From A To X to Zee
NEW DELHI: “Why is it so that we are always forced to give a spin to every news,that portrays Modi”s agenda in a positive light?” asked a young Zee News reporter Vishwa Deepak as he gave in his resignation letter from the channel that has carried out a one sided campaign against Jawaharlal Nehru University since February 9 when the police entered the campus, and the academic institution was brought under sustained attack.
As usually such servility in the media---despite the dangers inherent in the campaign that the big 2 plus 1 of Indian Tv have currently launched---can be traced to power, money and usually both. The flouting of journalistic ethics has become a norm, with television abdicating responsibility in search for ratings, patronage and of course advertisements.
The term of two MPs nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President, incidentally, is over. Editor H.K.Dua is one of the two, the other being former chairperson of Hindustan Levers Ashok Sekhar Ganguly. In fairly recent practice, governments have been recommending senior journalists to the President in the nominated category, with Kuldip Nayar preceding Dua in the Upper House earlier.
As a result senior journalists close to the current government are vying for the nomination to the Rajya Sabha now. There is a grapevine list of wishful aspirants, but there is a shortlist of names as well that includes, rather prominently, the name of Subhash Chandra, the owner founder of Zee News. He may or may not qualify, but he is giving heavy competition to some of the other scribes known to have been close to the BJP/RSS for a long time now. Not so long ago, the Rajya Sabha aspirants faces had drooped as Chandra’s book ‘The Z factor’ was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence. Rich compliments were paid to the Z News founder, by the PM and the select audience that of course, included other media honchos.
Chandra’s profile describes him as a man of many interests apart from Zee TV that he launched as a pioneer in 1992. “Other interests include packaging, theme parks, lotteries and cinema multiplexes. He started the failed Indian Cricket League,...” and so on and so forth. In November 2005 he started the DNA newspaper, at that time with the Dainik Bhaskar group but in 2009 he took over the management and since then the newspaper has a fairly confirmed editorial line, more visible these days since the JNU controversy.
Given his proximity to power Chandra is seen to be at the top of the list for a Rajya Sabha nomination. He had faced considerable problems for a short period during in his career, with several CEO’s changed with rapid speed, until finally he was able to recover lost fortunes over the past few years, and turn Zee news around.
During the JNU controversy, the 2 plus 1 channel launched a campaign war with anchors shouting down students and others who tried to point out that the right to dissent was integral to Indian nationalism. Some anchors insisted that they were taxpayers and hence had a right to determine what happened inside JNU, a central University, insisting that it was ‘anti national’ and crossing all ethical limits of journalism to try a University, its students, its faculty on television and then hang them with applause from other panelists carefully selected to support the particular channels point of view.
The only effective counter from the same HIndi TV news side of the fence has come from Ravish, NDTV Hindi anchor who has become a virtual star as he seeks to restore the tenets of journalism, and continues despite the pressure, to take a position that is independent and ethical. As he wrote, “To stroke their ideologies, TV anchors have turned debates into firestorms - burning down all semblance of reason and basking in the drama. Some on such shows cower in fear while others blare on about anything and everything. We have made mistakes before and questions have been raised but we haven't mended our ways.”
Vishwa Deepak in his resignation letter to Zee News wrote, "Dear Zee News, after 1 year four months and four days, the time has come that I should part ways with you. I should have taken this decision earlier, but if I don't do it now, I won't be able to forgive myself." It again took a working journalist, not at the top of the hierarchy, to challenge the policy from within and walk out on a matter of conscience. It is not an easy decision as unemployment stares a scribe in the face but Deepak questioning the “blind nationalism” wrote, ““Modi is the prime minister of our country, mine too. But as a journalist I can’t digest so much of Modi bhakti, My conscience is rebelling against me, its seems as if i’ve fallen ill now.”
A video doctored to further the BJP/RSS propaganda against JNU was first exposed as such by India Today magazine, and taken forward by its news channel with forensic experts who clearly pointed to this fact. This after the video had been run as the mainstay of the campaign---sorry should that read coverage?---the TV anchors and Channels from A to X to Zee to gain mileage from both viewers and the government. A relatively new channel News X has perhaps the most fascinating ownership trajectory of all. This was reported in The CItizen several weeks ago http://www.thecitizen.in/index Sunday Guardian is the print newspaper owned by the group now. And one of its anchors ---a former protege of Times Now’s Arnab Goswami---has learnt his job well. Though remains a distant competitor for the national space still.
One of the biggest media houses in India has been a forerunner in changing the media discourse from independence to status quo, pro-establishment regardless of the government of the day. It was the first for instance, to move power from the editorial rooms to the management floor, where the last was authorised to pull up the journalists for editorial content. This led to several resignations from senior journalists, with a great deal written about the turn around where the editor at the time did not protest, but actually worked with the owners to ensure the transition. And a summon from the management floor to the working journalist often meant the end of the job. Employment was replaced by contract labour with the appointment letter stipulating a limited period---for editors as well--- to keep the scribe on tenterhooks, and looking for extensions from one period to another. The security of employment was replaced with time bound contract forms, that also served to keep the employees under control as they worried about the extension and their jobs more than ethics and independence.
Secondly, the editor was dispensed with as the media house led the way to establishing the control of the financier and owner over the editorial policy and content. Those who were brought in to basically put the content together, had and have no power to determine policy, that is left to those who control the finances to determine. Paid news is a reality.
Third, given its extent and reach the media house insisted on offering a heavily subsidised newspaper giving enormous amounts of newsprint to the reader, for the lowest price. This was initially resisted by the smaller newspapers through a conglomerate body, as these had a fraction of the advertisement reach of the big media, and could depend only on the subscription for survival. Eventually, the big media had its way and this has broken the back of the smaller papers that find it impossible to compete. The cost of the newspaper does not even cover a fraction of the newsprint so clearly the revenue is from the outside, with the organisation running on advertisements that in turn are linked to ratings and readership, and all fall under the overarching umbrella of government patronage.
Media has become a huge business, replacing now even the major business interests of the groups controlling and financing these. So when TV news anchors scream and air fabricated videos as part of the campaign against those who do not accept the equation of a government with the Indian state, or shout down the students today, they can do the opposite tomorrow with equal passion, if the policy of the media house so changes. This has happened before and will happen again, with the establishment media taking no time to embrace the new ruling party if it serves its corporate interests of course.
In the process has been born an embedded media, that remains on the side of the government regardless of the party in power. Of course, with some political parties the support extended is far more passionate that with others but the media house barons have ensured that the edition of the newspaper from one city, is different in its approach to the same news than the edition of the same newspaper from another state capital with a different party in power. There are any number of instances of this with the biggest newspapers perfecting the art.
The damage through this irresponsible, unaccountable journalism is tremendous. As can be seen in the forces that have been emboldened in the country today because of this media support. Young students are terrified for their lives as heavyweight anchors call for action against them; young girls, including sisters of one of the students who believed that he was free to speak until now are receiving rape threats; students are being evicted from their accommodation near JNU as the media barons direct their flunkies to increase the decibels and brand all who do not accept the equation of the government with the Indian state as “criminals.”