Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Media Wishlist for India in 2067

As India celebrates its 60th year of independence, I note that newspapers are celebrating that this nation has graduated up from a developing nation to a transforming nation.

Nice semantics but shrewd brainwashing.

It has often been said that journalism changed Gandhi to Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma has himself written:
"My newspapers became for me a training ground in self-restraint and a means for studying human nature in all its shades and variations.

Without the newspapers a movement like Satyagraha could not have been possible."

Modern Indian Media, at least those with reach, likes to present itself as possessing similar noble ideals.

However, contrary to the popular perception, the media is not the savior of our democratic essentials.

That mantle is deserved by our higher courts of justice and no one else.

Here’s how I wish the media to be in 2067:

1. Be a real agent of change
In 2067, the media gives value to the important issues and becomes an agent of change through its proactive investigative reporting.

The current competitive media universe, with its 100+ news channels and district-level paper editions leaves little space for investigative, real reporting, reducing the media companies to opt for frivolous topics for quick gains.

P.Sainath, the 2007 winner of the Prestigious Ramon Magasaysay award for Journalism says in a recent TV interview that while 400 debt-ridden cotton farmers committed suicide in Vidharbha region in Maharashtra state, there were only 6 reporters to cover an area almost as big as Switzerland.

Meanwhile, in the state Capital Mumbai, more than 500 journalists gathered to cover the Lakme India Fashion Week, where many models wore the same cotton for which people were paying for their lives with.

The Media takes pride in the fact that it exposes corruption, but given the gravity of the problem, it is mere tokenism.

Sting operations don’t solve the problem, they get advertisers.

S. Mitra Kalita, writing in MINT, points out that 2007 is also the 60th anniversary of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Some things never change - we had a problem of corruption among the administrators and politicians when we had barely become independent.

A proactive investigative media, probing at all levels of administration, in all corners of this country, is what the people wish for.

2. Jingoism go home
Media outlets are more enthusiastic selling this 60th anniversary than the general public. After all, they got to report the local sports bar in Mumbai celebrating the occasion with 60 different cocktails.

On this holiday, in garrison-like surroundings, while school kids from government schools march in rain or shine for the V.I.P.s of this country, news channels and newspapers are chock full with words that George Orwell might find troubling:

My Great India, No. 1 Nation in the world, the Indianization of West, the bollywoodization of Hollywood, the great India story, East or West, India is the West…

Why are painting ourselves in such nationalist tones?

The Soviet Union died 19 years ago but the legacy lives on in India.
Or maybe, Hitler left a mole here.

This does not do justice with the people of India who are among the most welcoming people in the world. We can live peacefully with anyone, among anyone – Pakistani, Nigerian, British…this is not something you can say about many developed nations in the world.

By 2067, man will have found a planet to move base to and that will hugely change how we label ourselves – nationalities, religions, cults, they all pale into insignificance with that quantum shift of perspective.

Hopefully, by then people will realize that only human rights and more importantly, human freedom is worth celebrating and fighting for.

I did not research how the US media celebrated the country’s 60th year of independence but I bet the Americans were celebrating that they were free people living in a free nation, the emphasis would have been, and still is, on Freedom.

Are we free?

Here is a view held by many in this country: India exists for the powerful, by the powerful, and of the powerful – where we celebrate that by 2067; we will beat the US, ignoring how many lives we trampled upon to achieve that glorious objective.

In a live TV debate on a news channel, they brought out this wizened 90-odd years old person and dutifully asked him what he thought the country had achieved in 90 years. NOTHING, the man replied. That was enough for the anchor to silence him out and focus on what the successful people of the country thought.

There is so space for the common man.

The media wants to be powerful and it has chosen Nationalist Visualizations to harness our imagination.

The Media says we are great because our growth rate is 10%, but get this:

- We still haven’t won an Olympic Gold Medal for a long time.

- Our films don’t win the Oscars.

- Barring Vishwanathan Anand, we have no genuine world beating sportsperson.

- Most of the giant business houses were not born out of innovative thought and are actually conglomerates of basic manufacturing and utilities businesses – 'money begets more money' kind of outfits.

- We have few genuinely locally developed successful, business ideas – Amul, Lijjat papad, Dabbawallas of Mumbai are some exceptions.

- A civilization is defined by its buildings and public structures. Our government offices are ugly; our cities are dusty and filthy; slums line the boundaries of every posh locality.

- Our infrastructure is in shambles and we call the army in to handle all sorts of emergency jobs: rail accidents, floods, riots; if a kid falls down a well, they call the army.

- Naxalites control a major part of central and east India. In some regions, they won't allow the people to hoist the flag (by the way, V.I.P.s hold the license to displaying the national flag)

- Our youth wants to work for American companies (even a call center will do), likes to wear American brands and reads little.

- The politicians want us to hate the west, America in particular.

- While our public education is in shambles, and private education is getting expensive.

- The media wants us to sing “we are the best” because students from our IITs and IIMs get to work in the best companies. Doing what? I am not sure.

- We make a goddess of a person who wins a trashy reality show in the west, something even the westerners do not watch.

This is the height of desperation.

I hope by 2067, the media won’t be as jingoistic as it is now. By 2067, we will all be citizens of the Earth, where the focus is on the individual, not the nation.

The Mahatma said, "Be the change you want to be".



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