Constructivism and Spin doctoring in
since Globalization-Prospects of Credible Alternative
Media – An Analytical Study
C. S. H. N. Murthy
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Tezpur University, India
THE history of Indian journalism could be divided into a number of ways.
Some classify the history of Indian journalism into pre-independence
and post-independence (Sundeep R Muppidi, 2008) eras. But to my deep
study and comprehension, the history of Indian journalism could be divided
into four categories: 1. Pre-independent era 2. Pre-emergency era 3.Postemergency
era and, 4. Post liberalization or globalization era.
In doing so, I am trying to discern the media trends between specific periods
and to correlate them (the trends) with the contemporary political situations
prevailing then. It is also my aim to gain important insights in the
transitions of history of Indian journalism as to its consistent and avowed role
as a fourth estate and to arrive at an outline where it exhibited deviant behavior.
In the process the study presumes to speculate the future of the Indian
traditional media vis as vis the alternate media which is coming up as a strong
contender. Towards this I begin with the pre-independence era firstly as it had
immense potential to give leads to the initial character of the media in the
immediate post independent era.
“The pre-independence phase started with the acknowledged history of
the first news paper in India in 1776 by William Bolts, even though it wasn’t
until 1780 that James Augustus Hicky started with the Bengal Gazette, also
knows as Hicky’s Gazette (Keval.J.Kumar, 1981:63, Sundeep R M, 2008),
writes Sundeep R Muppidi. According to him, this phase was marked by
the different news papers with two distinct ideologies: One was run by the
Englishmen who supported the British rule, while the second was mostly by
the educated Indians who promoted nation-building and, later, the freedom
Commenting on the rigor of fight and the suffering the Indian press had
put up and undergone during the British period, M. Chalapathi Rao (popularly
Estudos em Comunicação nº7 - Volume 1, 249-277 Maio de 2010
250 C. S. H. N. Murthy
known as MC, a veteran freedom fighter and journalist) writes, “The over 200
year history of the Indian press, from the time of Hicky to the present day is the
history of a struggle for freedom, which has not yet ended. There have been
alternating periods of the freedom and of restrictions amounting to repression.
The pioneering works on the Indian press, like that of Margarita Barns, were
stories of arbitrariness and despotism, of reforms and relaxation. The story of
the Indian press is a story of steady expansion but also one of press laws”.
Margarita Barns (1940) opined that, “Political and social corruption was
rife among the British, sent to rule the country when Hicky, a printer by profession,
launched his Gazette ‘in order to purchase freedom for his mind and
soul. He described the Bengal Gazette (later called Hicky’s Gazette) as ‘a
weekly political and commercial paper open to all parties but influenced by
none. In fact it was a sheet of scandals”.
Though, James Augustus Hicky’s Bengal Gazette was founded in 1780,
more than half a century-and a half after the first English news paper was
launched in London, the historians consider Hicky as a dubious pioneer in
Indian journalism, says N.Ram (Foreword to Journalism in India.2001:xiii).
According to him ‘the honor rightly belongs to James Silk Buckingham, an intrepid
Whig Campaigner and a progressive thinker and writer whose achievement
belongs to the early nineteenth century. It was James Buckingham who
was the first to give recognition to the voices of Indian freedom struggle
(N.Ram: 2001: xiii).
Interestingly N.Ram divided the pre-independence period of journalism in
India into several stages. 1. Preparatory phase (1780-1818). 2. Adversarial
Phase (1818-1947). Further adversarial phase was divided into four stages.
Stage I (1818-1868), Stage II (1868-1919), Stage III (1919-1937) and Stage
In doing so, N.Ram clearly established how the adversarial role became
more and more striking and led to the foundations of the nationalist and antiimperialist
struggle. In the process, however, two lines or trends became quite
apparent. One was to support the colonial rule and its policies, while the
second one was attacking the colonial rule. These developments led to the
establishing of a pro-raj news dailies such as Times of India and the Statesman,
and an attacking print media—Anand Bazar Patrika (1868), and The Hindu
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 251
Stage III (1919-1937) had especially seen the differentiation of the Indian
press polarizing into ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ in the adversarial role, a most
important observation that N.Ram (2001) made about these media trends during
this time. ‘The founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885 reminds
us that the history of the patriotic Indian press pre-dates the history Indian
party politic”s, opined N.Ram (2001: xiii).
During Stage IV (1937-1947) media not only became quite assertive, but
also began to take advantages of new technological developments to launch a
tirade against the British Raj. The rivalry between the pro-British press and
the pro-independence press became quite intense. Jawaharlal Nehru founded
National Herald in (1938) which continued to be a flag ship and ideological
news paper of Indian National Congress during and after independence.
The brief sum up of the media developments in the pre-independent era
offered us insights as to how the media performed the adversarial role during
the British rule and in what spirit it moved on to the stage of post independent
Tracing the establishment of the deep adversarial and constructive role
the media played in the pre-independent era is quite essential and central to
my present study in order to find how the constructivism and the adversarial
role, which continued to the post-independent era and later, assumed different
contours in alignment with the different political regimes that came into
power in the run up to the arguments whether the media credibility as a loyal
opposition in the future continues or would it yield space to new media replace
it as an alternate media.
Before dealing with the role of adversarial journalism and constructivism,
in the post and immediate after independence – August 15, 1947, I wish to
deal with the mood and the behavior of Indian media with regard to its relations
with the then governments. Such an understanding or perception is
very important to distinguish the media behavior and response both after the
independence, prior to emergency and post emergency and during and after
To begin with, the following paragraph establishes the mood of the Indian
press as on the date and after the independence.
In the first flush of freedom, the press rode which the current and was sympathetic
and cooperative with the new national government which was faced
with a deluge of problems plunging the country into strife and bloodshed and
252 C. S. H. N. Murthy
instability. A section however hand not got over the hang over of colonial rule
and indulged in fanning communal passions and hatred in scurrilous writing.
