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 is 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.