Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Press as a Perfectly Loathsome Pimp

| 21 Comments

People deserve the government they get. That’s generally true, but in the particular case where the government is democratically elected, as H L Mencken observed, “the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” But why just restrict just deserts to governments alone — the easy extension is the press. People deserve the press they get, and exhibit number 1 is the Indian press. The press and the government go hand in hand. That’s true regardless of whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship. The much vaunted Indian free press is not really free. It is not free the sense of “free beer”, it is not free in the sense of “open source” and it is not free in the sense of “not ruled over or dictated to.” Bad government or bad press: which came first?

It is hard to figure out the direction of causation though the correlation is pretty evident.

There has to be a way out of this but first let us address the obvious objection to my claim that the Indian press is not free. Newspapers get their support from advertisers and the government is a major player there. Newspapers cannot afford to alienate the government and therefore the reporters they employ are those that are willing to bow and scrape in front of the powerful. In a country like India, the government is the most powerful institution.

Just as an aside, note that the more powerful the government, the more corrupt it is likely to be. Government power is exercised by people who are not immune to any of the usual human failings of greed and the lust for power. If being in the government affords people the chance to make enormous personal gains, then the most greedy and the most corrupt would seek to be in government. The competition for government position would be intense among the most corrupt and the least principled, and this will drive out the people who are competent and principled. It is a downward spiral because the crooks who do make it to positions of power, will seek to enlarge that power by enlarging the government, thus increasing the scope for increased corruption, which will attract even more crooked people . . . till you have what you see in India, a kakistocracy — government by the least principled and the most corrupt.

Always pay attention to trends. In the 1950s and ’60s, the government officials (bureaucrats and politicians) were not absolutely honest but nowhere so desperately dishonest as they are now. The prime minister was not a paragon of virtue but in terms of character, he was nowhere close to the sheer dishonestly of the present man (I use the word “man” very loosely.) The press then was not as compromised as it is today. This is to be expected because even though India is still a shockingly poor country, the economy has grown several times in size and therefore the chances and size of the looting from the public has also increased. This implies that the public has to be bamboozled into believing half-truths and even outright lies. That’s where the press steps in. It serves the government by giving it cover.

By press, I mean the newspapers and TV. Radio is not included because radio is prohibited from doing anything other than play inane shit. It is already owned by the government and therefore they don’t have to be bought by the government.

Small newspapers, like The Pioneer, are independent. Which is why they are small. The Times of India is large — because it panders to the government and to the gullible public.

There’s a glimmer of hope in this bleak landscape: the internet. Of course, that immediately means that the government will do everything it can to throttle it. The more people have access to the internet, the more the government will suppress it. Freedom of speech in India. You must be kidding me!

Seema Mustafa writes, in “Blundering UPA Government, Meandering Congress” –

Unfortunately the media has become so pliant and servile that Chidambaram gets away with speech that would have created a storm of protest and walkouts by journalists even till 15 years ago.

Pliant and servile. Understandably so since the government has very large sticks to beat it with and large stocks of carrots to feed it. Carrots and sticks of course are something that motivate domesticated beasts of burden, but no moral judgement should be passed on them since their response is genetically programmed by evolution. In the case of the media, however, their servility is immoral and loathsome.

The journalist Micheal Kelly (who tragically died while reporting from Iraq) wrote a piece for his fraternity to do some introspection on way back in 1999, “The Know-Nothing Media.” He addressed it to “Fellow hacks, scribblers, on-air talent, talking heads and pundits” —

. . . may we speak about a delicate subject? To wit: Why does everyone loathe us so? Because, my little preciouses, we are so loathable.

Speaking on behalf of the media, he claimed (1) We are so relentlessly mindless, (2) We are so blatantly unfair, and (3) We are such awful frauds.

Now if relentlessly mindless, blatantly unfair, and awful frauds is not a fitting description of Barkha, Rajdeep, Shekhar and the rest of the sorry bunch, I don’t know what is.