Sensational journalism became a fashion with some and the country’s interests
ceased to paramount. A Bengali editor is quoted by a writer as having confessed
that he adopted a communal policy ‘because playing down riots and
disturbances curbed his sales’. ‘Even the newsboys’, the editor is quoted as
having said, ‘refused to touch my paper if my rivals report a large number of
deaths than I do’. The leaders who were running the government and who had
earlier established complete rapport with the press during the freedom struggle
were now saddened that the press as a whole was not with them in meeting
the challenges faced by the new-born government. They (the press) seemed
to behave, the leaders though, as an opposition force as they did so during the
British regime when the need was to play a constructive and cooperative role
(Rangawsami P. 2001: 167).
The above paragraph aptly sums up the then mood of the Indian press,
despite India being newly liberated from the colonial rule.
Commenting on the mood of Indian print media in the immediate post independence,
Sunanda K Datta Ray (2000) writes that, ‘The 1950 Constitution
divided authority between the Central Government and the states – 25 of them
now-in a finely balanced union whose sovereignty rests with the people. However,
Congress’s long hold on power at both Central and state levels identified
the party of independence with the country, and made nationalism synonymous
with the former’s secular socialist creed. Even independent publications
were for a long time unquestioning supporters of Congress and, therefore, of
the governments it dominated (2000: 47).
Frank Moraes, editor of the Times of India, described the attitude of Indian
editors in the early years of independence as follows:
In the early years of independence, Indian editors had to make up their
minds on what attitude they should adopt vis-à-vis Nehru’s newly established
government. . . . I decided after some reflection and consultation that since
Nehru was faced virtually with no opposition in Parliament and since a democratic
government could not effectively express itself in the absence of an
opposition, the press should take upon itself to function as an unofficial opposition
outside Parliament, exercising that role with responsibility and circumspection.’
(Witness to an Era: 1977).
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 253
The Hindu, writing on the same subject opined that even barely a year
after freedom was achieved the suspicion and distrust which clouded the relations
between the alien government and the nationalist press ‘continued in
a very perceptible manner under the Free India government’ (Rangaswami,
2001: 167). It further said that in the new circumstances the ‘Press may be
expected to take a more detached as also a more responsible view of its obligations
on the one hand to the government of the day, and on the other to the
people as a whole, opposing official policy when it must, supporting it when
it can and at all times bringing instructive opinion to bear from different angles
on all important issues so that the people may decide with full knowledge
(Rangaswami, 2001: 167).
Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the earliest in the government to voice his
displeasure against the press. He wondered, at the All India News Papers Editors
Conference in 1952, ‘For whom do we want the press freedom—for the
writer or for the owner to coerce employees to write against his conscience?’.
Seven years later Nehru again, in his speeches made during 1959, both in
Chandigarh and Bombay, questioned the bonafides of the editors. He said
it had been taken for granted that editors of Indian news papers could not
be expected to realize or speak the truth when discussing certain aspects of
state policy. He recalled Stanley Baldwin’s (British Prime Minister) remark
about news papers that ‘they enjoyed power without responsibility in India
who could stand up to news paper owner and to advertisers’ (Rangaswami, P.
On the other hand, the irony of the Indian press that time was that it was
largely dependent on Nehru and Nehru’s speeches, statements and policies related
to various national and international issues, writes Rangaswami (2001).
It was difficult to sell a paper without Nehru or his statements in the first page.
‘Having a press meet with the editors of the media is a luxury for both Nehru
and the media’, says M.V. Kamath (2009), former international correspondent
for Times of India and the former editor of Illustrated Weekly of India. Similar
views on Nehru’s press meets were expressed by Dr.N.K.Trikha (2009),
former Editor of Navbharat Times, (a sister publication of Times of India) in
his direct discussion with the author.
C.Rajagopalachari, the last governor general of India, said once that, ‘the
Congress had dominated the political scene and the press instead of providing
254 C. S. H. N. Murthy
informed criticism was nothing more than a body of political propagandists’
Thus, from the foregoing, it is clear that the print media both before and
after independence to a large extent continued to play an adversarial role or
role of constructivism, a portion of print media blindly supporting the government
Having established the initial character of the media in the immediate
years after the independence as adversarial and constructivist, the rest of the
study is carried forward to analyze whether the media retained the constructivist
behavior entire length and breadth of post independent era. As mentioned
earlier, for the sake of convenience, I preferred to divide post independent
era into certain phases such as pre-emergency, post-emergency and post
globalization. Towards achieving this task, I adopted the following methodology.
The study is grounded in historiography and I followed a simple descriptive
and analytical method using multiple methods of inquiry as is normally
adopted in qualitative communication research (Lyndlof T.R. and B.C.Taylor,
2004). The study not only historically peeps in to the roles performed by the
media-a select few print and television channels as a non-probability convenience
sample- both before and after globalization, using primary and secondary
sources (including available literature and documents), but also analyzes
the opinions expressed by a convenience sample of media professionals
and academics, besides readers, a method followed earlier by Vinod Pavrala
and Kanchan Mallik (2007), Shakuntala Rao and Navjyot Singhal, (2007),
Shakuntala Rao, (2008), Sevanti Ninan, (2007),Sundeep R M, (2008) besides
my own observations.
Questionnaires – questionnaire A (Broad-Annexure I) and a closed end
questionnaire B ( Annexure-II with Specific answers-‘yes or no’ only) were
addressed to them ( media professionals) with regard to the current and the
future of Indian mass media as a credible public service institution, and the
prospect of alternative media replacing the existing spin-doctored/market driven
journalism of the print and electronic media. About 110 media experts
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 255
(both professionals and academics) were contacted with the above questionnaires
over e-mail, sms-messages and mobile phone and answers were elicited.
