First, the Television and Print Media are huge investments with risky returns.
There is no getting away from it. Hence it is their nature to spice up every thing as a ‘news’ that is palatable to common man and serve only that. In this process what media gets to reflect in the society is what they can spice up. The rest are let off as those with no news value.
This media phenomena exists all over the world and it is caused by people like us who look for entertainment content in everything from politics to news.
Hence media, instead of being the mirror that needs to reflect the society, ends up being a concave and convex lens that amplifies certain things and minimizes others.
Unless ‘we the people’ change, this won’t change. And I don’t see it changing in near future.
Second, the Indian Big Business has slowly muzzled its way into media.
Mukesh Ambani’s 3600 cr investment into Network 18 which gives indirect control of CNN-IBN would be impacting its coverage, now and in future.
RIL which wanted to hike the price of gas to international levels though its production costs did not go up and was drilling gas in our own KG river basin (and which some say reduced the output to put pressure), which did not even agree to CAG audits and which has the clout to shunt ministers out, might see this acquisition as an arm of its strategy to further its business interests. There is nothing that can prevent that use/misuse.
The Aditya Birla group which acquired 27.5% stake in Living Media group which controls India Today, Aaj Tak, Headlines Today etc is another example. That Birla’s invested 350 crore into this group that has debts in a sector that is highly competitive where many big players are actually making heavy losses clearly demonstrates that these investments are beyond ‘ROI’ in traditional sense.
Virtually most (and all if we take into account indirect influences) television channel and magazine in India are being controlled by big business houses or political parties (that are of the size of big business houses). There are few left out of this impact given the huge investments that are needed to sustain the media businesses.But then the capital intensiveness is the nature of the technologies involved in media today be it print or television. That is one reason why we see the complete english media on the side of FDI in retail without giving a chance to people who are opposed to FDI to come and share their thoughts and have a good spectrum of views.
In the age of Crony Capitalism and Corruption eating up the energy of people, this matrix is not great, but is inevitable. And this leads to more and more Crony capitalism as seen in India.
Emergence and further evolution of social media can address this situation. Social media has to evolve to become more reliable. New methods of reaching out to end consumers (say on mobile phones through SMS, internet based audio and radio channels) have to evolve to ensure people are more connected with multiple views.
In India specifically with a culture that embeds Unity in Diversity, skepticism balanced with positive actions, media cannot hold sway over people. Hence the effect of Big Business on media is going to be temporary, as long as people are discerning and intelligent, which Indian people are.
Third, the ever changing role of Television and Print editors
During the Anna Hazare agitation that happened in Mumbai, where crowds just measured upto few thousands, Sagarika Ghose /Rajdeep Sardesai declared on Prime time TV that ‘those who lived by the Media, die by it”. Sagarika claimed Anna Hazare was their creation and when they did not cover Anna Hazare’s agitation, it flopped.
It was an insult to Anna Hazare who spent his entire life time serving his village unlike these make-up pundits on TV. If Sagarika Ghose or Rajdeep Sardesai had sat on a fast, none would have come. Since it was Anna who sat on fast, people came. That is the difference news channels refused to see.
By broadcasting what happened in Jantar mantar, the TV cameras spread the info across length and breadth of the country. They took this act of theirs as ‘Creating’ Anna and his movement. They started thinking they were ‘Creators’. In reality they were just mirrors or at best lenses. Never they can become creators.
The Radia tapes which showed how Burkha Dutt abused her position in NDTV to act as a go-between between powerful political players is another example. It showed that politicians have started to rely on how the media projects them and have lost touch with people. It also showed the ascension of TV anchors into more political, background and powerful roles. It showed Barkha Dutt now morphed to be a ‘Creator’ of new political roles and positions.
Not to talk of Arnab Goswami in Times Now. His debates are the most ingenuous, titled with conclusions (that he wants to see)!!!
Arnab would bring 10 people in a debate out of which 8 are personalities who have little knowledge (or even interest) of the issue and the remaining two are lawyers from Congress and BJP. With limited time and multiple views, spiced up by tutu-meme of Congress and BJP, only the title of the debate stands out (which anyway is the conclusion). Arnab is the lawyer and the judge of this everyday tamasha. It is true Arnab has used this technique to build up support to IAC, which many people (including me) support. But it does not mean Arnab is the ’creator’. In fact today if there is anything disturbing against IAC, it is the suspicion of many people that it is bankrolled by the support of media-men like Arnab, which may then extend back into those who invested in his channel.
In reality, TV and Print media editors can amplify and project a particular perception. They can never create a perception or movement or change that is sustainable. Sustaining movements and change are only possible by people oriented leaders who inspire.
By stressing on a particular fact media can reinforce the importance of that fact (as it did against corruption) and amplify its effect. But media can never substitute a fact, though they can hide and obscure it temporarily.
The TV editors of news channels need to grow up from their childish perceptions.
These three aspects causes the media to be never a real mirror in the current times, atleast in India.But due to the same reasons the power of media is going to be limited in its people impact.
Like a supporting piece of wood that helps a rose-plant to grow faster, media can help grow support for some issues faster. As the wood can never claim to have originated the rose-plant or be its root, media can never claim to be the creator or root of a movement.
Media is the supporting piece of wood that is relegated to background once the goal is achieved; the real roots of movements and change being people oriented leaders. As media business matures more in India, business leaders, TV editors and political class hopefully would realize it.