The Indian media landscape is an especially complex web of multimedia conglomerates, market-led infotainment, and a growingly linear form of eroding content. Echoing Prasun Sonwalkar’s sentiments on Indian media and journalism, and Guha’s emphasis on the “phipty-phipty” nature of democracy in India, the relationship between the two is mutually inclusive, almost symbiotic. The colonial cauldron of journalism, press and traditional media unequivocally set the benchmark for the role of media in the long uphill journey of democratic survivability. It was the mere subtlety of journals like the Mirat-ul-Akhbar by Rammohan Roy, and the palpability of the Indian intelligentsia in editorialising local opinions and concerns that kick-started almost a utopian revolution of journalism.
However, keeping in mind these iconic standards and prime examples of relevance in journalism, today’s mediascape reflects a wildly different spectrum. It has turned into an acutely ignorant mockery, normalising caricaturish reportage and incentivising sensationalisation. Moreover, it is threaded by rampant commercialisation and corruption. Politics features heavily in Indian journalism, logically leading it on a path of public critique of authoritative powers, and a much-needed contribution to the democratic awakening of the national. Alas, this aspect of moral and ethical journalism is dumbed down by the Rupert Murdoch-style of reducing news to its bare minimum quality and standard with the intent for merely commercial gains.
If you thought that Indian journalism has only recently seen this 'Murdochising' tendency in their news and newsrooms, it is a bleak misconception - one that ignores the historical contexts of the industry. Since the early 1990's, news content has increasingly focused more on celebrities, cinema, cricket and crime. A rapacious pursuit of profit and internal corruption to showcase Bollywood-like style and imagery in broadcast and the shift from politics to politicians is a noticeable indication of a more stylistic form of reality television than relevant content based on the news value of reportage. The Western-style methods being deployed in a proactively traditional society is plunging the Indian media into new depths of misuse and manipulation. The formulation of paid news, wherein politicians sell propaganda masqueraded as 'news' is an unfortunately common phenomenon.
Journalism used to be an effective tool for reform, be it political, social, religious or any kind. It was particularly used as a powerful weapon against colonial motives in non-Dominion and non-Settler colonies like India. It attempted to perpetuate awareness, knowledge, thought and wisdom. The evolution of Indian journalism seems to have followed that of journalist James Augustus Hickey. Hickey, who published the first Indian journal to question colonial powers and be critical of any authoritarian decision, ended up piecing a career of publishing scandals, scurrilous personal attacks, and was involved in the unethical advertising of selling “sex and sin”. He did believe in the absolute liberty of the press but connoted the notion of liberty to be coercively tyrannical and vehemently injurious to the community.
In the colonial period, even English editors who supported the courage and dignity of Indian journalism found themselves on ships back to England. This included William Duane, editor of Bengal Journal, who was removed as editor and almost deported in 1791, and finally deported as editor of Indian World in 1794. Another was Charles Maclean, the editor of Bengal Hurkaru, who was deported in 1798. Even James Silk Buckingham, editor of Calcutta Journal, and his assistant Sandford Arnot were deported in 1823 and C J Fair, the editor of Bombay Gazette, was also deported in 1823. However, these foreign attempts at preserving journalism helped inspire a number of Indian-language journals in the nooks and corners of the nation. The Bengal Gejeti, edited by Harachandra Roy with the assistance of Gangakishore Bhattacharya, and Samachar Darpan, launched by the Baptist missionaries at Serampore, were both launched in May 1818.
It is an enigmatic wonder to imagine a journalistic sphere that is rooted in its foundational principles. Today, its operations have changed. With the convergence of global media technologies and “US-inspired media formats, products and discourse”, the sphere has been reduced to that of market-driven journalism. Integral corrosion is the priority of number value over news value with no regard to protect the public interest. The advent of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation had numerous repercussions transnationally, acting as a catalyst for deeply profound institutional and ideological changes, transforming media operations worldwide. From imbibing reluctance in holding an editorial stance to discouraging reporters from providing a critical, educational reportage, and leading an opinion to focusing only on facts rather than furthering a valuable interpretation of those facts - it is all a ruse created to favour the heavy-handed convenience of blurting out facts that don’t add any perceptive depth to a conversation, in order to blatantly chase money and fame.
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