While 54 people responded in full, 24 offered some conditional answers for
all or have taken only a few questions and others excused themselves stating
‘busy schedules’, ‘lack of time’ or ‘revert back to you soon’, etc.
Using the above method, I tried to seek the answers for the following questions:
RQ 1: Is there a steady change in the adversarial or constructivist role of
media since Independence?
RQ 2: Is the change in the adversarial or constructivist role specific to a point
of time or a phenomenon that continued to progress into future?
RQ 3: Which is the time or period when spin doctoring began to foray into
the Indian media?
RQ 4: Is spin-doctoring limited to the manipulations of a single political
party or a phenomenon that all the political parties tended to resort to?
RQ 5: Has globalization contributed to the enhancement of division in the
adversarial role of the press and thus indirectly engendered the spindoctoring
to grow faster in the media?
RQ 6: If the adversarial role or constructivist role began to disappear with
the market driven journalism or spin-doctoring, will the alternate media
continue to surge forward to replace the mainstream journalism one
RQ 7: What is the perceived role of alternate media-blogging, twittering and
facebook in the near future-viable or unviable?
By analyzing the news content and journalism practices – both of the current
and the past – and pitching them against the answers offered by the media
professionals and general public, the study seeks to evaluate the prospects
256 C. S. H. N. Murthy
of the viability of the present media lasting for a long time and/or foresee the
chances of alternate media soon replacing the present media as popular voice.
Operative definitions of the terms of discourse
The operating definitions used in the study are taken from the Eric Louw’s
work-The Media and Political Process (2005) –which elaborated how media
behaved in spin-doctoring synchronizing with the changing political theories
from time to time, especially in democratic countries of the world. Similarly
the definition for the market driven journalism and the behavior of the corporate
media in pursuing the market driven journalism is based on the work of
Beam Randal A (1995-2003) who did an extensive survey of the print media
in the US where the market driven journalism first set in and spread later to
the rest of the world.
It refers to the attempt made by empirical science and by liberal journalists
to avoid subjectivism/bias. Objective knowledge and objective journalism—
which are informed by empiricism—are geared towards ensuring a correspondence
between what is described and the world out there.
Constructivism is a way of seeing and understanding the world based on the
premise that as human beings we experience the world mentally—ie. we relate
to the world through our minds. Hence knowing becomes an internal
process. For constructivists, it is our minds that structure the world for us
by actively engaging in a process of ‘construction’. This stands in contrast
with the claim of objectivists/empiricists that we know the world because our
senses give us ‘access’ to the ‘world’ out there. Constructivism does not approve
the hundred percent objectivity in media-ized communication. Nor does
it believe that media acts as a mirror of the society. The main stream model
of liberal journalism believes that its practices result in stories that are accurate
in reflection of reality. ie. Journalists believe they simply hold a mirror
up to society, and describe it ‘the way it is’. This notion of ‘journalism as
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 257
a mirror of society’ has been disputed by constructivists who have analyzed
the media (Tuchman, 1978). Although constructivism is a theory of knowledge,
it is especially well suited to understanding the processes of media-ized
communication (Eric Louw, 2005).
Media-ized politics refers to the way in which professional communicators
now script the performances and appearances of politicians. A significant
amount of time and energy of politicians and their professional support staff
is now focused on impression management and public relations (Eric Louw:
It refers to liberal political system of a practicing democracy where the press
or media acts as a watch dog or fourth estate. Evolved by Shultz in the years
from John Delane, the journalists in this type of journalism act with the following
presumptions: To be necessarily critical of politicians (adversarial), to
champion the citizen rights against the abuse of the state power and to provide
a platform for debate. They also believe in favoring a spectacle of sensation.
It is a term first used with reference to Ronald Reagan’s media team in a 21st
October 1984 New York Times editorial. Spin doctors are professional impression
managers who have become the interface between politicians and
journalists. Journalists see spin-doctors as practitioners of the dark arts and
demagoguery. Spin-doctors are experts in ‘hype’ and the arts of tele-visualized
politics i.e. they craft the ‘faces’ of politicians and script and stage manage
political performances. To be successful requires that spin-doctors know how
to use media to their advantages and calls for being familiar with the journalistic
practices and discourses. Spin doctors are usually pro-market, progovernment
and pro-industry oriented (Eric Louw, 2005).
258 C. S. H. N. Murthy
Market driven journalism:
Randal Beam (2003) defines market driven or market oriented journalism as
‘an organization which selects target markets for its product, identifies the
wants and needs of potential customers in its target markets, and seeks to
satisfy those wants and needs as efficiently as possible’. For a news organization,
a strong market orientation implies that the newspaper, magazine, or
television station will aggressively seek to determine the kinds of information
that readers or viewers say ‘they want’ or ‘need’ and will provide it, says Randal
Beam (2003). According to Beam Randal, market driven journalism is the
journalism yielding space to the entertainment, celebrities, sports and crime
which would more cater to the sensual pleasure of the citizens than the basic
needs of information and enlightenment. In the process, media churns out a
lot of information about other areas of news consumption than the news per
se. The public services becomes lesser conspicuous, accountability narrows
down and adversarial role of the press, ie. playing a loyal opposition gradually
fades out. Editorials which suit the corporate and industrial needs become
Globalization and Glocalization:
Opening up of native markets such as satellite services, telephone and mobile
sectors, banking, trade and industry, and the media including traditional forms
of entertainment for a change to the western, especially the US generated genres
and formats has been described as globalization a term which could be
construed as an extension of Marshal McLuhan’s ‘global village’ (Shakuntala
Rao,2008). Due to globalization, a cultural change begins to sweep the
states and the nations which often regionally begins to evolve in its own way
combining both the western methods as well as indigenous methods, and both
together often referred to as ‘glocalization’ (for instance there is an Indian
version of reality shows, interactive television programs) as Shakuntala Rao
tried to put it (2008).