You may ask what prompted me to write about this when I have a lot of pressing matters. It’s this report, “75,000 acres acquired for mega city south of Ahmedabad” in MSN news. It one of the biggest urban development projects in the world, as the report notes.

At a time when farmers are agitating against land acquisition in different states,75,000 acres have been acquired at Dholera, 110 km south of Ahmedabad for one of the biggest urban development projects in the world.

That’s incredible, isn’t it. But wait, there’s another incredible thing. This project is the brain-child of Shri Narendrabhai Modi, the CM of Gujarat. That’s the incredible thing: there’s not a mention of Shri Modi. It is as if the project has nothing to do with Narendrabhai’s leadership and vision.

If there is any violence in any part of India — or even abroad — the reports on them will likely have Modi’s name dragged into it somehow, just to please the Congress Queen Mother and the Prized Idiot Prince Charming. But when it comes to anything great going on in Gujarat, you would think that Modi lives on Mars.

The Indian press is, broadly speaking, a perfectly loathsome pimp, and continues to be in business because the johns — mostly the educated middle-class urbanites — are counted in the tens of millions.

  • Shiv

    Thank you. There are days when I am gasping for breath, horrified by what is happening to India, and articles like these- because they tell me that other human beings feel the same- are a solace.

  • ila

    SIR NOT JUST ADVERTISING. Paper Press is controlled in a more insidious way -thru the control of newsprint.

  • Malavika

    Actually, the govt advt are main stay of the news papers. Newspapers lions share of income comes from tender and employment advts. Also fairly regularly govt advertizes its achievements in full page ads.

    Without these these govt incentives newspapers will be bankrupt.

  • Milind Patwardhan

    I am so happy that there are peple who can penetrate the facade put on by phony intellectuals like those of NDTV. I am more disappointed by the herd mentality of middleclass urbanites who can’t read between the lines and call their bluff.

    Congratulations ! Please keep up the good work of articulating the feelings of people like us.

  • Deepak Singh

    I am happy that I am not alone in my criticism of English media. Here’s the article I wrote few days back – http://www.stateofthemarket.net/blog/?p=22714

  • Manoj Agarwal

    Very nice article. However, how would we all on this side of fence feel when this “prized *****” prince charming will defeat us in next general election? Who would be the bigger one in the end? Hence, it’s imperative that apart from feeling victimized, we also do something concrete and positive.

  • Rationalist

    Speech on media propaganda by Glenn Greenwald


    I want to note one example, from today, that vividly illustrates many of the themes I discussed in that speech. It is found in the following passage from this Reuters article on Obama’s escalation of the covert war in Yemen and his targeting of U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki for assassination:

    A U.S. official confirmed to Reuters that a U.S. strike last Friday killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel al Qaeda operative, which followed last month’s attempted strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Whether Awlaki has any operational role in Al Qaeda at all is a matter of intense controversy. The U.S. Government has repeatedly asserted that he does, but has presented no verifiable evidence to support that accusation. But what is not in dispute is the notion that Awlaki is “the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” He unquestionably is not, and never has been, as multiple Yemen experts have repeatedly noted. The Reuters claim is factually and entirely false.

  • Loknath

    Hi Atanu,

    You should have made the title a bit more clear.

    The INDIAN press as a perfectly loathsome pimp

  • Ram

    @Deepak Singh
    Definitely you are not alone in criticising MLM. There is a lot of them. One such is this person. He critically and objectively analyses media. You may kindly visit this link. http://www.mediacrooks.com/ Moreover, it is updated very frequently.

  • Aaren

    I love how she is The Congress Queen Mother, but he is Shri Narendrabhai Modi. Your scrupulous desire to be completely impartial is explicit.

  • RC

    I wonder why none of the faux reporters on NDTV and other Congress mouthpieces have reported about the BAN ON NEWS on radio.

