NEW DELHI: A free media needs two things: free air to breathe in and practitioners of the trade of integrity.

We saw during the Emergency how Indira Gandhi suffocated media and how media practitioners readily capitulated, but for notable exceptions.

So what ails Indian media? In most of my professional life, print was king, but we must now distinguish between print and television and between them and the internet.

Many newspaper chains are controlled by corporations who have their own compulsions to make their number with the authorities and are inclined to treat their print business as a commodity determined by rules of trade, rather than give a fair and objective picture of the Indian and world scene. The circulation and advertisement manager are more important than the editor, if they choose to name one.

This is truer of smaller language newspapers in Hindi and other regional languages in a curious twist. The owner becomes the chief editor and his interest mainly is in rubbing shoulders with those in authority to seek favours for their other business enterprises.

Television is in a category of its own, with vast amounts of resources needed to run a channel. Print media corporations have their own interest in owning TV channels to advertise their product. And for corporates, owning a channel is an attractive option as a lever to highlight friendly views and please the authorities on occasion.

Internet is freer but has its own limitations, with Google and others who rule the net extracting their pound of flesh. It is difficult to make a profit out of an internet-only newspaper. Indeed, the best form of newspaper ownership is through non-profit trusts. Alas, only a few such trusts are left in the field.

Indeed, we are in a difficult era, with the Narendra Modi Government influencing most television channels and propagating Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) edicts and a narrow chauvinistic form of nationalism.

Efforts by journalists jointly to bring out a newspaper have not been successful, perhaps because as people journalists are too individualistic. While internet news provides a partial answer, an area we must concentrate on is to stiffen the spine of journalists. If they choose journalism, they must prove equal to their moral responsibilities.

(S.Nihal Singh is former editor, columnist and author)