The above terms of discourse have developed over a period of time as the
media passed from one phase to another. In order to explain the transitions
that occurred in the history of Indian media in the post independent era especially
before and after emergency, and before and after liberalization and
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 259
globalization, a grasp of these terms would be more relevant for appropriate
citations of incidents which stand as examples of these transitions.
A number of media professionals and academics whom I contacted as part
of this study with the questionnaires offered a number of incidents to support
these changes in the histories of transition in Indian journalism. Some of these
are from their own writings on the subject and some are in the form of replies
to my personal communication.
Results and Analysis
In my study I tried to document the past journalistic practices and the present
journalistic practices in the post globalization era (See Table I). I have also
summed up the characteristics of market driven journalism (See Table II). In
fact I supplied these tables together with the questionnaires, as mentioned in
‘Methodology’ to several media professionals and academics to know their
reaction and to what extent they concur with these observations.
In addition to the above mentioned references many of the academics fully
agreed (ie. Hundred per cent) agreed with these observations on the current
scenario of the media.
Most of them (80%) have agreed that though there is spin-doctoring of
Indian media even during the British rule, the commitment of many editors,
who were also owners of the press that time, could not be doubted as much
as today when consumerism has overtaken the reality and truth. Most of them
(same 80%) also believed that media-ized communication was the time when
Nehru had penchant for writings in his appreciation in the media. His group
of press advisers used to do this media-ized communication for him. The
respondents also were of the view that during Indira’s time the media-ized
communication turned into perfect model of spin-doctoring.
About 75% were of the view that there was significant constructivism (objective
approach) during the early days of freedom struggle than later. The
same percentage (75%) also concurred that there was a gradual decline of
constructivism over the years after independence and the media always tried
to find the ways to augment its revenues and in the process, in order to get
more advertising, the media toed the line of government thinking.
260 C. S. H. N. Murthy
About 60% of the media professionals including academics felt that in
the post independent era, the governments under Nehru and Indira Gandhi
had exercised a lot of control on the import of news print and allotment of
advertisements to the media. Usually the media which opposed the government
was at the receiving end of ill treatment and humiliation. It had affected
the constructivist approach of the media which tilted towards hype and spindoctoring.
About 80% of the 54 full respondents found that spin doctoring was a
post independent phenomenon and entered mainly during Indira Gandhi era.
At the same time, they were of the view that spin-doctoring on the lines of
alignment of political ideology of the media existed even before Indira and
independence too. But it reached the market proportions for profit yielding
only during the post liberalization.
About 50% believed that all political parties including oldest Congress,
Marxists, BJP to modern groups like Janata Dal, RJD, Telugu Desam, DMK,
AIDMK were in a position to send the spin-doctors to media and indulge in
manipulation of media pull outs in their favour. In India today almost all
political parties have their own print and television media institutions and as
such, holding Congress alone for spin-doctoring is not fair, says N.K.Trikha,
a former editor of Navbharat Times.
Whereas former correspondent to Times of India, M V Kamat did not believe
that alternative media can replace the force of a conventional journalism,
as many of his ilk, about 75% of academics and professionals attribute the
present rise of ‘citizen journalism’ (blogging, facebook, orkut, twitter, flickr,
etc) to emerging new media where people can speak from the depth of their
heart and state facts which the mainstream journalism may or may not report
in the ‘constructivist’ perspective without ‘hype’ or ‘spin-doctoring’.
About 72% of the respondents to my questionnaire agreed that the present
standards of reporting failed to elicit the desired confidence of the readers in
the print media. They responded saying that the manipulation of news and
planting of stories against political rivals has become intense since the time of
VP Singh’s Fairfax deal and implication of his son in St Kitts scandal. Further,
politics, crime, graphic presentations of incidents, too many photos, sex and
sleaz in the first page and local pages, relegating the public service and issues
of public sphere to inner pages had taken away the public inspiration in the
media at urban and rural level.
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 261
As such many respondents were of the view that they have least doubt that
the alternative media or new media could be a major source of information
in public sphere and there is a fairly good chance for the people to rely on
these sources for reliable and relevant information in future than the print and
I have dealt with a number of examples in the introduction as to how the Indian
media played an adversarial role during the pre-independence time. As
could be understood from the discussion done on the subject, there was always
a section of media which sided itself with the government-especially
pro-Raj and had churned out stuff in favor of it. In those days, the lead role
of this kind of journalism was shared by two prominent news dailies—Times
of India and The Statesman (Rangaswami, 2001). The Indian Express, the
Hindustan Times and the Hindu shared between them the adversarial role in
keeping with the moderate and radical voices of the politicians they endorsed.
However, the Indian Express always appeared to be more aggressive and true
to its brand description—journalism with courage with stories exposing the
government and the politicians, an accurate description for adversarial role
of journalism. The Hindu and the Hindustan Times appeared to be more constructivist
whereas The Times of India and the Statesman allowed them to be
the choice of the government with spin-doctors freely operating both from the
industry and political establishment (Sunanda K D R, 2000: 52).
As mentioned before, the Indian media establishment has shifted into the
post independent era almost with the same ideals and mandate.
Post independent era-Pre-emergency era:
Most of the times during Nehru time, the press passed through the phases of
establishing itself in India through appropriate legislation. The marked events
were concerning the formation of Indian Constitution, with press falling in
the domain of articles 19 (1) a which is restricted by article 19 (2)a. It was
262 C. S. H. N. Murthy
during this period basic structures lime the office of the Registrar for Registering
News Papers had been established. The first Press Commission (July
14, 1954) under the chairmanship of G.S.Rajadhyaksha, which was formed in
its 3 volumes of recommendations, suggested formation of many press related
structures in India. The media reaction during the times of Nehru for first
general elections, famines, communal riots in Ahemadabad, Reorganization
of states on linguistic framework, China’s was, etc have been engaging the
media attention. At national level, the lead role was that of The Times of India
and the Statesman, both of which solidly stood by the side of Nehru (Sharad
Commenting on the victory of the Congress in the first general elections,
the Pioneer and the Times of India held the views that, Nehru, not the Congress
has been voted to power in the so called Congress states (Sharad K: 1981: 78-
Speaking on the media role immediately after independence, Sunanda
(2000) writes, that even independent publications were for a long time unquestioning
supporters of Congress and, therefore, of the governments it dominated.