    Why none of these “journalists” have reported that there is still a BAN ON NEWS on RADIO. It is a westerner again that has to come to India and report that there is a BAN ON NEWS on RADIO. There isnt even a peep from the regular media on this!!!

  • Oldtimer

    I remember reading that Michael Kelly column a long time ago. Sad to know that he died in the Iraq war.

  • Krish

    I don’t understand. The project seems to be part of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation(DMICDC) which seems to be a central government initiative. Also, such plans have been drawn for several other states, viz. Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. So, I don’t see Narendra Modi’s hand in this.

    I’m a big admirer of Modi, but to me it is not transparent as to why this particular project is Modi’s vision. Are you pointing out that the acquisition of the land was Modi’s achievement which the PTI press release does not seem to have mentioned?

  • TiredProf

    “Bhai mat bolna! Bhai mat bolna!” — Tandya, in Loha (1997).

  • Jai71

    Since I do not have a blog of my own… may i pl rant here?

    Today, when all these farcical events have happened over the past few weeks, the entire main stream English media (MSEM), print & electronic, seems to be unanimous in saying:
    1. Democracy cannot be hijacked by extra constitutional bodies (like NGOs)

    2. All this has happened because the Opposition did not discharge its duties of raising these issues in the first place. Creating a vacuum which helped create the likes of Anna & Ramdev

    3. This is a communal agitation… backed by the RSS & BJP

    4. The government (UPA2) had no other option

    Since the eviction of Ramdev from RLG, most of the BJP / Opposition spokespersons are at pains to point out to the audience at all debates that they took up these issues in a big way since 2009.
    Remember the promise of MMS to initiate action on Black money in foreign tax havens within 100 days – this was in reaction to Advani raising the issue in 2009.

    The same was with the 2G scam – the opposition cried hoarse, but there was nobody willing to carry their viewpoints to the public.

    The 4th pillar of democracy appeared very clear that such problematic (to the UPA) issues should not be highlighted? I am not sure if the story was the same in all the regional press, but surely the direction the MSEM was taking was very clear.

    What is it that makes the MSEM feel obliged to carry on shielding the Congress / UPA?

    When all these debates were happening, the MSEM commentators willfully let the debates degenerate into terms that the Congress wanted. On Corruption the refrain was that the BJP is not doing anything about Yeddy, whereas the Congress was very proactive in acting against Tharoor / Chavan / Raja. This is a fine line for the Congress spokesperson to take, but not for the MSEM commentators!

    Yeddy is being pilloried by the New Delhi based press for the past 2 years… but he continues to win elections. Does the thought that “are we missing something” ever occur to these people? (& don’t give me the “but Hitler was also popular” argument again). And ofcourse the fact that some legal process is underway in that state is completely ignored.

    Even today when the Congress is trying to portray Ramdev as a communal person – and that he is being backed by the RSS, nobody has ever dared ask a Congress spokesperson what is wrong if RSS is supporting an agitation against corruption? The organization is neither banned nor convicted by the Courts of Law (which operate under the Indian Constitution). How does this make the issue of corruption any less important?

    Take the case of the Congress (& media) pillorying the opposition for the washout of a parliament session to demand a JPC. Note the Congress flip-flops since then – Why JPC when we already have a very able PAC. When the PAC report fiasco was happening, the Congress completely changed its tune. These are dangerous lies by a government – nobody should be ever allowed to get away with this. But again the media comes to the rescue of Congress / UPA.

    The media takes its duty of carrying the Congress viewpoint to its audience very very seriously. Seriously enough that they are willing to suppress the oppositions views!

    If one does a very objective review (not necessarily a very detailed one) of the happenings of the past 2-3 years it is very clear that it is the Media which is guilty of creating a vacuum – and encouraging the likes of Anna / Baba.

    Any right thinking objective person in India (especially of the apolitical variety) would seriously doubt the credibility of the Indian media. Perhaps this is another call for the media to do some introspection.

