Though not everyone, many people who are genuinely concerned about the state of the world bitch and moan (I use that phrase advisedly) about the deplorable news media. It is said that the Indian media — notable examples being NDTV, the Times of India, The Hindu but not restricted to them — really earn the distinction of being unprofessional, lazy, dishonest, opportunistic, shallow, callous, narrow-minded, myopic and bigoted. Futhermore, they appear to be generally stupid and yet they are quite successful in their evil intentions to misinform and mislead the public which of course is well-meaning, good-natured, broad-minded, generous and wise. What’s wrong with this picture? It just does not make sense.
I don’t yield to anybody in my disgust for the likes of NDTV and its head honchos. But I am also convinced that they don’t exist in a vacuum. They are not imposed from up on high. They are part of the whole system, drawing their sustenance from the society, contributing to society what it approves of (and even demands.) Whatever the media throws at them, the people apparently accept willingly, not withdrawing in disgust or voting with their remote controls.
My point here (and in the previous post) is that one cannot fault the media alone — the people are also guilty. The two are a package deal, inseparably involved in a process of circular causation. They feed on each other. I make this claim not to let the media off the hook but as a reminder that things are not going to change by merely bitching and hoping that they change.
It is easy to demand that the media be regulated. There are two problems. First, who is going to do the regulating: the government? But the government and the media have an incestuous relationship themselves. The media, if it didn’t do the government’s bidding, would suffer, and conversely the government would suffer if the media did the watchdog job that it should properly be doing.
Second, one of the characteristics of a liberal society (the word ‘liberal’ is used in the accurate sense of the word to mean free and of or pertaining to liberty) is that there are no restrictions on the freedom of expression. Regulating the media is not consistent with that.
We really need to address the problem of the harm that the media are causing. That’s why we have to be careful that in our haste to pin the blame on the media alone, we don’t give the public a free pass. What appears to be the problem may be just the symptom of a deeper problem. If we diagnose the problem properly, the appropriate remedy would be evident.
As a card-carrying market-liberal, I believe that the way out is to increase market competition by deliberately introducing channels that are good. Initially it will have to be “primed” but within a short time (a few years), the good channels will become sustainable since more people will migrate as the quality of the public discourse gets appreciated by more people.
Good stuff usually drives the shoddy stuff out. The good news is that it is easy to start new channels. On the internet, you can start the equivalent of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations. It’s true that internet access is limited to a very small percentage of the population but the growth rate is impressive and it will be quite substantial in a decade or so.
The beginnings will be modest but I am convinced that it won’t be too long before the likes of NDTV will be history. The Rajdeeps, Barkhas, Sagarikas of the world are doing well now but the writing is on the wall — if only they could read and understand.