A lesson Worth Learning
Seema Mustafa, Newsclick, July 25, 2011
It was a joy to see the so called media moghul Rupert Murdoch, his son James and their chief executive Rebekah Brooks grovel before the House of Commons media committee.
Rubert Murdoch described it as the most “humble” day of his life, while all three tried to soft talk the British lawmakers into believing their innocence.
The answers were for the most part vague, and for those of us in the profession it is impossible to believe that payments were made to private investigators, and sensational stories published with James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks being in the loop. The old man has by now probably done his bit by giving his son and female friends a space---in the form of his media empire---to exploit, and might not be aware of the finer details. But that he sanctioned dirty journalism is of course beyond doubt, as his tabloids were publishing dirt for all to see. Rebekah Brooks at the hearing maintained that everyone else on Fleet Street was doing the same, but that does not take away from the fact that News Of the World had crossed all ethical boundaries. Particularly when it hacked into and deleted voice mails of the kidnapped British school girl, subsequently killed, without informing the authorities. Her relatives thought she was alive, and the police was completely thrown off the track. Dirty, sordid journalism at its worst.
Of course the Murdochs and Brooks did the usual round of apologies at the hearing. And kept insisting that they did not know in responses to fairly penetrating questions from the MPs. It was all very unconvincing and evasive, and perhaps the gentleman who walked up to Rupert Murdoch with a shaving foam pie and hit him in the face with it had more sympathizers in the room than the subject of his attack. Murdoch has set up a media ‘empire’ and as the international television channels reported, Prime Ministers went up to meet him rather than the other way around. The fact that he was spinning money earned him respect in todays world where the green bucks alone count,with the politicians who wined and dined him quite forgetting that he was using his clout to manipulate the news through embedded journalists and extreme right wing ideology that held up an ugly mirror to important issues, such as that of Palestine and Palestinians. Public opinion thus was moulded through mis- and dis-information without the people even realizing that the barrage of information coming through different television networks and newspapers were actually all being controlled by just one man at the top.
India should learn from the Murdoch experience, as corporate monopolies over news are being encouraged and supported by the political class here. Any one business family in the media now owns several newspapers of varying forms and kinds, and at least one television channel if not more. The result is that news is censored at the onset, and sifted by these monopolies, instead of being disseminated impartially. The fact that the corporate houses are dependent on sympathetic governments also lends a slant to the news that projects what suits both, and blacks out the inconvenient. This censorship is sinister and dangerous, as it takes away from the democratic space that should remain freely available to the people of this country, particularly the poor and the marginalised.
The corporate houses are looking at revenue, and newspapers and news channels have been robbed completely of the missionary zeal that characterized the media till not so long ago. Now newspapers and channels are being sold like toothpaste, with marketing and advertising and not news becoming the mainstay of media houses today. The instruction is to sell, and clearly the peoples struggles in the rural areas do not sell as much as VIP news, and Page three gossip. The fascination with a film stars pregnancy takes over the protests in remote areas against the totally illegal acquisition of land by governments for nuclear parks and shopping malls. The so called national media is under clear instructions to promote only those political parties and individuals who share big industry’s goal to move Indian polity towards the right, and extreme right where capitalism holds sway, and big money speaks regardless of the growing disparity between India’s rich and poor.
The editor turned proprietor, or the proprietor turned editor who own the media today have scant respect for the working journalist. This is reflected in the fact that most reporters are today hired on contracts that end the moment the owner/editor wants. There have been absolutely horrible incidents of senior editors turning up at work to find that their offices have been sealed and they cannot enter; of hundreds of journalists in a television channel being thrown out without a warning, and getting to know about it from guards when they turned up for work the next day. “Conform or else…” is the message, the other being that if the media house does not make sufficient profit the heads of the working journalists will be chopped. There is a fear that has crept into the industry with the journalist scared of reporting the truth if it flies in the face of what the editor/owner wants him to write. He can be out on the street, and coming from middle class backgrounds this possibility remains a worst nightmare for the scribe.
Corruption has seeped into the media, with editors today owning luxury farms, palatial houses from unaccounted sources of wealth. Paid news is just one part of it, where paid for news is passed off as news by top players in the media. Personal corruption, intellectual corruption, are all very much part of the current state of the media, where the exceptions shine and are often pilloried by those in power. News is no longer respected as news, with editorialized opinion finding its way into news columns that were once sacrosanct.
This is not to paint the entire media with the same brush---there are so many notable exceptions. But to point out that unless there is serious introspection and remedial action by the media and the public---note not the government--- the ailment will become a terminal disease with Indian democracy being robbed of an invaluable pillar and watchdog.
Photograph Courtesy: Flickr.com