“In spite of carping, Indian politicians, especially regional leaders
found it even more useful after independence to control and cultivate papers
in their backyards. A veteran Orissa politician, Harekrushna Mahatab
founded the Oriya daily—Prajatantra. The family of Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra’s
most prominent Congressman brought the paper called –Sakal, a Marathi
daily. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi founded Murasoli meaning
James Cameron, veteran journalist, wrote that it was uncommonly difficult
to find out what was going on anywhere if one depended on an Indian
newspaper (1978). He further wrote, that the media lacked the ‘purposeful’
stubbornness of the communist press; nor did it have the meretricious stupidity
of the pop press of the West, it was just semi-illiterate, ill-argued, initiative;
when it was not boring, it was exasperating. The news papers occasionally
professed to be combating pressures from government which was quixotic
since the Indian press was a processing plant for government hand outs and
for convoluted obfuscation Indian government handouts have to be read to be
believed or otherwise as the case may be.
Arun Shourie has remarked that a ‘distressingly large’ number in the profession
today are not even good professionals. ‘Many of them’, he said ‘have
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 263
incestuous relations with their subjects—in particular with the government
In the pre-emergency era, between 1966-1975, it was Indira Gandhi who
ruled India with a greater assertion of her authority during which time her
cabinet remained more or less as marginal entity. It was Indira who took any
decision during this time and the cabinet usually approved it without a fuss on
it. Though under her leadership, India emerged strong and defeated Pakistan
in 1971 war, with the first ever nuclear explosion going up in Pokhran having
sent a wave of shock down the spine of the world leaders including the US,
the USSR, China and the Britain, the image of Indira began to blur in the
Indian media. Especially the reporting of Bangalore session, the controversy
regarding Ms.Gandhi’s policies of bank nationalization, and the selection of
the Presidential candidate, which caused a split in the Congress, represented
an anti-Gandhi lobby by the major newspapers in the country (Sadanand, K:
However the Times of India and the Patriot were all praise for Indira for
her bold decisions including the abolition of Privy Purse to the erstwhile kings.
But, the failing economy and the increasing corruption in the government led
to simmering discontent across the nation. Further the dispute centered round
her election in 1971 was regularly followed by the media till the judge pronounced
the election of Mrs. Gandhi as null and void. This led to the nation
wide protests and agitations demanding Mrs. Gandhi’s resignation, which she
point blank refused to comply with. She went ahead amending the Constitution
to ensure that she clung to the authority. On June 26, 1975 she proclaimed
emergency. This was the turning point in the history of Indian Journalism,
says Sadanand K (1978: 137). Except a few media organizations like the
Indian Express, many news papers succumbed to the pressures of the emergency.
The press became sterile and the circulation of many papers had sunk
Commenting on the government control on media during emergency,
Sunanda K Datta-Ray writes that ‘nineteen publications were banned but none
was substantial, and only five were in English. Several small magazines defied
emergency diktats, risking suppression and worse, but the Indian Express,
published from 12 centres, was the only major publication to take a stand
against censorship and appear with blank spaces’.
264 C. S. H. N. Murthy
“While its proprietor, Ramnath Goenka, seemed ready at times”, writes
Sunanda K Datta Ray (2000: 57), “to cut a deal with Mrs.Gandhi, its crusading
editor, Arun Shourie, emerged as the regime’s implacable foe. The
impact on the media was dramatized by the contrast between the Express and
the loyalist Hindustan Times, which had only a few months before sacked
its distinguished editor, B.G.Verghese, for taking Mrs. Gandhi to task when
India swallowed the Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim. The Indian Express offices
in Delhi were raided, electricity lines were cut, and newsprint withheld.
The Hindustan Times Chairman KK Birla, GD Birla’s son and a nominated
member of the upper house of Parliament, became Express supreme as well ”
noted Sunanda Datta K Ray (2000: 57).
From this point onwards the Indian journalism entered the era of magazine
journalism. The Indian Express had sufficient material to publish for a
long time to come, having suffered for a long time under emergency, by serially
publishing the stories of emergency and Shaw Commission findings and
proceedings. Arun Shourie took the lead in exposing the corruption during the
Indira’s regime. According to Vinod Mehta (1999) and Rangaswami (1989),
in no uncertain terms Arun Shourie was certainly the hero of Indian media.
Post emergency era:
The Second Press Commission (1982) said in its report: “Many foreign observers
have commented on the preoccupation of the Indian press with politics
and politicians. There would be nothing wrong if it were preoccupation with
politics in the large Aristotelian sense of concern with the building of the society,
which shall make the good life possible. The preoccupation, however, is
largely with the petty politics of conflict between and within political parties
and with the sayings and doings of ministers and other prominent politicians.”
In the post emergency era, observed Sunanda Data K Ray (2000), the
media took active interest in unseating Rajiv Gandhi who had then fallen out
with his Finance Minister, Vishwanath Pratap Singh who was the darling of
the media, especially of the Indian Express. Rajiv’s defeat in 1989 was a
victory for the press. But it could also have been political manipulations or
collusion. Or, a mix of all three (2000; 59).
