Atanu Dey On India's Development

In Defense of NDTV – Followup

| 6 Comments

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.

  • Yoga

    You reinforce my belief that the pen is mightier than a sword. This being said, would you recommend any good Indian media sites that are worth following? Pioneer? Any others?

  • http://www.desigyan.org/ Kabir Gandhi Khan

    I think you too moving towards What I have realized over the years about India. The study and advances in Economics all come from the Western world. But for a country like India, the factors that hold it back and the roots of those factors are not only about its economic policies. There is just not enough probing of the critical factors that have made India what it is today. I guess history does tell us that some sort of great leader could get us out of the mess, but from here it does look like a Black Swan event.

    Of course good economic policies do have a causality in changing the behavior of people but it is I think also a catch 22 situation.

    My biggest tiff about India (for now) is basically its complete roiling in cowardice. I do think primarily the cause of this widespread cowardice in its society has something to do with the fascination with the assumed success of Gandhi and principles of non violence.

    Fundamentally a society of brave people will inevitably find the solution to its problems but a society of cowards is very easy to keep in its status quo. More on this here. http://www.desigyan.org/the-real-problem-with-indias-great-potential/

  • tp

    Atanu, what goes for NDTV goes for Chhya Chhya Nehru as well: he did not exist and thrive in a vacuum any more than NDTV does. Perhaps you can go back and edit your Nehru vitriol pieces and spread the brown stuff on the first generation of citizenry that led to the Ascent of Gandhi. So Moti made some shitloads of cash. How did that prevent serious politicians (there were more then than now!) and voting citizens (more now than then!) from kicking the clown to the curb?

  • tp

    @Kabir: make no mistake, the “assumed success of Gandhi” is a convenient smokescreen that protects people from having to take action, and the people know it well. The one nice thing about Indians is that privately, most of them are smart enough to be under no illusion, but they are great actors amid society. There’s this amazing public discourse of “we are all victims” and “you are ok, I am ok, the rest of India sucks” that shields even the most obtuse from inadvertent progress.

  • http://rexzilla.livejournal.com Rex

    @Yogi – Ever since I discovered Firstpost, I prefer reading them to other Indian news sites. They have fairly decent bloggers and journalists, and a unique style of writing opinion pieces on breaking news rather than just reporting news. The level of comments there is also somewhat better than what you find on TOI/HT/Rediff.

  • http://rexzilla.livejournal.com Rex

    There is a scene from Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ where the character Gail Wynand, a newspaper magnate, runs two stories in his paper asking for donations – one for a starving inventor, the other for an unwed mother. When the public overwhelmingly donates to the latter cause, he calls his employees and tells them that this shows what direction their content should take (after which it turns into a sleazy tabloid).

    A quote from Winston Churchill on democracy – ‘The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.’

    The point is, who really cares for ‘good’ channels? Even getting a license to run a TV channel requires government permission and presumably truckloads of cash – so the only people who can afford to start TV channels are the ones who already are doing it.

    Youtube may be the darling of the west, but mass media still rules the roost in India. That is why the government makes it so difficult to reach the people via TV or radio (radio stations are banned from broadcasting news or presenting anything other than music and inane drivel spouted by the RJs), to make sure public opinion(the rural, illiterate kind) remains in their control.