On Indian Journalism

I think it was way back in 1999 that Michael Kelly in an op-ed in the Washington Post had asked fellow journalists, “Why does everyone loathe us so? Because, my little preciouses, we are so loathable. … Reporters like to picture themselves as independent thinkers. In truth, with the exception of 13-year-old girls, there is no social subspecies more slavish to fashion, more terrified of originality and more devoted to group-think.”

It appears to me that the above quote could apply to India–except for that bit about the everyone loathing the Indian press. The 10% or so of the Indians who have access to the press don’t seem to mind the garbage that is fed to them. In any event, whether the larger public perceives them to be loathsome or not, the Indian press is loathsome indeed. And why is it loathsome? Because the ones who constitute the press somehow loathe themselves for being Indians and self-flagellation seems to be their forte. The self-flagellation takes the form of force-feeding the foreign press all that it (the foreign press) wants to believe about India–miserable ignorant uncivilized savages killing peaceful missionaries, wrecking holy mosques with sickening regularity, unchecked xenophobia in questioning a widow’s sacrifice, Hindu fundamentalism gone berserk, ad nauseum.

But there has to be a reason for the loathsome behavior of the press — especially the English language press. I think there is a domestic element and then there is a foreign element. First, the foreign bit. If a journalist writing in English wants to be quoted by foreign publications, then he or she has to appeal to the biases of the foreigners and reinforce their prejudices. Otherwise, the foreign press would not touch it. The more shrill a journalist is in denouncing anything that remotely hints at Indian ethos, culture, or pride, the more likely he or she is to get invited to give talks at US universities and other goodies. The term for this phenomenon is “being a house nigger.”

The domestic reason has to do with socialism. The Indian government is socialistic and therefore is in charge of everything. Those who run the government control everything — from roads, rails, power supply, telecommunications, education, radio, TV, the press. The public sector is controlled by the government. There is no freedom because the government controls everything — including the livelihood of people who work in journalism. If a journalist were to not tow the party line of the socialist government, he or she is out of luck. Of course, since the government controls the education system also, it is no great challenge to find journalists who are significantly brainwashed and who cannot every imagine speaking up against the party and the leader.

Socialism goes hand in hand with group-think. That Indian journalists engage in group-think is the least surprising result of socialism.

Now things are about to change. Two specific reasons. First, the government is no longer the great big monopoly employer. The private sector is beginning to grow. Journalists have alternatives. They can actually criticize the government without fear of actually losing their jobs. The second reason is the internet. Previously, you had to appear in print or be allowed to talk on the radio or be on TV for others to find out what you had to say. Not anymore. For a small but growing segment of the population, there are blogs, and podcasts, and YouTube. They can be journalists or the audience, or both. It has become a freer marketplace and as can expected, the marketplace rewards good products and penalizes bad ones. So the loathsome idiots of today’s journalism have a very short life expectancy now. In a few years, it will be a thing of the past.

Now that is something to celebrate, isn’t it?

[I look forward to the day when journalists will not appear in the Most Loathsome lists.]

Author: Atanu Dey


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