Especially it was a worst time for The Hindu, a South based leading national
daily as N.Ram started reporting with Chitra Subrahmanyam in Geneva
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 265
on the Bofors case against Rajiv, a fact that did not go down well the throat of
Kasturi the founder owner of The Hindu. He apparently found something fishy
in the concerted campaign against Rajiv by the Indian Express and the political
parties. When he declined to print the story against Rajiv, N. Ram came
out of The Hindu and published his continued investigative stories on Bofors
scandal against Rajiv unraveling one by one who was behind the scenes and
who was the actual beneficiary of Bofors kickbacks amply implying in several
ways that Rajiv himself was at center of the scandal and the major beneficiary,
besides Ottavio Quotrochi, an Italian business man close to the wife of Rajiv
Gandhi and the Hinduja brothers (Rangaswami P: 1997: 276).
When V.P.Singh became Prime Minister, after the defeat of Rajiv in 1989
general elections, many editors and journalists were given plum positions in
his government. Eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar was sent as High Commissioner
to London. It marked the beginning of media pundits openly aligning
themselves with the different schools of political ideology. After VP Singh’s
government fell, and when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister,
Arun Shourie joined his cabinet as a Union Minister.
In the post emergency the magazine journalism took a swing and many
journalists who were in the news papers quietly shifted to magazines with high
salaries. To compete with these magazines, the news papers had to undergo
technological and architectural revolution in their lay out and design (Robin
Identifying the exact point of genesis of market driven journalism, as a
harbinger of ensuing globalization and privatization, Sunanda Datta K Ray
writes that, ‘curiously, the period just before and after emergency witnessed
two separate press revolutions. News dailies in Telugu, Hindi and other languages
heralded a flowering of regional papers in the Indian languages
At the same time, Indian Today in Delhi and Calcutta’s Sunday transformed
magazine journalism. Modern technology, attractive design, effective
use of color and snappy prose tapped new readers, especially the young, writes
Sunanda Datta K Ray (2000:58).
Robin Jeffery (2000) traced the growth of vernacular press and the changes
it had undergone in the wake of magazine journalism taking a boost. He
stressed that localization of news and expansion of news domains into cultural
components such as life styles, food habits, supplements on local festivities,
266 C. S. H. N. Murthy
women, educational institutions, career pages on education and counseling
have become the source of filling up the pages. Top it all, he further observed
that crime, sex and sleaze had given additional market edge for each paper.
By 1990s, most of the papers had undergone changes from the elitist point of
readers to mass culture, explained Robin Jeffery (2000).
This marked the beginning of the market driven journalism, though it did
not make a visible impact on the readership till liberalization and globalization
were ushered in 1991.
Post Liberalization era: Market driven journalism vs Alternative media.
Noting the tremendous sociological changes the globalization and privatization
brought into the Indian society, Sunanda K Datta-Ray (2000) points out
to the paradox that this market phenomenon generated by 1997 in Indian media.
“If the English press keeps alive the hallowed principles of John Stuart
Mill and Walter Bagehot, holding them up as models to inspire and admonish
politicians in Delhi, it is the humbler Indian language regional press that
ensured that by 1997, 60 per cent of urban dwellers and a quarter of the rural
population read news papers regularly. With circulation going up steadily,
these publications have made democracy meaningful at the grass roots. They
often work with local social and political forces, enabling growing numbers
of people to voice grievances, organize collective action and demand redress”
writes Sunanda K Datta Ray (2000:50). At the same time, she brought out the
irony in the media role too saying that, ‘The media too, bristles with ironies
and inconsistencies. It does not boast uniform characteristics. So many press
functionaries, from owners to reporters, are more anxious to be power brokers
than opinion makers that it might be apposite to adapt Oscar Wilde and say
that good newspapermen join the government before they die.’
Her comment on the failing media’s adversarial role in the post globalization
is even acerbic and pungent as she went on to add that ‘If media
publicists who used to parrot the fashionable theory of ‘natural adversaries’
are now acquiescent, it is because they have tumbled to the rewards of flags of
Sevanti Ninan claimed in ‘Through the Magic Window: Television and
Change in India, ‘that consumerism is somehow sinful’. Gandhian spirituality
and Nehruvian socialism demanded uplifting editorial content to atone for the
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 267
‘sin’ of making profits. Virtue lay in a heavy diet of stories on development,
religious harmony and distributive justice (1995:18).
Many other wonderful events began to unfold on the front of media in
the post globalization. One such important but silent event was that almost
all the professional editors were shunted out of their positions by 1995. The
owners silently took over the editorships themselves. Though The Hindu and
the Indian Express and the Malayala Manorama and Eenadu had always their
owners as the Editors, the other papers, such as Times of India, Hindustan
Times, Anand Bazar Patrika, and Telegraph, and Statesman which hitherto
allowed professionals to man their editorial offices gradually bid adieu to them
and owners themselves took over the editorship.
The Times of India has gone a step further consciously to blur editorial and
managerial designations, writes Sunanda Datta K Ray (2000: 61). Without
a full time conventional editor, the Economic Times of Times of India, had
done a very good business in the post globalization marking an end to the era
of Editor’s sovereignty. As a result, writes Sunanda Datta K Ray, that ‘not
many arresting and independent by-lines are to be found nowadays in Indian
Shakuntala Rao and Navjit S Johal (2007) found that Indian print media
was less concerned about the newsroom values and accountability and showed
irresponsible trend of commercializing news and trivializing it. According to
them, accountability is the ability of media to arouse public opinion regarding
an issue and make the government respond to it as happened in the case of
Writing about the revolution of Hindi news papers in the heart land of India,
Sevanti Ninan (2007) traced that the upsurge in the post 1990s was due
to the synchronous working of several factors such as increased literacy and
political awareness among the rural people due to the BJP and Mandal politics,
besides the tilt of the bigger corporate media from the elitist class to
literacy class. Secondly, she also noted that the rural revolution in the Hindi
heart land was also a post television phenomenon. People who happened to
access the television got excited at the developments and the reportings seen
on the small screen and liked to curiously know more about them in the print
media next day (S.Ninan: 2007:88). Thirdly, there was a phenomenal localization
of news in the form of additional supplements which placed emphasis
on the local crime, politics, entertainment and life styles. All this added to the
268 C. S. H. N. Murthy
growing popularity of Hindi news papers region wise and by 2006, the Hindi
news papers occupied the top 5 positions among the top 10 positions throwing
English news papers like the Times of India to go for 11th position (S.Ninan,
The mushrooming of business papers and magazines has become manifold
over night. Innumerable publications catering to various categories of market
interests such as computers, life styles, women, cuisine, interior decoration,
photography, etc began to surface. Some of them are from reputed media
houses. For instance, Front line and Business Line, Business World, and Financial
Express are some from the leading news paper houses. All these not
only garnered the advertising revenue from the matrimony to real estate, the
editors who are also the owners of these media argue that the globalization
and privatization reflected the collective conscious of India (Sunanda Data K
Today if papers criticize the government it is only from their business
perspective, not in the public interest, for not giving some more sops as third
generation economic reforms are still not in place in full swing for which these
media houses are anxious about. Critics of the press say, writes Sunanda Datta
K Ray (2000:63), that it (press or media) enjoys the best of many worlds.
