 2008 adversely affected the revenues of news establishments in the developed world and many went into bankruptcy. Even the famed New York Times could survive only after it was bailed out by a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Although the situation has improved slightly the perception about crisis in traditional media industry still persists, felt Ram.


Contrasting this with the situation in our country, Ram highlighted the phenomenal growth in the prospects of vernacular media, particularly in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu and said that we are still in growth mode. Growing levels of literacy, use of latest technology in production and increased purchasing power have contributed to this growth.  Another important factor for this growth was what noted political scientist Robin Jeffrey called the Crimean war factor, which is the factor of political excitement. He cited how the circulation of newspapers increased in Kerala during radicalisation of politics under Left parties or how the circulation increased in North India during the regressive Ram Janmabhoomi movement.


Underlining that there is still space in India for growth, particularly of regional newspapers and broadcast media, Ram however warned that developed world print media situation can occur in our country also in the coming period. He felt that many are in a denial mode about the proximity of the challenge from digital format in our country. He cited some studies that predicted that by 2040, Indian print industry would meet the same fate as that of American industry but felt that it could occur much earlier than that. The digital technologies are transforming the media rapidly across the world but the Indian media industry is reluctant to acknowledge this fact. He faulted NASSCOM for refusing to carry out a survey that would show the actual number of IT users in the country. Ram said that the IT infrastructure as compared to China is far less developed in our country. But once the infrastructure, particularly of broadband services, develops the whole game would change for media. The terms of trade are remorselessly shifting in favour of web, mobile and digital platforms across the world, he said.


However, Ram felt there is here a digital age paradox in the sense that on one hand there is a good and healthy shift from traditional media to newer digital platforms and on the other hand these new platforms are not developing as viable business models due to lack of paying consumers and advertisers. He felt the changing habits of new generation as partly responsible for such a situation. They are no longer passive consumers of whatever is dished out through sitcoms and dull content newspapers. They seek out quality content and share them with friends.


Ram concluded by dealing with three essential functions of media that will help in analysing how it is functioning. The first is the credible information function, which is innately recognised by the viewers/readers despite all protestations of being neutral or apolitical. The second one is the critical, analytical, investigative function which plays a valuable role. The third is the entertainment function or pass time function, which need not necessarily be escapist entertainment. He also spoke of various derivatives of these central functions of media.


B V Raghavulu in his brief presidential address said the media role has changed a lot in our country when compared to the positive role it played during freedom struggle. If the desire for ushering in positive change in society drove the media then, today it is primarily driven by profits.