    The above may sound highly one sided – but then that is what it is about, the seemingly one sided media.

    Many people have argued that the MSEM is not really important electorally – and the opinions / views they pedal are of no consequence in real elections. But I am almost completely convinced that the powers that be in the Congress are only watching the MSEM. My belief comes from the following:
    1. Notice the sacking of Tharoor, Vilasrao Deshmukh (after taking movie people to Taj post 26/11), Ashok Chavan, etc. – these all happened only when the MSEM showed an outrage. Am not sure if the regional press covered these issues, but Congress surely would not have lost any votes if Tharoor was seen at the IPL. The common man did not really care if Deshmukh took some friends to a joy ride to show a burnt Taj. But the Congress swung into action.

    2. Notice how the Govt reacted to Anna HAzare’s movement. When the MSEM was showing middle class people marching with candles, the UPA leadership took serious note. On the ground, I had not really noted any such movement which could be even remotely called earth shaking. Yes, if they would have let the fire burn for some more time, the movement could have become bigger. But still not compelling enough for the Government to capitulate.

    The Govt / UPA leadership mainly follows the MSEM, maybe because they cannot actually read / comprehend what the regional press is saying. But then they have enough able advisors who can plug the gap.

    While this scenario may be dangerous to the Congress – it is even more dangerous to the country, where a handful of opinion writers / media houses are able to dictate to the rulers of a country which is as diverse as India!

    Is it too late to ask the media to discharge its own duties as the 4th pillar?

    Thanks for reading!

    Jai

  • http://profiles.google.com/vamsynkrishna Vamsi Krishna Nadella

    very much revealing article it is, no doubt about it! But, as you said to observe the trends: the trends began to change only when India has opened its gates for Globalization, and started playing the Game as it has to be, and not quit suddenly in the middle just because of the loopholes. So, the decision unanimously has already been taken to face the changes and their consequences, and now either continue the game or leave it in the middle which will severely affect the progress. It is all about how the game is being played, but not who is playing how!!!!!!!!!!!!! As far as I am concerned.

  • Ranger

    Atanu,

    Having read your book, you seem to put a lot on stake on the 2014 elections. And you are right. If India is simply to survive as an entity, forget becoming a superpower, BJP must win in 2014 and Modi must be PM. However, Indians being what they are, are most likely to hand over the reins of the country to the Idiot Prince. Congress will rule this country till this country ceases to exist – which wont be long.

    It almost brought tears to my eyes when you wrote about your dream for India in 2040 – because I know its never going to happen. India is more likely to be a Somalia filled with a billion and a half starving people rather than an America or China by 2040. And Indians alone are to blame for this.

  • Anonymous

    A whiff of fresh free air by Rajinder Puri

    What is Sonia hiding?

    http://thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=373111&catid=39

  • Anonymous

    http://pakobserver.net/detailnews.asp?id=98016

    That Sonia Gandhi frequently uses the corporate aircraft of one of the oil companies that is the subject of public attention is known to mediapersons and others in the national capital. That Sonia Gandhi, her two children and her two sisters travel extensively is equally known. Many times,such visits are made on corporate jets, although no photographer is permitted near the runway when such flights take off and land. The media in India is silent as a mouse about such travels of the First Family of the Republic.

  • Sundar

    Running media is a lopsided business. They get 20% of their revenue from sale of publications and remaining come from advertisement and other services.

    Recent trend is reporters seeking ransom for not publishing news and this is even more dangerous.

    Corporate patronage of press is one step below political patronage and
    majority of corporate news is paid news.

    Over half of news papers are sold as waste papers (without even opening for once.

  • Sundar

    I understand most of Dholera land is low lying salt pan and marsh land with little agricultural value. Also government appears to own a large part of the land. For private land holders, any price is a better price as it has very little value otherwise.

    Still, it requires a visionary like Narendra Modi to bet big and make it happen. Expecting press to write good about Modi is against secularism and Soniaji’s constitution.