Criticizing the so called public service these media houses are purportedly
flaunting to the outside world, Sunanda Datta K Ray writes that ‘profit driven
privately owned news papers take credit for performing a public service. They
speak in the name of democracy but function under a mandarin class of editors
who take their orders from hard headed capitalists.’
Ajit Bhattacharjea, Director of the Press Institute of India, says that the
press teaches morals but that ‘most dangerous development to affect the press
Press is becoming more mass based and less pontifical. It has become
more vigorous but less responsible. Glossy pull-outs and the emphasis on
sport, entertainment, food and fashion serve hold a mirror to society while
setting achievable goals for readers, says Sunanda Datta K Ray (2000: 63).
The importance given to local news means that tangible issues are replacing
abstract ideas as matters of editorial concern, adds Sunanda Datta K Ray
Where as ‘citizen journalism’ has been the off shoot of crisis reporting and
war reporting, according to Allan Stuart and Einar Thorsen (2009), Sevanti
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 269
Ninan (2007) has found a different breed of ‘citizen journalists’ who would
do reporting in interior rural India in a manner which cannot be subject to
much of ‘gate keeping’. She has coined them as ‘multipurpose human beings’
very humorously and traced the origin of this kind of ‘citizen journalism’ to
the rise of rural revolution of Hindi news papers in India (2007:114-115).
At the same time, Sunnda Datta K Ray writes that ‘in the long run, the
Internet, radio and television are bound to play a significant part in shaping
a civil society based on energetic economic activity. According to her, ‘the
Internet, the white hope of the future, is catching on rapidly. Cybercafés are
sprouting at street corners, every self-respectig news paper has its own website
and there is a talk of millions of surfers joining every day newly to this
growing alternate media (2000:62).
As such, both in the view of the respondents who reflected on my questionnaires
and in the view of media professionals and former and current journalists,
the new media emerging as a strong alternative to mainstream media
The study cautions the mainstream journalism owners and practitioners
that deviating much from the constructivist approach and giving place for hype
and spin-doctoring might temporarily may yield huge returns but in the long
run it might distance its readership from it once for all and may lose the game
totally to alternate media.
The study historically peeped into the past and present journalistic practices
from the point of view whether the constructivist approach of media has been
totally adhered to by the print media in its long history spanning both preindependent
and post independent era. The study further examined whether
‘spin-doctoring’ and ‘hype’ existed even during pre-independent era. It also
further analyzed since when the decline of ‘constructivist’ approach has begun
in the history of Indian media and how the post liberalization and market
driven journalism had hastened the transformation and metamorphosis of
‘constructivist’ role of media into a totally ‘market driven’ and ‘spin-doctored’
270 C. S. H. N. Murthy
The study using triangulation method and through questionnaire and personal
discussion with media professionals found that the initial commitment
of media professionals, majority of who were the freedom fighters for ‘constructivist’
approach gradually faded out in the immediate post independent
era. Further, some media even during pre-independent era allowed the spin
doctors to transform the news in favor of British as pro-Raj press. This phenomenon,
to some extent, was inherited by the Nehru’s administration in the
post independent era, and truly, according to some media experts, Nehru
enjoyed the media manipulation to mobilize public opinion in his favor or
Congress favor to rule the country for the longest period of 17 years.
It was only after Indira became the Prime Minister the media manipulations
of news/content became intense and the pre-emergency and emergency
era had seen the worst of the scenario of spin-doctoring. Though some media
like Indian Express had the privilege of boasting to resist the spin-doctoring
and media control by Indira, all said and done, it was not always the case
given Goenka’s leanings to compromise with Indira when it came to business.
However, the Indian media as main stream journalism continued its journey
to maintain accountability to public and serving the public sphere though it
started making deeper shifts from its earlier formats to magazine journalism.
Localization of news, change in the formats, use of color prints and mast
heads, combining new forms of content into the front page content, topping
up political content with crime, sex, sleaze and sports, and entertainment had
increased the circulation and advertising revenues of the media. Both vernacular
press such as Hindi and Telugu had achieved regional booming business
in the circulation.
However, the intense spin doctoring and market driven journalism alienating
the readers from the mainstream press has begun in the phase of liberalization
and privatization. Frustrated by the commercial trends of the mainstream,
people looked for an alternative media. The present study both from
the sources and from the responses of the academics and media professionals
found that sooner or later the alternate media is going to be a big curse for the
main stream journalism.
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 271
Table I. Showing the differences in Journalism Practices in the Past and
Past Journalistic Practices
Present Journalistic Practices
1. Common headlines
All news papers used to report
common news items of
importance with rare deviation.
No two news papers report
common news items of national/
A deviation to this is very
2. Importance to
PM / CM / President’s
Such news items used to be in
the first page as banner headlines
Most of such items are carried into
3. Tributes to
national leaders on
Such tributes used to appear in
the first page with photographs.
Even govt. advertisements appear
in the first page only
Such tributes appear in inner pages.
Even govt. advertisements appear
in the inner pages.
4. Crime reporting l Only inner pages First page banner headlines
of Crimes and
Very rare/less and not in the first
page at any cost. Very rarely deviations
could be found.
First page full with sketches, graphs
and incident profiles and photographs
of victims (ghastly too)
and criminals (in heroic posture)
6. Political spat /
Less political spat covered-only
prominent political leaders criticism
found in the first page
Spat between all political leaders
big and small alike fills the first
in first page
Very less and not in the banner
or at anchor point of the page.
Mostly inner pages. Deviation
Anywhere in the first page including
banner headlines. Even first
page full except mast head.
8. Color photos No color printing in the first
page. Only black and white
Full of color printing and a number
of large and small color photos in
the first page.
9. Reporting of
Sports and entertainment
Occasionally in the first page
such as winning a match or
series with a black and white
Full first page with banner headlines
till the bottom of page – full
coverage including color photos of
celebrities and events
10. Informing Public
and Value based
Such reporting was high and
a twice verification system followed
with good gate keeping.
Less informing public and no
proper verification system or efficient
gate keeping. Planting stories
to defame rivals is high.
11. Page layout Black and White, no color and
no cramming for photos till
Color clumsiness and cramming
space with photos and adverts.
272 C. S. H. N. Murthy
Table II. Showing Characteristics of Market Driven Journalism
S. No. Description of Content of Market Driven Journalism
1 Readers want information on what might be called the ‘private
sphere’—life style, entertainment, recreation, news to use.
2 Behavior of strong market oriented papers differs from the weak
market oriented papers in the sense weak market oriented papers
offer more information about ‘public sphere’ as opposed to strong
market oriented papers which offer ‘private sphere’.
3 The size of the corporate sector which offers information determines
the characteristics of market oriented journalism.
4 Weak market oriented papers relatively reflect investigative journalism
as opposed to strong market oriented journalism.
5 In market driven journalism, editors of strong market papers
spend less time on content and more time on lay out, graphics,
type faces, pictures and grabby headlines. Such layout and make
up is considered as navigational tools for the readers to make an
easy reading as they are facing crunch of time.
6 The market driven journalism concerns with mass culture and
shifts from elitist class of information.
7 Mass Culture products often focus on ‘lowest-commondenominator
content’ in order to build the largest possible audience.
8 Extensive photos, graphics, and summary boxes and navigational
tools might be viewed as effective tools to appeal to audience with
comparatively low level of education.
9 News papers with strong market orientation would place more
stress on visual content than news papers with a relatively weak
(Sourced from Randal Beam’s Work: Content differences with strong and weak market
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 273
Questionnaire A (Broad)
1. How was the role of print media during the freedom struggle?
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro British
2. How was the behavior of print media immediately after the freedom of
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro-Nehru
3. How was the attitude of print media after the Nehruvian era?
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro-government
4. How did you find the role of electronic media (mostly radio) during
Nehru’s period in post independent era?
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro-government
5. How do you describe the role of print media during the period of Indira
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro-government
6. How do you describe the behavior of print and electronic media during
the phase of coalition and political instability (1989-91)?
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro-government
7. How do you describe the behavior or role of print and electronic media
immediately and after liberalization and globalization?
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro-government
8. How do you put your satisfaction on the overall role of current practices
of print and electronic media?
1. Good – adversarial 2. Neutral – Constructivist 3. Bad—Pro-government
274 C. S. H. N. Murthy
1. Please see the operating definitions used in the study for adversarial and
constructivist terms is attached.
2. Pro-British, Pro-Nehru, Pro-Government all refer to the spin-doctored
journalism suggestive of political and industrial spin doctors acting as
insiders in favor of industry, feudalistic forces and capitalist markets.
Questionnaire B (Specific): Closed end with the ‘yes/no’ only
1. Did Indian print media represent the voice of people during the freedom
2. Were you happy with the role played by the media in support of freedom
3. What do you think of the media that represented the pro-British—patriotic
4. Was there spin-doctored journalism in the Indian print media during the
fight against the British?
5. Were you happy with the Indian print media character and behavior
6. Did Indian print media focus on corruption and failure of delivery of
public good to the people by the government during Nehru era?
7. Did the print media during Nehru’s era indulge in one way praising of
8. Did Nehru or his government meddle with the freedom of press during
his 17 years of long stint?
9. Did you like the attitude of Nehru towards the print media and electronic
Constructivism and Spin doctoring 275
10. Did you like the role played by the media owners/proprietors (many of
who are freedom fighters) during the Nehru’s time?
11. Was the media afflicted with the disease of sensationalism during Nehru’s
period as much as today?
12. Did you like the attitude of Nehru in keeping Radio and TV under the
13. Did the radio and TV reflect the popular perception, needs and aspirations
of the people during Nehru’s era?
14. Was there a radical change in the role of media after Indira Gandhi
15. Were you happy with the role of print media before, during and after
16. Was Indira right in curbing the freedom of press during the emergency?
17. Were you happy with the role played by the media during the period of
Rajiv Gandhi in exposing the Bofors scandal?
18. Was it all right if the media began to align itself with specific political
ideologies of some politicians during the instable political era-1989-91?
19. Were you happy with the role played by the media during and after
globalization which started in 1991?
20. Do you appreciate the current trends of corporate culture and market
driven attitudes of print and electronic media?
21. Do you believe that the present media is in a position to reflect the
popular voice and true problems faced by the public?
22. Do you believe that there is a need of alternate media to express the popular
voice other than traditional media like print and electronic –Radio
23. Do you foresee a bright prospect of alternate media replacing the traditional
media—print and radio, and TV?
276 C. S. H. N. Murthy
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